Saving ‘The Simpsons’: How the Deal Came Together

Lights, camera, action! "The Simpsons" is back in business (Photo: Fox)

In the end, a compromise was reached — and the show will go on.

In a nutshell, that’s how “The Simpsons” was saved. It was a negotiation and, in the final analysis, it came out just like previous rows over the salaries for the long-running show’s voiceover stars.

Fox made the announcement late Friday in a press release that contained almost no details, except for one: “The Simpsons” had been renewed that afternoon for two more seasons — its 24th (2012-13) and 25th (2013-14). The release mentioned that the two additional seasons would bring the sitcom’s episode tally to 559. This press missive then devolved into several paragraphs of praise for the show, its historic long run, and its cultural significance.

Yeah, yeah — we know all that, but what was the deal?

According to trade press reports — here and here — the show’s six principal cast members, who voice the lion’s share of the show’s many characters, agreed to take a 30 percent pay cut.

The cut is less than the 45 percent decrease Fox had been demanding all week, according to earlier reports. Thus, under this compromise, the voicers — Harry Shearer, Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, Nancy Cartwright, Julie Kavner and Hank Azaria — will earn a little more than $300,000 per episode (22 per season), down from a reported $440,000 per episode. For Azaria, the continuation of the show is particular good news since his new NBC sitcom, “Free Agents,” was just canceled.

In addition, they were reportedly denied any percentage — however tiny — of the so-called “back-end” revenue this series generates for rerun rights, merchandise and the like. The actors have long asked for “back-end” participation, but the company has always remained firm on this issue.

One thing Friday’s press release did not specify: Would the 25th season be the series’ last? To us, it seems like a pretty logical stopping place. Ratings are not what they once were (6.19 million last Sunday) and it’s an expensive show to produce (the aforementioned pay cuts notwithstanding), as is any TV show that’s been on for a while.

What happens is: Salaries for writers, directors, producers and actors on “mature” TV shows are understandably high since the shows and the people who work on them have been around for a while. Then, when the ratings start to go south, those salaries are no longer justified, at least according to the bean counters at the parent company.

Under these circumstances, we should think of these two seasons (which, frankly, we think will be the show’s last, though you never know) as a gift to those, including ourselves, who love “The Simpsons,” have literally grown up with it (it’s been on for half our lives), and will find it difficult to watch it end.

We also have a feeling that this two-season reprieve will give this show’s legendary creative team more than ample time to craft an incredible finale that, if this truly is the end, would bring the curtain down on “The Simpsons” in May 2014.

Watch this season’s premiere episode of “The Simpsons” here:

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.


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