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OTRC: 'Modern Family' dispute: ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee 'optimistic'

Sofia Vergara, Ed O'Neill, Nolan Gould, Rico Rodriguez, Eric Stonestreet, Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen, Sarah Hyland and Ariel Winter appear in a 2011 promotional photo for the third season of 'Modern Family.'

ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee says he is "optimistic" about resolving an recent contract dispute involving the adult cast of "Modern Family" and expects the new season of the comedy series, the network's most successful sitcom, to begin on time.

Earlier this week, cast members Sofia Vergara, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet, Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell filed a lawsuit against the Emmy-winning show's production company 20th Century Fox Television to void their contracts, claiming they are illegal under California law. Ed O'Neill, who plays the family patriarch, later joined their filing.

"As you know, we're in the middle of negotiations. Well, I'm talking to you fine folk, but we're in the middle of negotiations at the moment," Lee told OnTheRedCarpet.com and other outlets at ABC's Television Critics Association panel in Beverly Hills, California on Friday, July 27. "And we're hopeful, we're optimistic that we'll be able to resolve it."

He added that he expects season 4 of "Modern Family" to premiere on time. It is slated to begin airing on September 26.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the actors were present at a table read for season 4 on Thursday.

"Yeah, we did the table read," Lee said. "We are in the middle of negotiations, and we are optimistic. I don't want to talk about the specifics of the negotiations, but it's a wonderful show. They are a great cast, and we are optimistic about it."

The lawsuit claims that the cast members' existing show contracts violate a California law that prohibits personal service contracts from extending more than seven years.

The actors also want a judge to rule the contracts illegal and void them because the contracts prohibit the actors from working outside the television series. The contracts bind actors to work on the series from February 2009 to June 30, 2016.

In addition, the lawsuit claims the contracts cap the raises the actors receive for each additional season of the show. For example, Vergara's pay raise per season is capped at five percent, while the rest of her co-stars have a maximum pay increase of four percent per year.

Ferguson, Stonestreet, Bowen and Burrell are also required to perform numerous unpaid publicity obligations.

The outlet added that during season 3, all stars except O'Neill earned about $65,000 per episode. Earlier this week, 20th Century Fox Television offered new contracts that would pay them $150,000 for every episode of season 4 as well as a $50,000 bonus.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the lawsuit is just the latest turn of events in salary negotiations for the show's fourth season, which has already delayed the start of filming. Ed O'Neill was initially not a part of the lawsuit when it was filed on Tuesday because, as the industry paper reports, he was negotiating separately from his five co-stars as his salary track was different from theirs.

"Modern Family," which currently airs on ABC, won Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series the past two years. Burrell, Bowen and Stonestreet have won individual Emmys for their work on the show.

The show was recently nominated for 14 Emmy Awards, the most of any sitcom.

Earlier this month, Forbes named Sofia Vergara at the top of their list of highest-paid TV actress.

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