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'Undercover' Stars End Their Holdout

July 26, 1996|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The stars of Fox's "New York Undercover" were back on the beat Thursday, ending a contract holdout that briefly delayed production on the police drama.

Actors Malik Yoba and Michael DeLorenzo didn't report to work on Monday to begin shooting the program's third season.

Universal Television, which produces the show, and executive producer Dick Wolf, played hardball in dealing with the pair's demands, which, according to Wolf, included $75,000 per episode for one of the actors plus more creative input, "a gym and a star trailer and better food."

That salary is estimated to be about three times what the stars make currently. DeLorenzo also wanted assurances that he would be allowed to direct episodes of the series.

The matter was resolved late Wednesday, Wolf said, reporting that the pair returned to work "under the terms and conditions of their original agreement."

In addition to issuing a harshly worded statement calling such public demands "a virus" in the entertainment industry, Wolf threatened to write the actors out of the show. Universal also filed a $1.2-million suit against them alleging breach of contract, maintaining that the delays were costing the production company $60,000 per day.

"All I have ever asked is that people live up to their commitments," said Wolf, who also produces NBC's "Law & Order." Wolf added that performer efforts to gain sweetened deals "[have] to stop being done this way. It's going to destroy the business."

Observers think the "Undercover" stars may have been emboldened to hold out by the much-publicized salary dispute involving NBC's "Friends," whose six cast members are each seeking raises to more than $100,000 per episode.

"Friends," however, is a major hit that has already been sold into syndication for more than $4 million per episode. "New York Undercover" is one of TV's highest-rated shows in black and Latino households but draws relatively small ratings overall, airing Thursdays opposite NBC's "Seinfeld." The show does not have a deal beyond its Fox run and, according to the producer, continues to operate at a deficit.

Regarding "Friends," a Warner Bros. Television spokesman would say only that talks are still in progress between the production company and cast. The studio is said to have made a counter-offer to the stars, but because "Friends" isn't scheduled to begin production on its third season until Aug. 12, there's still a fair amount of time to reach an accord.

Wolf's tough response has made him something of a hero among producers, who have privately chafed at what they see as increasingly unrealistic star demands.

Universal was equally stern a few years ago when one of the stars of CBS' "Northern Exposure," Rob Morrow, sought to renegotiate his deal. Morrow eventually returned, later leaving the series.

Though the controversy has garnered some attention for "New York Undercover," which will return to the air Aug. 29, Wolf noted, "It's like pulling away the green curtain in 'The Wizard of Oz.' This isn't the kind of publicity you want."

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