Fox Cut Costs From Page One As Simpsons Writer Gets Paid WGA Minimum Rates

If any show could justify paying voice actors $440,000 per episode it’s The Simpsons. A show with a life span of 23 years and counting, it has already made Fox over a billion dollars in profit.

With the recent pay dispute apparently coming to its conclusion and leaving Harry Shearer, Dan Castellanata, Nancy Cartwright, Julie Kavner and Yeardley Smith with their salaries cut by 30%, ostensibly to make the continuation of the show possible, it’s interesting to take a look at where else the show saves money.

A freelance writer who sold a script to the show started a Reddit Q&A in which he revealed a number of interesting things about the development and pre-production stages of an episode.

I pitched some ideas… Once the pitch session was over, I beat the idea out over a couple of days then left with multiple pages of notes. Over the next two weeks, I turned the notes into a twenty page, scene-by-scene outline. Al Jean sent me notes on the outline, which I then turned into a 42-page draft.

Most interesting of all is the fact that, after being asked how much he was paid to write the episode, he had this to say:

I earned WGA minimum for a half-hour TV episode. For some reason, I feel less sleazy if I just link to the WGA rate card.

Following the link reveals that for writing the story and first draft for an episode of less than 30 minutes, the writer would have been paid around $23, 358 for the script. So whilst the actors will be paid $300,000 for reading a joke, the person who wrote the joke will receive less than a tenth of that.

Just to clarify, this is in no way a dig at Harry Shearer or any of the other voice actors on the show. I think the protest at the salary cuts is entirely justified and that Harry Shearer’s request to exchange a huge cutback in wages for a small profit share was an excellent suggestion, albeit not one that I’d ever expect Fox to accept.

It’s already known that Fox outsource their animation to a studio in South Korea in order to save money, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that they pay low rates to their writers as well. But if it’s possible to justify huge voice actor salaries based on the show’s success and profit, how defensible is it for the same show to pay writers the absolute bare minimum rate allowed by their union?

This same young man, Ben Joseph, has written a number of sketches for CollegeHumour.com, including a Be Kind, Rewind-style Star Wars remake featuring Nick Pegg and Simon Frost, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, a face-off between The Dark Knight and Superman, and an adult Hermione Granger teaching troubled urban wizards about the power of a good education.

You can catch the Simpsons episode, Beware My Cheating Bart, when it airs in the US on April 15th 2012.