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'Simpsons' Money Battle: Biz Model not Sustainable, Says Fox

Simpsons Season 23 Premiere - H 2011
FOX

"We believe this brilliant series can and should continue, but we cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model," 20th Century Fox Television says after a report that it is looking for a 45 percent pay cut for voice talent.

NEW YORK - News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox Television said Tuesday that it can't afford to continue producing animated hit show The Simpsons under its current business model.

"23 seasons in, The Simpsons is as creatively vibrant as ever and beloved by millions around the world," the Fox TV studio said in a statement. "We believe this brilliant series can and should continue, but we cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model."

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The statement added: "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 company, which has created a mutli-billion franchise care of Simpsons T-shirts, stamps, DVDs, video games, theme park rides and a feature film, declined to comment further.

The Daily Beast had reported that the TV studio it is looking for a 45 percent pay cut for voice talent, which includes Dan Castellaneta, who voices Homer Simpson, Julie Kavner (Marge), Nancy Cartwright (Bart), Yeardley Smith (Lisa) and Hank Azaria (Moe) and Harry Shearer (Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders). The report said studio executives have threatened to end the series, currently in its 23rd season, if a deal cannot be reached.

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Pay has repeatedly been a challenge on the long-running show. The first salary battle between the cast and Fox came in the late 1990s when the network threatened to replace the six main actors with new talent. The issue was ultimately resolved, with actors being paid roughly $125,000 per episode. In the spring of 2004, the cast demanded their fees be increased again. After they stopped showing up at table reads, their salaries were raised.

In mid-2008, after months of negotiations that put the 20th season on hold, the Simpsons cast and the studio reached the latest four-year deal that saw the top actors get paid nearly $400,000 per episode. While that was lower than an originally sought $500,000, it was up from their previous deal of about $300,000 an episode.

While parting way with the series is far from ideal --particularly given the series' ability to lure younger viewers and kickstart other offerings that come after it-- the company would continue to benefit from the Simpsons' ability to stay relevant in reruns. Among the appeals of an animated series of the Simpsons' caliber is its ability to play well in repeats, syndication and in streaming platforms.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai