It’s high noon for The Simpsons and it appears the voice cast has blinked.
The group of lead actors is close to agreeing to a new deal to keep TV’s longest running entertainment show on the air, according to a source.
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That includes Dan Castellaneta (Homer, Grampa Simpson, Krusty the Clown, and others), Julie Kavner (Marge and others), Nancy Cartwright (Bart and others), Yeardley Smith (Lisa), Hank Azaria (Moe, Chief Wiggum and Apu), and Harry Shearer (Mr. Burns, Principal Skinner, and Ned Flanders, among others).
While the cast is ready to agree to a pay cut from the $400,000 per episode they have been making since 2008, the source said that is not as deep as the 45% reduction in salary that Fox has demanded, which would have meant they get about $250,000 an episode.
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The show’s top producers, according to reports, have already agreed to reduce their current compensation, but the big difference from the cast is that several of them have “back end” deals that pay them additional amounts based on profits from all the revenue sources related to the show – such as licensing, merchandising and syndication of reruns to local TV stations.
The cast has not been paid a cut of the back end profits, and is not expected to get any in this new contract. Harry Shearer put out a statement early Friday saying he would take a cut of as much as 70% in salary if the network provided a share of back end profits, but his statement adds that Fox has remained steadfast in its refusal to do so.
Clearly the cast wants the show to continue. It isn’t a tremendous amount of work (most of them do other jobs as well), and it has been a great professional calling card for the 23 years the show has been on the air.
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On Friday, Nancy Cartwright said in a statement about her desire to see the show continue: “Absolutely! “The Simpsons is a remarkable chronicle of our times. I’ve wanted to do this since I was 16! And I want to keep doing it until I am 86! Long live the Simpsons!”
This is the latest in a long history of salary squabbles between the network and the voice cast. The series went on in 1989, with the cast making about $30,000 per episode, and the first big battle took place in 1998 when Fox threatened to replace the cast. There were other tough negotiations in 2004 and 2008, when the actors got up to their current salary.
The difference now is that the show’s ratings have continued to erode, along with those of most primetime shows. While it is still pulling enough viewers to deserve to remain on the air, the studio insists the deficit to make the animated shows has now risen to a point where it is unacceptable to them. That is why Fox has threatened to end the show if they can’t make a deal.
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Of course Fox could also re-cast the voice actors with talent at a lower salary, but that would bring them a lot of bad public relations.
What we do know is that the Friday noon deadline set by the studio has now passed and neither Fox or the actors is saying anything. The actors and their representatives were in a long conference call Friday morning; but the answer to what it all means continues to be “D’oh?”