Lisa Kudrow Testifies in Manager Trial as Her 'Friends' Salary Is Examined
The long legal battle returned to the Santa Monica Courthouse on Thursday as the actress took the stand to fight Scott Howard's claims to her earnings.
Lisa Kudrow's income from the megahit comedy Friends was discussed in detail Thursday when the actress took the stand in her long-running legal battle against her former manager.
The Friends star has been fighting in court with Scott Howard, who first entered into an oral agreement to represent Kudrow in 1991 and claims he is owed 5 percent of her earnings after he parted ways with the actress in 2007. Howard sued in 2008 and the case has been winding through various courts.
Dressed in a black trouser suit, Kudrow took the stand for about two hours in Los Angeles Superior Court in Santa Monica. Her demeanor was lighthearted and friendly throughout. She got offended only when Howard’s attorney Marc Baute said that "when she was making money she signed written agreements," but when it was about someone else making money, she didn't. At one point, Baute also bluntly suggested that Kudrow was acting like Phoebe, her air-head character, when she had trouble following a line of questioning. Kudrow laughed off the reference.
According to the testimony, Kudrow started on Friends at $13,500 per episode, then over five contract negotiations, her per-episode pay increased to a whopping $1,040,000 in 2000, plus $5 million in back-end compensation. She continues to make residuals from the show, which ran from 1994-2004. Those monies are at issue in the lawsuit, which alleges that Kudrow orally agreed to pay Howard a commission on all revenue from work she obtained during their business relationship even after that relationship ended.
Kudrow testified that she once told Scott that she wanted to pay commission only on the first round of residuals and not beyond that. Scott replied, "I can’t agree. I don’t do that for any of my clients."
"For me it was a small ask," Kudrow told the jury, describing the move as a "gesture... as the residuals for the first run were the ones that make the money."
Ultimately, Kudrow told the jury, her former manager agreed.
"I felt like I didn’t really need Scott anymore," Kudrow continued. "I didn’t want to fire him as I didn’t think it would be fair. A lot of people were firing their managers and told me I was being an idiot for not doing so. I think I wanted him to know that having a manager was unnecessary but I was going to keep him anyway – I just wanted a gesture."
So in 2004, Kudrow said she reduced Howard's episodic commission from 10 to 5 percent.
"My intention was I didn’t think it was fair that Scott got more than the agents," said Kudrow. "I felt like the attorneys did so much towards making these deals that it seemed fair that no one got a higher share than the attorney."
But by 2007, Kudrow said she concluded she didn't need Howard's services at all. She testified that while she was initially impressed with her manager's energy, the relationship soured. "I know for sure that once I was on Friends, I didn’t love having him come to every taping," she said.
So she eventually fired Howard.
About $8 million could be at stake in the case, based on calculations of post-termination backend compensation. Howard believes, among other things, that custom and practice for talent managers in the entertainment industry entitles him to post-termination commissions. Kudrow disputes that.
Earlier in the proceedings, Howard took the stand for a lengthy cross-examination from Kudrow’s attorney, Gerald Sauer, during which the manager admitted that he had limited recollection about the details of both the initial meeting or oral agreement with Kudrow in 1991. Sauer jokingly referred to that deal as being written on a "napkin."
Sauer repeatedly pointed out there was no written agreement governing the relationship and argued that Howard never adequately explained to his client that he expected to be paid even if their relationship ended. "Throughout your relationship, you never had a conversation about post-termination compensation?" asked Sauer, which Howard replied was correct.
Howard also spoke about how he had helped Kudrow secure the key roles in her career -- first on Mad About You and then Friends, plus the multiple salary negotiations during her time on the hit NBC comedy. But Howard also admitted that he was not intimately involved in the career-making deals.
Instead, "the [six Friends] actors banded together," explained Sauer. "That was a monumental strategy. By banding together they said: ‘All for one and one for all,' if you want a Friends show." The tactic led to the landmark negotiation for an ensemble cast that resulted in $1 million per-episode paydays.
"You didn't come up with it?" Sauer asked, and again Howard replied "no."
Sauer stressed that once Kudrow found success with Friends, as well as films such as The Opposite of Sex, Howard wasn't integral in helping her get new roles. "You were aware that she was able to take meetings with anyone in Hollywood?" the attorney asked. "Did you ever bring any projects to her that you thought she should do and she turned down?" Howard replied that they "talked about scripts and were engaged," but didn't name specifics.
Through their 16-year professional relationship, Howard made more than $11 million in commissions, according to court documents that were displayed for the jury.
"Do you believe you were underpaid?" asked Sauer. "No," Howard replied.
The day's proceedings culminated with expert witness Martin Bauer appearing for Howard to testify general policy with managerial and agent contracts. The longtime agent told the court that most agreements were oral, and that he had never had a commission cut off because he had been fired: "I would never be in that business – I would never make that deal. . The only consequence of a termination is on future projects."
The trial continues on Friday.