Thursday, October 6, 2011

The War of the Simpsons

The Simpsons get cancelled? That's unpossible!

In a memorable episode of The Simpsons, Troy McClure (as voiced by the late great Phil Hartman) posed a question regarding the series: "Who knows what adventures they'll have between now and the time the show becomes unprofitable?" Apparently, that time may be coming sooner than expected.

This week, it was reported that 20th Century Fox has demanded the cast of The Simpsons- Dan Castelleneta (Homer/Krusty/Grampa/Barney/Groundskeeper Willie/others), Julie Kavner (Marge/Patty/Selma), Nancy Cartwright (Bart/Nelson/Ralph), Yeardley Smith (Lisa), Harry Shearer (Flanders/Mr. Burns/Principal Skinner/Kent Brockman/others), and Hank Azaria (Chief Wiggum/Apu/Moe/Comic Book Guy/Disco Stu/Supernintendo Chalmers/others)- take a pay cut from their current $9 million per year (or $440,000 per episode) to $5 million per year (or $250,000 per episode) or else the show will end due to the fact that the show has become too expensive to produce under their current demands. The cast has famously renegotiated many times for more money, but this is the first time they've been asked to take less. The cast gave a counter-offer of $300,000 an episode in exchange for a share of the lucrative syndication and merchandising rights for the show, but not surprisingly, TCF refused. The cast has until Friday to decide.

Some interesting things come up here...the most interesting is the fact that the cast does not already get a share of the back-end money. Given how important they are to bringing the characters of the show to life, you'd think they'd already get some of that, but in a way it's not surprising, since voice actors in particular aren't really treated that well. Some famous VAs such as Tom Kenny and Billy West have lamented the fact that major motion pictures turn them down and seek top-named talent for animated movies, and TCF has threatened multiple times to replace the Simpsons voice cast during negotiations (and also threatened to do the same to Futurama).

The other interesting question is- should the show die? If not now, when? And what would the result be? It seems impossible to live in a world without The Simpsons, but all good things must come to an end. As for what would happen afterwards, it's quite possible that the show is worth more alive than dead. Under the current syndication contract, which was signed in the mid-1990s, reruns of The Simpsons can only be sold to local stations. If the show ends, this opens up the possibility of selling reruns of the show to a cable network such as FX, Adult Swim, or Comedy Central (or the all-Simpsons network TCF has thought about) as well as online streaming services such as Hulu or Netflix. Based on one estimate, it's possible that TCF could make upwards of $750 million on such deals (estimating $2 million per episode with 506 episodes at the end of this season).

The cast has commissioned a study stating that the show is not losing money as TCF claims, but even if it were to go on, it probably wouldn't for long. Apparently, TCF is somewhat correct in the matter, according to an anonymous source, and if the show went on, it probably would only go on for one more season and that everyone who works on the show, not just the voice cast, are taking pay cuts because of this.

Is it time for The Simpsons to die? In my opinion: yes, but on its own terms, not because of a money dispute. The Simpsons is definitely one of the most influential- and funniest- television shows in history, but it's not what it used to be. I wouldn't be sad to see it go, but it should be allowed to go on its own terms and given the proper send-off it deserves. Much like I Love Lucy, All in the Family, and Seinfeld, The Simpsons was a revolutionary comedy whose classic episodes still hold up today and will probably live on forever in reruns. Its time has come, but Homer and friends deserve to say goodbye on their own terms, not those of the folks who provide their voices.

THE SIMPSONS ™&©2011 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. No ownership intended or implied.

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