The Simpsons has been renewed for two years. Let’s go to Moe’s to celebrate! That is, if he let us…
In news that has dominated TV news headlines all week long, there was drama on whether The Simpsons‘ voice actors would agree to take a 45 percent pay cut – or cancel the series altogether.
At the end of the day, all was right again in Springfield.
After threatening to cancel the series after 23 seasons, Fox announced a two-year renewal for The Simpsons early Friday evening, taking the series to its 25th season in 2014. The Simpsons is currently the longest-running prime-time entertainment series on the air.
To put this in perspective, first-run syndicated shows Entertainment Tonight (31st season), Wheel of Fortune (29th), Jeopardy! (28th), and Live with Regis & Kelly (24th) have only lasted longer. NBC’s Meet The Press is in its 64th year and shows no sign of slowing down.
The Oprah Winfrey Show recently ended its run after a remarkable 25-year run.
Fox had threatened to end the series if the voice cast – Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer – did not accept a pay cut, since the group was making too much money (a reported $9 million per episode) and Fox said producing the series would no longer be financially viable. Shearer announced today he would take a 70 percent pay cut – in exchange for increased participation in the show’s back-end profits.
According to The Wrap, the cast agreed to take a 33 percent pay cut instead of 45 percent. The cast currently makes $440,000 per episode. The new deal gives them $300,000 per episode – more than the $250,000 Twentieth and Fox wanted. However, the cast will not receive any back-end payments from the profits.
Another incentive for Fox to cancel the series was the potential to reap nearly a billion dollars in revenue from sales to broadcast stations and cable networks for a second cycle of the series – but that would only occur if Fox canceled The Simpsons.
That’s because when the series’ first syndicated deals were stuck in 1993 and 1994, Twentieth Television sold The Simpsons to broadcast stations with syndicated exclusivity (or “syndex”) in the contracts. Syndex was created by the FCC to protect a local television’s rights to syndicated programming they owned and blocked the syndicator from selling the series to cable superstations or networks and blacking out series on distant broadcast signals (for example, when Cheers aired at 6 p.m. on WGN-TV locally back in the early 1990’s, it was blacked out on WGN’s Superstation feed, now known as WGN America. For more info on syndex, click here.) The syndex provisions also prevent syndicated Simpsons episodes from streaming on online platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
No such provisions exists in current contracts for most off-network series these days as some series are now shared between platforms and even several cable networks – such as older episodes of Family Guy, which airs in local broadcast syndication, TBS, Adult Swim, and streamed on Hulu and Netflix. No syndex provisions are in the contracts for new off-network sitcoms 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory, which simultaneously premiered on cable TV and broadcast syndication recently.
In addition, Twentieth sold The Simpsons was sold in a manner in such as long as the series is in production, local stations would automatically get rights to run any additional seasons and the contracts would extend another six months to a year for each additional season produced. The earliest The Simpsons would be available for cable networks and other platforms would not be until 2016 – that is, if the Simpsons doesn’t get renewed past its 25th season.
Thought: What can I say? While this is clearly one of the best television series ever produced – and one of my all-time favorites, The Simpsons is unfortunately past their prime, and this Think Tank from 2008 and this post from 2010 proves my point. But the ratings tell another story: so far this season, The Simpsons has averaged a 3.4 adult demo rating, good enough for a close third place finish in its Sunday night time slot.
Twentieth is passing up an opportunity to collect a huge windfall from cable networks and online platforms – not to mention the opportunity of creating an all-Simpsons channel – to continue production of the series, which will have a whopping 559 episodes at the end of its 25th season and remaining in those outdated syndication contracts. And instead of having Simpsons repeats on TBS, USA, FX, or Nick at Nite from various seasons multiple times a night, we’re still going to be stuck with the same 66 or so Zombie Simpsons episodes WFLD-TV (the local syndication rights holder in Chicago) always airs over and over again.
I don’t get it. But as long as Simpsons fans are happy about getting 40 or so new episodes for the next two years, then maybe that’s all that should matter.