Simpsons creator Matt Groening is finally appearing as a guest for the first time on this Sunday’s show:
- Although Groening’s image has appeared on “The Simpsons,” including a framed photo on the wall of Comic Book Guy’s store, this will be his first speaking role on the animated series, Fox said Wednesday.
In the episode, titled “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” Principal Skinner gets cold feet before his pending nuptials and his fiancee, Edna Krabappel, calls off the wedding. Skinner asks Homer to help him win her back, while Marge convinces Edna she can do better.
Edna rebounds into the arms of Comic Book Guy, who whisks her off to a sci-fi convention. While at the convention, they run into Groening – guest-starring as himself – who is signing autographs for his fans. [AP]
Meanwhile, Groening may end up as the only voice available for the show if the voice actors can’t be appeased in a pay dispute:
- Mr. Simpson and his family of subversives have, by the estimate of accountants employed by the actors who supply their voices, earned Fox upward of $2.5 billion as the stars of one of the longest-running prime-time series in television history.
Now those actors are demanding their share of the wealth. Insisting that “The Simpsons” would not be the same without them, the professionals behind the voices of Homer, Bart, Marge and the show’s other animated characters are holding out for the kind of financial rewards earned by actors on hit sitcoms like “Friends” and “Frasier.”
Hollywood executives say that the actors’ insistence on not just a near tripling of their salaries – to $8 million a season – but also on a share of the show’s profits is a first for an animated series, a genre that studios and networks have counted on for predictable costs and peaceable casts.
….The fall season for “The Simpsons,” normally 22 episodes, will be cut short because of the contract impasse, the Fox executive said. “We can’t saddle the show with costs that make it uneconomical to produce,” he added.
But money is not the only issue. At stake in the negotiations over “The Simpsons” is a potential precedent that could color the broadcast networks’ competition with cable networks, which increasingly schedule cutting-edge animated shows aimed as much at adults as at children.
….Animation might play a much smaller role on television if voice performers were to be paid as much as actors who appear in the flesh.
….”In contrast to numerous other successful shows, none of this is being distributed to the actors,” said Mr. Weber, a partner in the Beverly Hills law firm Offer, Weber & Dern. “There’s no back-end position at all,” he said, using an industry term for profit sharing, “or the upfront fees have not been significantly raised as a recognition of past contributions to the financial success of the show.”
“What we’re really asking for is what’s customary in the television business for actors on successful shows,” he continued. “We’re not getting it.”
….Aside from [Yeardley] Smith [Lisa] and [Hank] Azaria [Moe, Apu, others], the actors in negotiations are Dan Castellaneta (Homer), Julie Kavner (Marge), Nancy Cartwright (Bart) and Harry Shearer (Mr. Burns and others). They were initially paid $3,000 an episode, their representatives say, and now earn about $125,000 an episode. The actors are seeking $360,000 an episode, as well as a percentage of the show’s profits.
….Like many other successful network comedies, “The Simpsons” is partly owned by its creators. Matt Groening, a comic strip writer and artist, invented “The Simpsons” as a series of short vignettes for “The Tracey Ullman Show” on Fox. James L. Brooks, the writer and producer, helped turn the show into a half-hour series and and is still an executive producer. They have each earned at least $150 million, perhaps far more, from deals that cover not only syndication rights but also licensing, merchandising and video rights, said people with knowledge of the financial arrangements. (Potentially lucrative DVD rights are not covered in such deals, which date to the early 1990’s.)
The Fox executive said it was unclear how much of the forthcoming season of “The Simpsons” would be cut. Production was set to begin in March but has been delayed. A March 19 letter to the actors’ representatives, signed by Neal S. Baseman, senior vice president for business affairs at 20th Century Fox Television, said “continuing negotiations at this time” would “not be in the best interests” of the studio. The negotiations have been suspended. [NY Times]
No wonder Groening is getting in some voice practice.
The series is scheduled to run at least through May of 2005, which will conclude its 16th season and make it the longest running sitcom in history – but I think they’ll need some voices.