There was a prominent online report this morning that claimed "The Simpsons" could end production next spring if the six key voice actors don't agree to a 45 percent pay cut.
And, Fox has responded. (See below.)
Per this story, they'll take a cut if they get a piece of the back end. Actors offered to take a 30 percent hit.
So let's parse: Fox would kill the most profitable TV franchise in history -- two years shy of its 25 season -- because the voice actors refuse to take a pay cut, when -- in fact -- Fox could recast the voices and had, in fact, nearly done so in the last bitter negotiations? And that -- while some critics (not me) effectively sneer when the word "Simpsons" is now uttered -- it remains a big success on Sunday night (it just launched) and a popular fixture in almost every country around the world? And that while the actors who have played these beloved characters may certainly be irreplaceable to you and me . . . fans around the world could care less who Homer, et al, are because the voices are dubbed?
Also consider: "Simpsons" products are licensed through 400 licensees worldwide, with total sales of $8 billion last year, according to recent industry statistics. A portion of those revenues might also be at risk were the show to cease production. "The Simpsons" remains the world's leading purveyor of products that are tied to a single show or entertainment enterprise, far out-distancing Harry Potter,Bugs Bunny, and Elmo.
Now, to play the devil's adovocate - what of Fox's position? This show probably costs at minimum $6 million per episode. That would make it the most expensive show on television by far. Because originals plus repeats air about three times per year (possibly more but who's counting?) on the Fox network, the show still only pays back a fraction of that in its first run each season. Syndication makes up a little more, but - syndication currently being a not-good-business - it still likely doesn't cover that deficit. Overseas revenues remain robust but those probably don't do much to cover Fox's U.S. revenues/profits.
And licensing revenues? That is the gravy, but consider that Looney Tunes - the great classics of the '40-'60s - have of course been out of production many years. Looney Tunes continues to make a lot of money for Time Warner, and in fact - after "The Simpons" and "Sesame Street" - are the world's third leading generator of licensing revenue.
So, do the math: I don't think Fox is bluffing. And to pile on a bit more math here, one analyst points out that Fox can't syndicate "Simpsons" to cable networks or even create a "Simpsons" cable network of its own because it remains tied to an old deal that limits syndie revenue to TV stations. Only in the event of cancellation does that agreement expire - and another lucrative cash stream opens up to Fox.
Here's Fox's statement, via the Hollywood Reporter:
"23 seasons in, The Simpsons is as creatively vibrant as ever and beloved by millions around the world," the Fox TV studio told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement. "We believe this brilliant series can and should continue, but we cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model." The statement added: "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."