Fox’s animated series, the longest running scripted program in the history of television, is in danger of disappearing from the airwaves if Fox can’t convince the voice cast to voluntarily reduce their salaries.
A statement released by Fox claims that:
“23 seasons in, The Simpsons is as creatively vibrant as ever and beloved by millions around the world … We believe this brilliant series can and should continue, but we cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model.”
The “current financial model” that they’re talking about calls for the cast—among them Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer, all of which voice multiple characters—to receive $400,000 per episode, a figure that the cast negotiated for in 2008. That means that each episode is costing at least $2.4 million and that’s before a single frame is animated—making The Simpsons one of the most expensive shows on the air.
There are, of course, two ways to look at this: The Simpsons is no longer the cutting-edge animated series it once was. It’s cultural cachet has dimmed somewhat in the past decade, being supplanted by shows like Family Guy, The Venture Bros., and Robot Chicken. And, while the ratings seem healthy (last season, The Simpsons averaged 7.7 million viewers), paying this much for this show at this point does seem a little ill-advised.
Then again, The Simpsons has been a stellar cash cow for Fox: Between the DVD sets and the merchandising and the feature film and the videogames and the theme-park rides, The Simpsons funnels capital into Fox like nothing else. And that success is due, in great part, to the voice cast and their contributions to The Simpsons’ enduring popularity. For them to accept less than their contracted-for salaries would be more than just a little insulting, it would be ignoring their role in the money machine.
How will this resolve? Who can tell? It feels like it’s a pride vs. profit argument and there’s no way to know who’ll blink, if at all. But, as the man said, there is an end to everything, good things as well.