The message Viacom Copresident Les Moonves delivered the week of July 12 was loud and clear: The networks are mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore!
Which is why ''CSI,'' TV's top-rated series, recently faced the disappearance of two of its top forensic investigators, Jorja Fox and George Eads. Moonves found the actors guilty of the ultimate TV crime: asking for too big a raise too soon. ''There's this assumption that a contract is not valid,'' Moonves tells EW. ''That's what bothers me. It's become a normal practice for actors to break their contracts in the middle of them. It's absurd.''
Eads and Fox -- who are in the fifth year of seven-year contracts -- were reportedly asking for salary bumps that would have brought them more than their $100,000 per episode. But negotiations apparently weren't going well. When Fox didn't notify CBS that she'd be returning and Eads didn't show up for work, the network told them not to bother -- it just fired them. (According to sources close to the production, Fox has negotiated a return to the show starting next week, at her old salary.)
Fox and Eads are hardly the first TV actors to pressure networks into forking over more cash when their shows become hits. Sometimes they claim illness (Jane Kaczmarek's migraines disappeared after her ''Malcolm in the Middle'' contract was renegotiated); other times they don't bother with doctors' notes (''Friends,'' ''Seinfeld'') -- they just stay home until their salary demands are met. ''The 'Friends' negotiations was one of the greatest mistakes in the last 30 years of television,'' says Law & Order exec producer Dick Wolf. ''You don't give in to blackmail. You need a zero-tolerance policy.'' Wolf should know -- he wrote the book on the revolving cast door.