Simpsons foxed by pay dispute

Fox Television has warned that it can't keep cranking out its Simpsons cartoon unless the team takes a 45% pay cut. It seems even Springfield can't escape austerity...

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 05 Oct 2011
Twentieth Century Fox TV has demanded its voice actors take the mother of all pay cuts in order to keep going. It’s the sort of revelation that would cast the future of any enterprise in doubt: how many workers would be prepared to put up with a 45% pay cut? Even if they are on $8m a year. Probably not Fox executives… 

The Simpsons is the longest-running comedy series on US television, currently in its 23rd season on Fox. The channel reckons the show can carry on – if only it could afford to produce it. Of course, the staff there are likely to be on the kind of wages that could handle a 45% pay cut without pushing them to back of the bread queue. Indeed, according to the Daily Beast website, which announced the story and prompted Fox to make an official statement on its plans, they’re on $8m each per season. Which isn’t bad simply for chipping up and saying ‘Doh’ in sync with a cartoon mouth. But given that the show generates billions of dollars through global syndication as well as DVD and merchandise sales, surely you’d imagine the Fox execs would go a bit further to be a tad more sympathetic?

The cast doesn’t seem to have been playing unreasonably: Dan Castellaneta who voices Homer, Julie Kavner who does Marge and Bart’s Nancy Cartwritght were among those who cooked up an alternative plan - to take a 30% cut in return for a portion of the show’s profits. Fox wouldn’t bite on that one, probably because the show, given that it’s broadcast in more than 100 countries and 50 languages, is a sacred cash cow. And it doesn't want to share the spoils.

Indeed, while the scale of numbers involved in this story may be relatively alien to those of the average UK company, it’s a conundrum that will be very real. How do you readjust your team’s expectations as you enter a new financial reality? One thing that Fox doesn’t seem to realise is that such things are a lot easier to swallow if you can see your bosses are making the same sacrifices.

Execs at News Corp, which owns Fox, have recently said they are looking at ways to make more money from the show, both in syndication rights and other areas. Ay caramba. You’d think they’d be happy with the amount they’d already squeezed out of a bunch of cartoon characters that were born in 15 furious minutes of napkin doodling…

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