The actors behind Homer, Bart, Marge, Lisa and the rest of “The Simpsons” characters have gone silent.
The hit Fox animated laffer’s collective voices have not shown up for two table reads in the past few weeks, holding up production on the show’s 2004-05 season (its 16th).
Decision to miss work comes as negotiations to renew the contracts of Dan Castellaneta (Homer), Hank Azaria (Moe, Apu and others), Harry Shearer (Mr. Burns and others), Yeardley Smith (Lisa), Julie Kavner (Marge) and Nancy Cartwright (Bart) have hit an impasse.
According to insiders, each of the cast is asking for approximately $360,000 an episode, or $8 million for a 22-episode season. Each member of the group currently pulls down $125,000 an episode. Twentieth Century Fox TV and James L. Brooks’ Gracie Films, which produce the show, declined comment.
The actors’ previous deal, which covered seasons 13, 14 and 15, was hammered out with little acrimony.
But with the expiration of that pact, reps for the actors and producers have been negotiating a new deal for several months now — but to no avail.
The current work stoppage is reminiscent of the actors’ salary negotiations in 1998. Like now, the actors (with the exception of Kavner, who had a previous deal in place) pushed for huge pay increases as a condition of remaining on the show.
Back then, the thesps made just $30,000 per episode — a paltry fee, they argued, for such a News Corp. cash cow. Twentieth Century Fox TV went as far as hiring casting directors in five cities to replace the voice talent.
Ultimately, Castellaneta, Azaria, Shearer, Smith and Cartwright worked out a new deal and returned to work.
This time out, 20th Century Fox and Gracie have made no move to recast the voices — yet. But insiders note that the actors work just six to seven hours to voice an episode — which would mean $360,000 for a day’s work, a figure that even “Everybody Loves Raymond” star Ray Romano doesn’t match.
“They already have the deal of a lifetime,” one exec said.
On the flip side, the actors argue they’re asking for a relatively small piece of “The Simpsons” pie, given its status as a global phenomenon worth well over $1 billion.
It’s also unclear whether the long-awaited “Simpsons” feature film, now in development, has any bearing on the series negotiations. After years of speculation, 20th confirmed earlier this year that Brooks and fellow “Simpsons” boss Matt Groening were leading a team of writers in developing an animated bigscreen version of the series (Daily Variety, Feb. 11).
Reps for the actors did not return calls.
One thought, though — Homer Simpson, in 1995 episode “The PTA Disbands,” gave Lisa this piece of advice on work stoppages: “If you don’t like your job, you don’t strike. You just go in every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the American Way.”