James Gandolfini, star of hit HBO mob drama The Sopranos, is threatening to leave the series. Tony Soprano wants a significant raise or -- bada-boom, bada-bing -- he's outta there.
We've seen this before, of course. One day, General Electric's
The dynamics are different this time because Tony's mob rules on commercial-free cable TV. While NBC could command higher fees from advertisers, it's unclear if AOL Time Warner could up its subscriber fees just to keep the popular show on the air.
That's the broadcasting rub. It's not all that different from professional sports, where proven veterans command multimillion-dollar contracts. Ironically, many of these once-nimble players have peaked, and before you know it, a sports program is stuck overpaying an underachieving squad that winds up resembling last season's New York Mets or the Washington Redskins, with marquee names failing to produce marquee results.
While the TV-programming world doesn't face salary caps or luxury taxes, it does have to deal with sponsors' limited elasticity. You can pity Disney's
The big winners? Viacom's CBS
Look out, Hollywood. Actors who want more are competing against amateurs who will take anything. But don't worry, Carmela. Gandolfini will probably get his money. This time. But out there in suburbia, tens of thousands are willing to make networks an offer they can't refuse.