question of the day: Should the ‘Simpsons’ cast take 45 percent pay cuts so the show can continue?

Bart Simpson Nirvana spoof

Here’s something to make your head spin. From BBC News:

US TV network Fox has said it can no longer afford to produce long-running animated comedy The Simpsons without a pay cut for its cast.

Fox made the comment after reports it threatened to end the series unless its voice actors took a 45% pay cut.

Fox wants its cast to give back almost half their salary? What could possibly justify such a demand? The show is a cash cow, earning billions from merchandising and syndication. So this, from Llyod Grove at The Daily Beast, is particularly intriguing… and infuriating:

The pay-cut ultimatum was delivered Monday evening as Fox spurned the actors’ proposal, delivered late last week, to take a cut of around 30 percent in exchange for a tiny percentage of the show’s huge back-end profits—amounting to untold billions—from syndication around the globe and merchandising of Simpsons clothing, lunchboxes, stamps, DVDs, a feature film, and videogames, among other paraphernalia. The series is produced by the 20th Century Fox studio and aired by the Fox network, both News Corp. companies, but the studio reaps the ancillary rewards.

“Fox is taking the position that unless they can cut the production costs really drastically, they’ll pull the plug on new shows,” said a Simpsons insider with knowledge of the negotiations. “The show has made billions in profits over the years and will continue to do so as far as the eye can see down the road. The actors are willing to take a pay cut of roughly a third, but that’s not good enough for Fox.”

Grove notes that Fox basically cannot lose, even if the show shuts down:

Fox has consistently refused to compensate the main cast members beyond their generous salaries, and once production ends, the studio will continue to reap billions for years to come (with Fox drawing on a valuable archive of around 500 episodes), while the actors will receive little more than their union-mandated residuals.

“Now Fox is basically saying, ‘If you don’t take this deal, we’ll shut down the show,’ and they’ll continue to make a ton of money,” said the insider. “They’re free to sell it to cable and a second round of syndication, and they figure that the cast has very little leverage.”

Yes, the salaries are indeed generous… as they should be, for a series that is hugely profitable for Fox. The voice actors are a key reason why the series has become such a hit, and they deserve to be fairly compensated for that, even if that “fair compensation” seems like a lot of money to us proles. The actors are, quite literally, irreplaceable.

As John Doyle at The Globe and Mail snorts:

Fox issued a statement saying this: “We believe this brilliant series can and should continue, but we cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model. 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.”

Excuse me? The Simpsons is a multibillion-dollar cash cow. The actors are well-paid, earning millions a year, but the real money – the billions – is made from syndication and merchandising. A reduction in pay is truly necessary?

Bingo. Are any Fox executives being asked to take a 45 percent pay cut so the show can continue? I didn’t think so.

Should the Simpsons cast take 45 percent pay cuts so the show can continue?

Regardless of what you might think of the quality of the show lately — I think it’s been off the mark for years now — that’s sorta beside the point. Should the actors stick to their guns and perhaps see a nice cushy job finish? Or should they give in and keep milking the cash cow, even if their bucket of milk is smaller than it was?

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