Will Simpsons' star Harry Shearer's 70% pay cut offer save the show? Should it?
The saddest thing about iconic cartoon comedy The Simpsons, is how so much of the show's tumultuous backstage history is wrapped around the massive amount of profit the show generates.
Put simply, the question of who profits from the show versus who contributes most to its success is an issue which has arisen, again and again, to threaten the series' stability and divide those who create it.
And in the latest fight over the show's finances, the seeds of this conflict again can be found.
Fox is saying it wants the show's actors to take a 45 percent pay cut to continue producing new episodes of The Simpsons. The voice talent reportedly offered a 30 percent pay cut and with a portion of the show's profits, now well past $3-billion total.
This cuts to the heart of a longstanding conflict between the voice talent and Fox, in which the people who bring The Simpsons' voices to life have argued that they are not adequately compensated for the show's success.
Harry Shearer, the award-winning comic who voices a multitude of Simpsons characters including Rev. Lovejoy and Ned Flanders, released a statement today saying he would accept a 70 percent pay cut along with a share of 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," his statement read. "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."
Everyone in television knows the story of the show's initially leading lights, creator/producer Matt Groening, producer Sam Simon and producer James L. Brooks. These three guys were wise enough to secure a cut of the show's profits early on, and have earned enough money that they never need to work again.
In 2004, the voice talent banded together to demand more pay, arguing that the show was making close to $1-billion in profits for Fox but they were paid a relative pittance. A similar disagreement in 2008 was resolved, reportedly, by raising the actors' salaries to $400,000 per episode. Do the math: If true, for voicing a 23-episode season, each major voice talent is paid $9.2-million annually.
Now Shearer says he's willing to give up $6.4-million of that haul in exchange for a share of the profits. And Fox says no. The mind boggles.
Hanging in the balance, is the fate of one of TV's most-influential and long-running comedies. Frankly, I think the show ran out of creative steam long ago. But if Fox cancels it, that would only make room for another dumber, grosser, more non-sensical Seth MacFarlane series, and he's already got three too many airing that night.
Here's Shearer's statement below:
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 twenty-third 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 twenty-fourth 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.