How Actors Are Benefiting From a "No Quotes" Law

As new California legislation bans employers from seeking salary history, some agents privately worry about "Kabuki theater" in talent negotiations, while others see the gender pay gap narrowing.

California's new law banning employers from asking potential hires about their previous salary is helping to close the gender pay gap among actors this pilot season. It's also uncovering a pervasive inequality in what non-white stars were earning as well as boosting the paydays for below-the-line employees.

The legislation, which went into effect Jan. 1, bans studios from seeking salary history — aka an actor's "quote" — in a bid to help narrow the gender pay gap and achieve parity. That instead forces the negotiation to focus on an actor's skill, stature, social media profile and the demands of the role, among other factors. This is a fundamental change in how business has been done during the broadcast networks' annual pilot season, when more than 70 comedies and dramas compete for the same pool of talent.

Top stars are not being impacted, say reps. Instead, some sources say the legislation has provided salary boosts to women and diverse actors in midlevel roles in a season in which broadcasters have put a renewed emphasis on female-fronted fare and onscreen inclusion. Those actors traditionally have been bound by their quotes.

"What I've seen in the film side and through this TV pilot season is that we've been unshackled from being primarily a quote-driven business," says talent attorney Rick Genow, who estimates he's seen anywhere from a 10 percent to 20 percent pay increase in the deals women and non-white actors have secured this pilot season. "I've been doing this for 26 years and had my eyes opened because it's uncovered a bit of what was a pervasive inequality in what women and minority actors were being paid that was not as obvious before."

Others on the talent side say the legislation is a double-edged sword, as the inability to ask for quotes has turned the negotiation process into "Kabuki theater," where most involved know what actors were paid previously but can't discuss it. "It hurts people with high quotes and makes it harder for them because [their salaries] are being looked at again as studios were cutting those quotes anyway," says one top agent.

Still, casting directors at the major networks and studios who participated in TV's annual pilot season tell THR as part of a pilot season survey  that the change hasn't impacted salaries as a whole because their overall budgets largely remain the same. Instead, they say the law has led to an elongated casting process that stems from extra rounds of salary negotiations with lawyers, agents and business affairs execs. (At press time, a large percentage of pilots had yet to complete casting.)

Adds Fox executive vp casting Tessa Sanchez, "I like the idea that people that have done good work are now getting pay equity for doing the same job."

A version of this story first appeared in the March 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.