‘Simpsons’: No dough, new ‘Doh!’?

Animated hit could feature new voices this season

Will fans still tune in to Fox’s long-running animated hit “The Simpsons” if the characters’ voices change next season?

Twentieth Century Fox TV is preparing for just that possibility if a deal with the current voiceover actors isn’t reached soon, sources say.

While the two sides are still negotiating, the drop-dead production start date for “The Simpsons” is fast approaching, and the studio is seriously considering searching for and hiring new actors to bring characters Bart, Homer, Lisa and many others to life.

Fox already had a prior deal with actor Julie Kavner, who provides the voice for Marge Simpson. But actors Nancy Cartwright, Hank Azaria, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer and Dan Castellaneta are demanding huge salary increases to keep working on the show next season (Daily Variety, March 13).

Most of the cast members currently make $30,000 or less for two half-days of work per episode, and they are seeking salaries well north of $100,000 per episode in exchange for long-term contracts. The studio is balking at those demands, despite the fact that “The Simpsons” has earned the News Corp. company more than $500 million over its lifespan.

Part of the reason animation is so profitable is because the voice actors are paid less and are considered more dispensable. Animation also travels well internationally and provides big licensing and merchandising possibilities.

Clearly it would be easier for 20th to reach a deal with its current slate of actors than to find new ones who can pull it off, but one source said, “We have to do what we have to do.”

If Fox does recast, there’s a question of whether viewers will respond to new voices for the characters they’ve known and heard for nearly a decade. Fox also risks breaking the show’s consistency in syndication, an issue “The Simpsons” has so far avoided because animated characters don’t age.

“If they get all new voices, some people will be upset until they get used to it,” said Bill Croasdale, president of national broadcast at media buying firm Western International Media. “Some people will say the show’s not the same, the voices are different. But I’ve got to believe the people at Fox are smart enough to get voices that closely approach the originals. There are enough mimics out there.”

Regardless of how “The Simpsons” situation is resolved, Fox has another animated comedy from its creator on the way next season. On Wednesday, Fox closed its deal to order 13 episodes of a new animated primetime series created by Matt Groening called “Futurama.” The show will debut midseason, and Groening received film commitment as part of the deal, sources said (Daily Variety, March 6).

Fox also ordered 13 episodes, as expected, of a new Carsey Werner comedy about the 1970s from Bonnie and Terry Turner (“3rd Rock From the Sun”), which is tentatively titled “Teenage Wasteland.” The sitcom is being prepped for a fall launch.

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