The longest-running scripted series in primetime television history, The Simpsons, may finally have run up against an obstacle it can’t overcome, and it isn’t ratings: it’s money.
As first reported by The Daily Beast, 20th Century Fox Television and the six actors who voice the animated Simpsons characters are disagreeing over a new contract, with the studio calling on Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Harry Shearer, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, and Hank Azaria to take pay cuts of 45 percent. Disputes over money are nothing new on The Simpsons, including threats to simply recast the voice roles, but in the past, it was always a matter of the actors wanting raises, not fighting against cuts.
The six stars are currently making about $8 million a year – not bad for work you can theoretically do without changing out of your pajamas. But the actors have argued that the oodles of money surrounding the franchise, including syndication and licensing deals, ought to factor in to what they are paid, especially since the money faucet will continue to run for Fox for decades after The Simpsons is no longer in production. Fox doesn’t see it that way. The actors made a proposal last week to accept a 30 percent cut in exchange for a percentage of the “back end” profits, but the studio declined.
Fox TV addressed the reports in a statement Tuesday, saying “We believe this brilliant series can and should continue, but we cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model. We are hopeful that we can reach an agreement with the voice cast that allows The Simpsons to go on entertaining audiences with original episodes for many years to come.” The studio seems to be betting on the voice actors coming to the realization that it is in a position of strength – it will still make massive amounts of money off The Simpsons whether new episodes are produced or not, while the actors need to keep working in order to make anything other than residuals.
The Simpsons is past its prime in both a ratings and a creative sense, but it still does well in the key demographic for Fox on Sunday nights, where it has aired for nearly the entirety of the network’s existence.