Follow any contract negotiation in the entertainment sector down the proverbial rabbit hole and it all ends up being about one thing: a piece of the pie. In movies, TV, music, sports, and a litany of other things that require some sort of talent management/representation, what talent always fights for is a share in the profits of what they’re responsible for creating. While it might seem ridiculous to many non showbiz-types that someone would get paid millions to act or play sports, it’s often the case that they’re making only a small portion of what the entire venture is making.
That’s what sparked both strikes of the Writers Guild Association, the current lockout of the NBA, as well as the stifled contract negotiations of Matt Groening’s legendary animated TV series, The Simpsons. In short, Fox — claiming The Simpsons is not making the money it once did — has told the show’s cast that if they didn’t take a 45 percent pay cut for the 24th season, this current season will be its last. But years before the current salary cut suggestion, the Simpsons cast had been asking for a small portion on back-end show profits. The network has repeatedly denied the cast’s requests.
Voice actor and veteran Simpsons cast member Harry Shearer (better known as Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner) released a statement today to explain the situation with Fox surrounding the renewal of The Simpsons for their 23rd season and beyond. His statement, in part, reads:
…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.
Certainly the relevance of The Simpsons has dwindled with the rise of South Park, Family Guy, and even Groening’s other show, Futurama. Still, there is absolutely no doubt that The Simpsons is such a cultural milestone that it surpasses it’s own identity as a satirical animated comedy TV series into the realm of being a crucial landmark in media history.
So, might we suggest that Fox gets honest with themselves and start giving what Shearer and the rest of the cast deserves– a small portion of future profits of the show that doesn’t exist without them. And do it quickly. We want a 24th season. And before that, we want a super-strong 23rd season finale. The Simpsons finale is pretty much the Super Bowl of scripted television. It’s something that Fox and Groening don’t want to get wrong, as ratings, legacy and a ton of ad dollars are at stake.