End of the road?
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