Talks between Fox TV, cast members break down

When “Futurama” returns to TV next year, it may be without the show’s original voice cast.

Talks have broken down between 20th Century Fox TV and stars Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Maurice LaMarche and Tress MacNeille over how much they should be paid to take part in the show.

The studio announced last month that it would produce 26 new episodes of “Futurama,” with Comedy Central onboard to begin airing the new episodes in mid-2010. As part of the announcement, the show’s producers said stars including West, Sagal and DiMaggio had all signed on to return.

Turns out that wasn’t true.

The stars had all expressed interest in returning. But with the budget for “Futurama” dramatically slashed, the salary offers came in well below what the thesps were asking — believed to be around $75,000 per episode. (It was not clear what 20th was offering. Calls to the voice stars’ reps were not immediately returned.)

As a result, 20th has put out a casting call to find replacement voice actors for the show. According to insiders, a deal could eventually be struck that brings the original voice actors back — but for now, the studio said it’s serious about finding replacements.

It’s not the first time 20th has gone that route during a tough negotiation on one of its toons. The studio previously threatened to replace the voice talent on “The Simpsons” when it couldn’t come to a deal with its stars. Casting feelers for replacements were even sent out, but a deal was eventually struck with the stars.

The situation is different with “Futurama,” as 20th and Comedy Central have been looking to slash the budget on “Futurama” to make it financially viable for a cable run. Yet there’s also still a possibility — and a window built in — for “Futurama” to run first on a broadcast network (mostly likely Fox).

With a smaller budget, the producers are already adjusting to a smaller writing staff and a shorter delivery schedule.

Created by Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, “Futurama” originally aired on Fox from 1999 to 2003. The success of the show’s repeats on DVD and cable, as well as a series of firstrun DVD releases, led to the decision to revive “Futurama.”

“We love the ‘Futurama’ voice performers and absolutely wanted to use them, but unfortunately, we could not meet their salary demands,” 20th Century Fox TV said in a statement. “While replacing these talented actors will be difficult, the show must go on. We are confident that we will find terrific new performers to give voice to Matt and David’s brilliantly subversive characters.”

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