FFA SWEEPS FALL TV RATINGS
From The Visiting Fireman, Vol. 4, No. 21, Pages 1,4, November 23, 1970.
A sprained ankle usually isn't worth $20,000. But it could be if your name is Bill Cosby and you twist an ankle while getting ready to do a television special with Dick Van Dyke.
It happened to Cosby last February. By the time he got back on his feet, the special was delayed two months and FFA paid a claim of $19,923.
The money didn't go to Cosby. It went to the producer of the show, under a television cast insurance policy that pays the extra expenses incurred when a production is delayed because of the death, injury or illness of a leading performer.
In the case of Cosby's bad ankle, the two-month delay meant the producer had to find a new studio, arrange to keep back-up performers and the director on hand, reassemble a stage crew, and hire a new musical director. Nelson Riddle had been scheduled to direct the musical numbers, but he wasn't available when the show finally went on and a substitute was brought in.
The claim is typical of the kind FFA pays on cast insurance policies. The company insures more television shows than any other underwriter in the country.
During the 1970 - 71 season, 36 prime-time evening network television series and at least 15 specials are being covered by FFA, including such favorites as Bonanza, Mission: Impossible, Mannix, Carol Burnett Show, Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Beverly Hillbillies, Laugh-In and Hogan's Heroes. Also insured are all the feature-length productions for ABC's Movie of the Week.
Cast insurance generally covers only the director and leading artists, the theory being that minor characters could be replaced or eliminated from the script without noticeably affecting the show. Should a key person not be able to perform, the potential loss to the producer of a long-running television series is enormous, simply because the presence of a star can affect a program's ratings and thereby its marketability to the networks.
Even the Lassie show has a cast policy. If anything should happen to Lassie to delay production, insurance will pay out-of-pocket costs incurred by the delay.
Like any other "artist," Lassie gets an annual physical examination and a veterinary certificate is required before the season begins.
Television stars suffer the same injuries and illnesses as anyone else, but their maladies usually end up costing more. When Doris Day came down with a respiratory illness, work on her show came to a stop and a claim for $34,067 resulted. A fall from a horse injured 10-year-old Lisa Gerritson of My World and Welcome to It last season, and FEA paid $32,482.
The flu bug felled Peggy Lipton of Mod Squad and a claim of $28,273 came in. Green Acres star Eva Gabor had a brief illness and the producers recovered $12,289. An accident on the set of Mission: Impossible put former Miss America, Lee Meriwether, out of commission to the tune of $1,385. These amounts are for production delays only and do not cover hospital or medical expenses of the artist, since those costs are not paid by the television cast policy.
Two years ago, Leif Erickson of High Chaparral aggravated a leg injury that required hospitalization and surgery. Although the producer was able to write him out of the script for several episodes until he recovered, the claim came to $148,000, one of the larger losses paid in recent years.
Losses like these are all in a day's work for Edward F. Hamby, resident secretary in Los Angeles who has been in charge of entertainment industry insurance for FFA for the past seven years. "We insure people, and that is never routine," says Hamby. "But when you weigh the amount we pay out against the large number of television shows we insure, the claims don't seem quite so large. It is a profitable business for us."
Although intimately involved with a glamour industry, entertainment insurance is strictly business for Hamby. "We deal exclusively with the front-office financial people at the studios," he explains. "They are the ones concerned about the investment in a show. Still, I can't convince my kids that I don't spend my days hobnobbing with the stars."
He's met many leading artists at industry gatherings and observes "they still have a lot of that 'show must go on' spirit, and that keeps them on the set and our losses down."
Television insurance isn't limited to protection of actors and directors. It also covers cameras, equipment, miscellaneous property and props. Last season two dune buggies used in a Mannix episode collided. The bill to EFA was $560.
Another part of the insurance package is Errors and Omissions, or producer liability coverage. It protects against libel and slander, defamation of character, plagiarism, or breach of implied contract resulting from alleged submission of ideas, including the defending against claims, often a major expenditure when a suit is brought. With so many new shows being aired each year, at least on a trial basis, some story lines are almost sure to be similar to copyrighted material, and producers run the risk of a plagiarism charge.
The company writes this insurance for many leading television producers, including blanket coverage for Talent Associates, Filmways and Bing Crosby Productions. Three important accounts are the late-night network talk shows starring Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett. A slip of the tongue by host or guest could end up in a healthy law suit for slander.
Motion pictures, with bigger budgets, more elaborate sets and longer shooting schedules, provide some interesting and unusual insurance claims, such as the Loch Ness monster that sank and the blank cartridge that shot a hole in Mick Jagger's hand. These and other incidents will be covered in a future issue of The Visiting Fireman.
[Fireman's Fund Archives: 4-1-3-5-31; 1335]
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