Fox, ‘Simpsons’ still stuck

Two sides agree on fees, but actors also want back-end buy-in

The four cast members of “The Simpsons” who have banded together in a quest for more coin have agreed to accept 20th Century Fox TV’s latest episodic fee offer but remain stuck on the issue of back-end compensation from any future second-cycle syndication sales, according to sources.

While actors Julie Kavner (Marge) and Nancy Cartwright (Bart) have deals in place for the coming 10th season on Fox, Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer are holding firm to their request that they finally begin to share in the considerable financial rewards of the “Simpsons” success.

Rumors of replacements

But one of the four holdout voices, who requested anonymity, maintained that Fox is refusing even to discuss possible back-end revenues for the four and is instead taking active steps to recast the show with replacement actors.

“We continue to hope that things will be resolved, and we haven’t given up the fight,” the voice said on Thursday, “but Fox has not expressed an interest in sharing anything with us apart from the upfront episodic salary.”

However, an executive close to the negotiations took issue with that perspective, saying that Fox would in fact be more than trippling the salaries of the four voices.

“We’re actively trying to replace them, because we’ve not been led to believe they will make a deal. And we’re not going to let them extort this corporation. Fox is being portrayed here as this big, bad monolith, and that just isn’t the case. These people have made a mint off this show in merchandising and licensing.”

The “Simpsons” voice confirmed that Fox’s latest offer to the four holdouts is “in line with” the estimated $50,000-per-episode agreement reached this week with Cartwright (Daily Variety, March 26). And the voice said that the other actors on the show harbored “no ill will” toward Cartwright, whose new salary is more than double what she earned this season.

“We all do what we need to do, and she has our blessing,” the voice stressed.

Actors want their due

Representatives for the negotiating actors distributed a talking-points memo on Thursday to spell out their side of the issues and to demonstrate that their demands are hardly out of line.

The memo pointed out that the four lead actors on “Seinfeld” earn more money in three weeks than the four negotiating “Simpsons” voices have been paid in nine years. Those voices started out during the first two seasons of the show earning less than $5,000 per episode and have likewise earned little of the hundreds of millions of dollars in merchandising revenue chalked up by “Simpsons”-licensed product over the years.

“Given that we haven’t asked for anything during the first nine seasons of the show,” the voice said, “we don’t feel that what we’re asking for is unreasonable.” The four holdouts aren’t seeking any specific percentage of a second-cycle syndie sale following the end of the show’s primetime run, merely a piece, the voice added.

Sources, however, pointed out that the four voices have each been offered a $500,000 bonus when the second cycle of syndication is sold.

A multitude of voices

Sources report that Fox has put the word out to the acting community that it’s in the market for new actors to replace Azaria, Castellaneta, Smith and Shearer, who together account for the voices of more than 40 different characters on the show. The company has already hired casting directors in five cities (including Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, New York and L.A.) to land replacements, according to sources.

While 20th declined on Thursday to respond to any of the charges or speculation, it released a statement that said, ” ‘The Simpsons’ is one of the studio’s greatest sources of pride and we cannot overemphasize our respect and admiration for the show’s immensely talented cast.”

The statement went on, “It is out of that respect that, as a policy, we will not publicly disclose any element of an ongoing negotiation.”

“The Simpsons” was skedded to begin production on its 10th season March 5, but that’s been delayed by the salary dispute, which threatens to delay the start of the “Simpsons” fall campaign if it keeps the show out of production much longer.

Reached on Thursday, “Simpsons” co-creator James L. Brooks told Daily Variety that he “hopes and prays” the situation “is resolved to the actors’ satisfaction. When a show works like this, it sure would be nice if everyone could go home happy.”

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