End of the road?


The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TV - By JOE FLINT

Salary dis­pute could spell the end of

ASALARY dis­pute is threat­en­ing to end one of tele­vi­sion’s most beloved come­dies. The ac­tors who pro­vide the voices for the long-run­ning car­toon hit The Simp­sons are at odds over a new con­tract with 20th Cen­tury Fox Tele­vi­sion, the pro­duc­tion com­pany that makes the se­ries for its sis­ter broad­cast net­work.

The stu­dio is seek­ing to dra­mat­i­cally cut the mid-six-fig­ure salaries of the key ac­tors who voice the show, in­clud­ing Dan Castel­lan­eta (Homer), Julie Kavner (Marge), Nancy Cartwright (Bart), Yeard­ley Smith (Lisa), Hank Azaria (Moe the bar­tender, Chief Wig­gum and Apu) and Harry Shearer (Mr Burns and Ned Flan­ders).

In a state­ment, 20th Cen­tury Fox Tele­vi­sion said it “can­not pro­duce fu­ture sea­sons un­der its cur­rent fi­nan­cial model”.

A sta­ple of the Fox lineup for more than two decades, The Simp­sons has been a cash cow for Fox par­ent News Corp, gen­er­at­ing bil­lions of dol­lars in re­run and DVD sales, as well as mer­chan­dise, video games and a fea­ture film. But its rat­ings have tum­bled over the last few years.

Most shows ex­pe­ri­ence rat­ings de­clines as they age. The co­nun­drum is that pro­duc­tion costs rise at the same time be­cause pro­duc­ers and ac­tors typ­i­cally get big raises the longer a pro­gramme stays on the air.

The per-episode li­cence fee that Fox pays its sis­ter stu­dio for The Simp­sons is north of US$5mil (RM15mil). At that price, the se­ries is no longer prof­itable.

Fur­ther­more, there have been long-run­ning dis­cus­sions in­side News Corp over whether the com­pany could ac­tu­ally make more money off The Simp­sons if it stopped pro­duc­ing new episodes. The show is in its 23rd sea­son.

The deals for re­peats of the show were done years ago and now heav­ily favour the sta­tions car­ry­ing it. Usu­ally, TV sta­tions pay cash plus a por­tion of com­mer­cial in­ven­tory (known as barter ad­ver­tis­ing) in re­turn for get­ting to air re­runs of pop­u­lar shows. In the case of The Simp­sons, the barter ad­ver­tis­ing por­tion of the agree­ment with the sta­tions that carry the show is long ex­pired and is strictly a cash deal.

Un­til the show stops pro­duc­ing new episodes, News Corp’s hands are tied with re­gard to find­ing new buy­ers that will pay more for the re­peats. Once the show is fin­ished on Fox, the con­tracts that News Corp’s syn­di­ca­tion unit 20th Tele­vi­sion struck will start to ex­pire and new re­run deals can be struck with lo­cal sta­tions and cable net­works.

Given the strength of the show’s per­for­mance in re­runs, there will be no short­age of buy­ers. News Corp deputy chair­man Chase Carey even talked re­cently at an in­vestor con­fer­ence about start­ing a cable net­work de­voted to re­runs of The Simp­sons.

Although there may be fi­nan­cial mo­ti­va­tions driv­ing News Corp to play hard­ball with the cast, the show still pro­vides Fox with a valu­able pro­mo­tional plat­form and the char­ac­ters are wo­ven into the net­work’s iden­tity in a way that tran­scends dol­lars and cents.

“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 said. – Los An­ge­les Times/ MCT In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

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