Disney Used Loophole to Pay Young Actors Less Than WGA Base Rate, Actors Say

Amidst the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes ripping through Hollywood as writers and actors advocate for better wages and higher residuals, Joey Bragg, an actor who played the role of Joey Rooney on the Disney Channel original series Liv and Maddie, claimed on the Cash Cuties podcast last week that Disney Entertainment regularly used a loophole to avoid paying young actors less than the WGA base rates.

“They had a deal where the first three seasons of a show you get paid 88% of scale, so it’s 88% of minimum wage, pretty much, for the crew,” Bragg said. “The idea is, you work on a show, it becomes popular, you go four, five, six seasons and you get 100% of whatever that is.”

“But then [Disney], by the third season, even if the show’s popular, they reboot it as a brand new show.”

Bragg explained that after three seasons of acting on Liv and Maddie, Disney rebooted the show as Liv and Maddie: Cali Style for its fourth, and ultimately final, season; the show aired from July 19, 2013, to March 24, 2017.

“And it’s technically a new show, so they can go back to paying you like shit?” one of the podcast hosts asked.

“Yeah, exactly,” said Bragg.

An executive producer on a popular Disney Channel show who wished to remain anonymous told The Daily Beast that in his experience, “there’s only one or two people on a show who are writing who know how much the actors get [paid]. I never asked anybody. I only cared about one thing: the money for me.”

“Before I started working at Disney, the highest I went was $20,000 per week,” the producer said. “When I went to Disney, they were not happy to have me. I went with a partner, and I made $10,000 a week. But what I did know is that what we were making—nobody really cared at Disney.”

The Daily Beast reached out to Disney for comment.

Bragg also mentioned the Disney Channel shows Hannah Montana Forever and Suite Life on Deck, both of which were launched as reboots of previews shows—Hannah Montana and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, respectively.

Hannah Montana ran for four seasons total, with Hannah Montana Forever being marketed as the final season, and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and Suite Life on Deck both ran for only three seasons.

Other shows on The Disney Channel that ran for a short three seasons include KC Undercover, ANT Farm, Sydney to the Max and Andi Mack.

In the past, Disney has reportedly implemented a “65 episode rule” to better take advantage of annual programming schedules: “with 65 episodes, one episode can be broadcast each weekday, reaching the 65th episode at the end of the 13th week,” 13 weeks amounting to a quarter of a year, according to Fandom.

In addition to earning only subpar wages, Bragg also said last week that his performance on Liv & Maddie has earned him zero residual payouts.

“That’s one of the things we’re striking about,” Bragg told the podcasters. “Because my show was like Netflix’s No. 1 watched show, when it was on Netflix, then those streaming rights got bought by Disney for like millions upon millions upon millions of dollars, and the creators, nobody saw any of that money.”

Disney CEO Bob Iger has made it clear he disapproves of the ongoing work stoppage. “It’s very disturbing to me,” Iger told CNBC in July. “There’s a level of expectation that [writers and actors] have, that is just not realistic. And they are adding to the set of the challenges that this business is already facing that is, quite frankly, very disruptive.”

Kim Rhodes (centre), Brenda Song (left) and Ashely Tisdale (right) arrive for the Disney Channel Original Movies Los Angeles premiere of Tiger Cruise.

Frazer Harrison

“I did a show that aired on Disney Channel eight times a week, minimum,” Kim Rhodes, who played single mom Carey Martin on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and its spinoff, tweeted in July. “AT THE SAME TIME, my 1600 square foot home was foreclosed on and I lost health insurance for myself, my husband, and my child because of the residual structure.”

Actress Rachel Zegler, the breakout star of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story adaptation, is set to star in Disney’s upcoming live action Snow White remake.

“I’m if gonna stand there 18 hours in a dress of an iconic Disney princess, I deserve to be paid for every hour that it’s streamed online,” Zegler, who is striking alongside other SAG-AFSTRA performers, said while picketing last week.

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