The Simpsons currently has a weird syndication deal where reruns can only be sold to local broadcast networks, because cable wasn’t very profitable when the deal was made twenty years ago. Nowadays, cable is a pretty big deal, and Fox stands to earn an estimated $1-2 million per episode from a cable syndication deal – and since there will be at least 559 episodes, that deal could be worth more than $1 billion.
This was a sticking point during the contract renegotiations in 2011, when the voice actors demanded a share in the profits (and didn’t get it). It was widely assumed a cable deal could not be negotiated until after the show is cancelled: an analyst quoted in Forbes said “the cancellation of the show would allow [Fox] to finally sell off-network syndication rights into cable channels,” and an Adult Swim bumper seemed to echo this (“Now put that thing to bed, FOX / so we can buy it”).
Well, apparently that’s no longer the case: TV Guide says Fox is getting ready to sell The Simpsons to cable within the next year.
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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.
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Outspoken super-animator John Kricfalusi was fired from his own show, The Ren & Stimpy Show, back in 1992. Since then, his television projects have been short-lived: The Ripping Friends lasted 13 episodes on the air, while Ren & Stimpy “Adult Party Cartoon” lasted a mere 3.
Last Sunday, The Simpsons aired a couch gag “guest-animated” by the K-man himself. And about two days later, rumors of the show’s cancellation began swarming after The Daily Beast reported on tense cast negotiations. We are still waiting to hear if this season will be the last.
Now, I’m not saying that John K. is cursed, and his mere presence will doom every TV show he comes in contact with. But it IS a weird coincidence. I’m just saying.
According to Reuters, Fox is finally weaning off their bad Simpsons-renewing habit, and have declared they they only want one more season of The Simpsons at most, if the voice actors agree to their “draconian” pay cuts. That would be Season 24, the 2012-2013 season, falling just short of the unthinkable 25 year milestone (unless you go by the Simpsons’ Tracey Ullman Show debut, which marks its 25th anniversary this April). But keep in mind these are anonymous executives, in the middle of some big-time renegotiations where they repeatedly use the press as a conduit to spread rumors and innuendo to get a more favorable deal, from a TV network that once straight up lied said their plan “is not all Seth [MacFarlane], all the time” while giving him three and maybe four shows, which happens to be a subsidiary of one of the most cartoonishly evil corporations in the world, so take that with a pillar of salt.
Also according to these unnamed executives, “the show is no longer profitable for the network.” Forbes asked a bunch of analysts, and found that ending the show would likely more profitable for Fox than continuing it:
The freedom of selling the show into syndication on cable or even to online streaming providers like Netflix or Amazon could generate $1-2 million an episode for a show that has produced nearly 500 of them, RBC estimates.
Those revenues – around $750 million of incremental content monetization – are likely to come across a number of years, because of the original syndication deal and the likely preference for smoother earnings, “but the upside is real.”
RBC estimates broader syndication for The Simpsons post-cancellation could add 10 cents per share to News Corp.’s bottom line.
So now we appear to have reached the point foretold by Troy McClure, who once asked, “Who knows what adventures [the Simpsons]’ll have between now and the time the show becomes unprofitable?” Extra credit goes to former Simpsons writer Greg Daniels, who back in 2008 predicted the show would end when “the per episode syndication price falls below the cost of producing an episode.”
Oh boy, it’s that lovely time every three years or so when the Simpsons cast re-negotiate their contracts with Fox! And this time the stakes HAVE NEVER BEEN HIGHER. The Daily Beast reports that this time the voice actors are asking for a pay cut, instead of their usual pay raise. Say whaa??? Have we wandered into Bizarro World??? No, while they’re asking for a 30 percent pay cut, it’s because they want a piece of that hot, hot syndication and merchandise action worth billions of dollars in CA$H MONEY. Fox doesn’t want to give up that money (after all, their parent company News Corp. has tons of phone hacking victims to pay off), and this time they’re threatening to CANCEL THE SIMPSONS.
Difficult bargaining is nothing new for the show, which was created by James L. Brooks and Matt Groening. Fox studio execs have occasionally threatened to replace uncooperative cast members with sound-alike actors. But for the first time in nearly a quarter century of haggling, the executives have insisted that if the cast doesn’t accept a draconian 45 percent pay cut, The Simpsons will die an abrupt death as a first-run series.
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Last month, we were in a funk, because at Comic-Con executive producer Al Jean said they were writing a 2011 Christmas episode featuring Homer and Marge as grandparents, which would apparently confirm a 23rd season.
But in a recent interview, Jean jokingly suggests otherwise:
My math could be incorrect, but I believe your 500th episode will be airing this season. Are there plans for an extended special to celebrate this milestone?
Al Jean: I’m afraid your math is incorrect. Our current record schedule will take us to episode 493, so if Fox wants 500, then I’m afraid they will have to pick up season 23, hint, hint.
NOW I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO BELIEVE [MovieWeb.com]
Remember when Troy McClure asked, “who knows what adventures they’ll have between now and when the show becomes unprofitable?” Thirteen years later, that eventual day of unprofitability may be coming sooner than you think, according to a Newsday blogger. Verne Gay examines the rising costs of the show, dwindling viewership and curiously-worded contracts and concludes cancellation may be imminent:
I’ll give you the answers right now, born of a quarter century following this business: Because Fox is covering its bets. If ratings continue to fall, as they have precipitously in recent years, then let’s get ready to say goodbye to one of the greatest treasures of our TV lives.