First things first: The Simpsons, after days of cancellation rumors amidst a fierce contract negotiation between the voice actors and Fox, has been renewed for not only Season 24 (2012 – 2013), but also Season 25 (2013 – 2014), despite those honest, upstanding Fox “anonymous sources” telling every news outlet within earshot they would only renew it for Season 24 “at most.” That’s right: Twenty-Five. Goddamn. Seasons. Five Hundred Fifty-Nine Episodes. Let’s assume everything after Season 8 is bad. That means by the end of Season 25, the good seasons will comprise slightly less than 32% of the entire series. And this season just started two weeks ago, so we have a guaranteed three seasons of atrocious episodes to look forward to. Excuse me while I go stick my head in the oven.
I’m back. We still don’t know what was agreed to in the deal signed yesterday. Back on Tuesday night, The Daily Beast reported the six main voice actors were willing to take a 30 percent pay cut if they got a portion of the “back-end” profits from merchandise and syndication, but Fox demanded a 45 percent pay cut and none of the profits. The New York Times says the cast is “believed to have agreed to an arrangement that would reduce their salaries by less than 45 percent but would not include profit participation.” According to John Ortved’s invaluable Simpsons book, the actors had previously demanded a share in the profits in 1998, but were rebuffed back then as well. According to Deadline, whatever leverage the actors had was “pretty much gone” when an analyst counted the beans and figured out how lucrative the show would be when it’s eventually cancelled.
The Fox negotiation team deserves a round of applause for their utter ruthlessness, playing the actors and the media like fiddles while saving their mighty corporation millions of dollars. They basically told the actors “Whatever, we don’t even want this stupid show anymore. In fact, we’ll make way more money if it’s cancelled. OK, fine, we’ll put up the cash for one more measly season, but that’s it. After that we’re through. Seriously. Shut up about the back-end profits and take your pay cut.” Then they renewed it for two more seasons! Incredible.
I basically spent the whole day on Twitter following the news, keeping on top of this story. I’ve never done that before, and I thought it was kind of interesting, though I wouldn’t recommend it. I’m going to recap the whole day’s events, so feel free to bail out and stop reading this article.
Before I got on the internet, Harry Shearer (voice of Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, and others) had released a somewhat Conan O’Brien-esque “People of Earth” statement to the media. Here’s an excerpt:
Fox wants to cut our salaries in half because it says it can’t afford to continue making the show under what it calls the existing business model. Fox hasn’t explained what kind of new business model it has formulated to keep the show on the air, but clearly the less money they have to pay us in salary, the more they’re able to afford to continue broadcasting the show. And to this I say, fine – if pay cuts are what it will take to keep the show on the air, then cut my pay. In fact, 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.
A few hours later, TMZ reported that Harry Shearer HAD GONE ROGUE and the other cast members had been blindsided by his new demand, which had “thrown a monkey wrench in the negotiations.” One person said “Harry is the wild card.” Here’s a fun thought experiment: imagine this scene from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia with Harry Shearer in place of Charlie.
By the way, did you know TMZ and Perez Hilton don’t have Twitter accounts that bring you breaking updates in real time? I know, right? You have to actually go their sites to find out what’s up, or at least in the case of TMZ sign up to get text messages. I left the TMZ homepage in a tab open for a while, because they seemed to be the only site that was updating, and then they started auto-playing the Dr. Conrad Murray trial. Seriously?!?
Two Simpsons animators, @eiVega and @ITSNIKKITIME, were stressing out, desperately searching Twitter for any nugget of news that might determine whether they’re getting fired. What an insanely stressful day it must’ve been for everyone at Film Roman. As super-director David Silverman tweeted, the animators had no inside knowledge other than what was publicly available on the internet. Forget everything about the voice actors, who are all multi-millionaires, these folks are the real heroes.
The noon deadline imposed by Fox passed with nary a whimper. Eventually The Hollywood Reporter became the only site with any new information, although I probably could’ve told you their big scoop: the pay cut would likely be between what Fox wants and what the cast wants, wow what a shocker. CBS News and ABC News just regurgitated what The Hollywood Reporter said. A number of people to the ABC News article as a confirmation even though it wasn’t actually a confirmation. Which I suppose was to be expected.
Some Simpsons fans, like this fellow, started tweeting their support for the show with the hashtag #OccupySpringfield. Which totally conflicted with the real-life Occupy Springfield movements apparently happening in Missouri and possibly Massachusetts.
Deadline, the site run by Nikki “Toldja!” Finke, was the first site to report on the potential of a Season 25 being part of the deal, even though those upstanding, truth-telling gentlemen at Fox told the press they’d only agree to Season 24, at most. I responded with a characteristically restrained “AAAAAAAAA.”
Then, about two hours later, executive producer James L. Brooks tweeted this:
Am crying animated tears of joy (which actually taste pretty good)The Simpsons is picked up for 2 more years.Apprapo blackboard joke 2 come.
Like literally seconds later, a bunch of entertainment sites I started following today tweeted the news, most of them just quoting the press release sent out by Fox.
And that was it.
*rubs hands eagerly* Now let’s see who was right, and who was wrong!
Charlie Sweatpants of Dead Homer Society called it from the beginning, calling the original Daily Beast scoop “rehashed speculation” that “raises the chances of there not being a Season 24 from ‘less than 1%’ to ‘slightly higher but still less than 1%'”. He’s done a bang-up job eloquently demolishing lazy hack reporting and misinformed sensationalism these past few days.
For my part, I said cancellation “probably won’t happen, and instead we’ll get two more atrocious seasons.” Boom, nailed it! But, as a caveat, I also started believe the stories (undoubtedly leaked to the press by Fox as leverage) that the show was now unprofitable, because I couldn’t resist using that Troy McClure line as a hook.
The most irresponsible news source during this whole thing was, in my opinion, The Huffington Post. On Thursday, they reported on an story from TheWrap (which I mistakenly thought was a subsidiary of Reuters but apparently isn’t?) entitled “Another ‘Simpsons’ Season Would Likely Be Last, Executive Says”. But The Huffington Post removed all ambiguity from the headline and made it even more alarmist, with the headline “‘The Simpsons’ Next Season Will Be Its Last.” (They have since edited it to include “Likely” and “Report,” but the Google News cache and the URL of the article doesn’t lie.) Even worse, their owner/subsidiary AOL linked the story on their heavily-trafficked front page, with the headline “‘The Simpsons’ Definitely Ending For Good.” Which is incredibly misleading, but not entirely false: yes, The Simpsons will definitely end for good. Someday. In the future. Just not anytime in the next few years.