UPDATE 11/4: About 3 weeks after BET released its statement in response to Gabrielle Union’s $3 million lawsuit filed against the company for “breach of contract” regarding salary increases and the filming of “Being Mary Jane,” actors union SAG-AFTRA has now gotten involved on behalf of not just Gabrielle Union, but the entire “Being Mary Jane” cast, accusing BET and series producer Breakdown Productions of violating their contract with the union, with regards to the hit show.
Releasing its own statement, after first sending a grievance letter to BET last month, SAG-AFTRA, unsatisfied with the network’s response, has decided to move forward with arbitration with BET and Breakdown Productions, concerning the series. Their official statement reads: “Regarding the series ‘Being Mary Jane,’ BET and Breakdown Productions continue to abuse the option pickup process and mask which season they are shooting in order to avoid paying contractually agreed upon raises. As a result, SAG-AFTRA is moving to arbitration on behalf of the entire cast.”
In addition, Gabrielle’s Union’s attorney Marty Singer, speaking to Deadline today, had this to say: “It is outrageous that BET and Viacom have been taking advantage of the actors who appear on their television series by attempting to get what amounts to free options without paying the actors the compensation they are entitled to under their agreements… We are extremely pleased that SAG-AFTRA is pursuing the claim against the Network to protect their members and prevent the network from engaging in this egregious conduct in the future.”
By the way, the move to arbitration by SAG-AFTRA is entirely separate from Gabrielle Union’s $3 million lawsuit against BET, which the network has not yet officially responded to in court. BET did release a statement soon after Union’s lawsuit went public last month, stating: “While we hold Gabrielle Union in the highest esteem, we feel strongly that we are contractually well within our rights and are committed to reaching a swift and positive resolution in this matter.”
As these legal struggles between the various parties continues behind-the-scenes, production on “Being Mary Jane’s” upcoming 4th season continues, with recent cast additions announced in the last couple of weeks, including Valarie Pettiford, Ashton Holmes, Chiké Okonkwo, and Cardi B. Previously Michael Ealy joined the cast.
The series is supposed to return early next year. I’m sure BET brass certainly would like to settle this as quickly as possible, if only for the sake of the show – one of its few original scripted series, and one that’s been a success for them, with a loyal fan base. It would be in the best interest of all parties, I assume.
Arbitration is a legal procedure in which a dispute is submitted to one or more arbitrators who make a binding decision on the dispute. In choosing arbitration, the parties opt for a private dispute resolution instead of going to court. Of course both parties have to first agree to submit their dispute to arbitration. SAG-AFTRA clearly wants that to happen. No response from BET yet.
If you missed the report on Gabrielle Union’s lawsuit that launched this entire ordeal last month, read it all below.
Gabrielle Union has filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against BET Networks and “Being Mary Jane” producer, Breakdown Productions, in Los Angeles County Superior Court today, citing “negligent misrepresentation” and “breach of contract,” leaving the future of the series, which was set to return in early 2017, uncertain at this time.
Via a copy of the lawsuit (read it here), Union claims that, per her contract, BET would never produce more than 13 episodes per season, so that the actress could also be free to pursue movie roles; but the network is currently trying to “cram all of the episodes [two 10-episode seasons back-to-back, without a previously agreed upon break between filming] into a single season in order to fraudulently extend the term of Ms. Union’s contract.” Union says she and the network agreed to those terms, as long as she got a break in filming.
Under her contract, Union is due for a raise for every additional season the show airs, the suit says. Union is set to receive $150,000 per episode for season four and $165,000 per episode for season five. Union’s attorney Martin Singer claims the network is essentially combining the 4th and 5th seasons of the series into one shoot, in order to avoid paying his client’s contractual raise (from $150K to $165K), and, in doing so, fraudulently extends its option to keep her tied to the network for an extended year (I assume, should they want a 6th season of “Being Mary Jane”).
The suit states: “Although BET represented and assured Ms. Union before she agreed to perform in ‘Being Mary Jane’ that it would never produce more than thirteen (13) episodes per season of the series, BET now wants to shoot twenty (20) episodes of the series back-to-back and cram all of the episodes into a single season in order to fraudulently extend the term of Ms. Union’s contract, with no additional consideration, and to deprive Ms. Union of her agreed-upon compensation for the next two seasons of Being Mary Jane. It is outrageous that BET would treat one of its biggest stars in this manner after all she has done to support the network and contribute to its success.”
Union says she never would have agreed to star in “Being Mary Jane” if BET executives hadn’t assured her of the “no more than 13 episodes per season” requirement, according to the complaint. She wasn’t notified of BET’s plans to slot 20 episodes for season four until a week before principal photography began last month. The actress is seeking damages of at least $3 million and a formal declaration that BET cannot seek more than 13 episodes for any season of “Being Mary Jane.”
At the end of the series’ last season, creator and showrunner Mara Brock Akil (and director Salim Akil) left the network and set up shop at Warner Bros. TV studios, where they currently have a deal, with 2 potential series in development. They were replaced by Will Packer (to executive produce), and “The Good Wife” co-executive producer Erica Shelton Kodish (to serve as showrunner and executive produce as well) for the series’ upcoming 4th season.