I’ve been fascinated, but mostly appalled, by the recent contract disputes Fox has been in with the principal voice actors of “The Simpsons”. The appalled part comes from both Fox’s unbelievable treatment of six actors who defined an iconic set of characters, making untold amounts of money for the network, and the knee-jerk reaction most of the public have whenever they hear about actors getting in contract disputes.
Let’s be really clear: $400,000 an episode is a lot. I would be thrilled to be making a fraction of that for any acting endeavor. But that doesn’t mean that the cast is automatically barred from complaining about how they’re treated. Let’s put a few things in perspective. First, the cast of “Friends” received $1,000,000 per episode for the last season of shows, and they received royalties for the last five seasons. “Friends” was immensely popular. It generated (and still generates) a ton of money for its network. “The Simpsons”, by comparison, has run for 23 seasons and generated billions in franchise revenue. That’s more than double the length of the “Friends” run, and it’s impossible to tell how much more money the franchise generates. But it’s not too hard to imagine: just think of how often you see Homer on a t-shirt and how often you see Ross and Rachel. So what’s this dispute over? The greedy, narcissistic voice actors wanting a salary increase? Refusing to take a pay cut?
Not even close.
What the knee-jerk people of the internet completely miss when they read into the dispute is that the actors have all agreed to take a massive pay cut. The only caveat is that they want to have a share of the profits that the show makes. That’s right. After 23 seasons on the air, the principal cast members don’t receive a dime in royalties. The royalties all go to the network and the producers, despite the fact that many of those people have nothing to do with the actual creation of the show. So the actors are asking for a small share of the royalties, which means probably somewhere in the 1-3% range. More towards the 1%.
Fox’s demands for a salary cut, coupled with their refusal to even consider sharing the profits of the show with the cast, show the most amazing level of disrespect for the actors who have helped to make them all that money in the first place. I’ve only seen it matched by the brainless chanting of “overpaid Hollywood actors” seen on the internet, where people seem to forget how much these six people have done to define a show that’s literally spanned generations of fans. What they do is not easy- Dan Castellaneta alone voices dozens of characters on the show, in addition to providing the iconic voice of Homer.
Now the very latest news is that an agreement has been reached, and it unfortunately looks like the actors may have been bullied into accepting the cuts without receiving royalties. If this ends up being the case, it’s more than a little depressing. It will be the network getting away with treating the talent of their biggest franchise like the hired help. It isn’t about numbers; it’s about respect.