Initially, when I heard that Fox was asking the voice actors behind The Simpsons to take a 45 percent pay cut, I assumed they were just being tough negotiators. In 2008, the voice talent signed a deal that gave them $400,000 an episode, equivalent to Hugh Laurie’s salary on House, and the target figure for whole per-episode cost for a new generation of low-cost television shows. Given that The Simpsons has been around literally from one generation of television watchers to the next, from the age of mass attention to a few shows to an age of niche entertainment, it makes sense both that the actors’ salaries would rise over time, and that as its ratings fell, they might come to seem quite expensive. And it wouldn’t be the first time that a network tried its darnedest to drive down the compensation it gives the people who produce its product.
But instead of all that, it sounds like the network’s up to even more complicated jiggery-pokery. The Hollywood Reporter notes that the show’s syndication deal means Fox can’t sell The Simpsons to anyone but local affiliates, which explains why I’ve never sat down in front of the television and suddenly found that I’d watched 10 straight hours of Simpsons episodes. And apparently, a syndication deal could net the network and its embattled parent company $750 million. That’s not going to make up for the hits News Corp lost this summer over the hacking scandal. But if the show has declining returns from new episodes, a decent-sized price tag, and $750 million in untapped value, I might be tempted to see if I can get the actors to force a cancellation so I can unlock that value and avoid as much blame and gifs of a righteously outraged Lisa Simpson being sent in your direction as is possible. It’s just a different kind of greedy.