It was announced recently that, despite the stand-off between Fox executives and the voice actors for The Simpsons regarding salary, the show would be returning for another two seasons. Troubles began when Fox insisted that in order for the show to continue the actors would have to accept a 45% salary cut, and were met with more than a little resistance. Most vocal among the voice talent has been Harry Shearer, who attempted a compromise with Fox in order to try and adjust to their "new business model". His statement was released shortly before the 24th and 25th seasons were announced.
For many years now, the cast of The Simpsons has been trying to get Fox to agree that, like so many other people who've contributed significantly to the show's success, we be allowed a tiny share of the billions of dollars in profits the show has earned. Fox has consistently refused to even consider the matter. Instead, it's paid us salaries that, while ridiculous by any normal standard, pale in comparison to what the show's profit participants have been taking home.
Now, as the show enters its 23rd season, we are engaged in what will probably be our last contract negotiation with Fox. As you may have heard, the network has taken the position that The Simpsons no longer makes enough money and that unless we in the cast accept a 45% pay cut, they are not going to bring the show back for a 24th season.
Obviously, there are a lot more important things going on in the world right now, in the streets of New York and elsewhere. But given how many people seem to care about what happens to our show – and how much misinformation has been flying around – I thought it might make sense for at least one member of the cast to speak out directly. I should note that I am speaking only for myself, and not for any of the other actors on the show.
Fox wants to cut our salaries in half because it says it can't afford to continue making the show under what it calls the existing business model. Fox hasn't explained what kind of new business model it has formulated to keep the show on the air, but clearly the less money they have to pay us in salary, the more they're able to afford to continue broadcasting the show. And to this I say, fine – if pay cuts are what it will take to keep the show on the air, then cut my pay. In fact, to make it as easy as possible for Fox to keep new episodes of The Simpsons coming, I'm willing to let them cut my salary not just 45% but more than 70% – down to half of what they said they would be willing to pay us. All I would ask in return is that I be allowed a small share of the eventual profits.
My representatives broached this idea to Fox yesterday, asking the network how low a salary number I would have to accept to make a profit participation feasible. My representatives were told there was no such number. There were, the Fox people said, simply no circumstances under which the network would consider allowing me or any of the actors to share in the show's success.
As a member of the Simpsons cast for 23 years, I think it's fair to say that we've had a great run and no one should feel sorry for any of us. But given how much joy the show has given so many people over the years – and given how many billions of dollars in profits News Corp. has earned and will earn from it – I find it hard to believe that this is Fox's final word on the subject. At least I certainly hope it isn't, because the alternative is to cancel the show or fire me for having the gall to try to save the show by helping Fox with its new business model. Neither would be a fair result – either to those of us who have committed so many years to the show or to its loyal fans who make our effort worthwhile.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the cast have agreed to a cut of around 30%, from $440,000 per episode to $300,000. However it's not yet confirmed whether all of the main cast members – comprising Harry Shearer, Julie Kavner, Dan Castellanata, Yeardley Smith and Nancy Cartwright – will be returning, or whether some of them will be replaced. For all we know the negotiations could still be going.
It's a tricky situation and has already created a huge divide in opinion. It can be argued that Fox's demands are unreasonable, since in most other professions being asked to lose almost half of your salary would be considered ludicrous. That Fox are unwilling to even consider sharing the enormous Simpsons profits with the actors, who have worked on the show for 23 years and arguably turned it into the behemoth that it is today, doesn't exactly paint their motives in a positive light either.
Unfortunately, the strength of Shearer's statement starts to break down the closer it gets to the everyman. When your audience is coming out of a major global recession – with unemployment levels spiking and increased numbers of people living off reduced salaries, minimum wage or unemployment benefits – sympathy for actors complaining about their paltry multi-million dollar annual income is thin on the ground. There's no doubt that the Simpsons actors play a vital role in the production of a highly profitable show, but does the number of hours that they actually spend inside recording studios for each season really justify $200,000 per episode, let alone $440,000?
What it comes down to is whether or not you think paychecks like that are reasonable when working on a show that sells like The Simpsons. If that's the case, would a profit share be fairer than a salary?
The other key question here is just how important are each of the actors to the success of the show. If one actor was to turn down the 30% pay cut, would Fox continue with the show so long as the rest of cast were onboard? However, there's been no word yet from any of the actors regarding the announcement, so it could be that adjusting the pay cut from 45% to 30% did the trick, and we'll have the full deck back onboard for seasons 24 and 25.