and write another 10-20 episodes for Meet the Browns,” said Lamont Ferrell, one of the fired writers, in an interview last month. “When they fired us they said, ‘You’re not being fired because of the quality of your work. You’re being fired because Tyler just wanted to go in a different creative direction.’”
House of Payne is centered on the lives of three generations of an African American family living under one roof. When it premiered in 2007, it ranked as the highest-rated sitcom in the history of ad-supported cable, according to Nielsen Media ratings provided by TBS. The show also won three NAACP Image Awards in February 2008.
Tyler sold House of Payne to Fox in a $100 million syndication deal after also receiving $200 million from TBS. “One of the major stumbling blocks of the negotiations was residuals from the syndication,” says Terence Long, a WGA spokesperson who alleges that only WGA writers were fired by Perry’s production company. “They wanted to pay far below what most other TV shows pay with regard to residuals.”
“Isn’t it strange that Tyler Perry suddenly discovered the quality of work suffered after they had completed 116 episodes of House of Payne…after the show was sold [for $300 million and is now in syndication]?” asked Long last October.
Of the 150 shows employing 1,200 writers in scripted television programming, House of Payne had been the only show where writers were not covered by the WGA’s minimum basic agreement, according to a letter to House of Payne producers and submitted by WGA creators, showrunners, and executive producers. The agreement guarantees minimum compensation, residuals, health coverage, and a pension, in addition to other benefits.
Johnson said in a release last month that the WGA had misrepresented the facts, called one of their news releases “racially inflammatory,” and accused the group of “attacking a man who employs over 300 Atlantans– the majority of whom are African American.”
Perry, who was named one of the Top 25 Moneymakers in Hollywood by Black Enterprise magazine in March, would not comment for this article. Someone familiar with the economics of the show said that Perry, who owns all of his copyrights, invested his own money into producing the show and has yet to recoup his investment. According to the source, aside from creative differences, the writers were fired because Perry wanted all of his writers to live in Atlanta. The four that were fired lived in Los Angeles. A fifth writer who lived on the West Coast was offered a relocation package and would not move but will continue to work on the show.
“He made more money from his television empire than from his movies,” Ferrell said. “We felt we should have been compensated because we were a big part of his success, but before the firings we weren’t even invited to the [gala]. We felt like we got smacked in the face.”
With a gospel brunch, fireworks, and performances by Mary J. Blige and John Legend, the boycott did not appear to dampen Perry’s festivities.