Fox wants "The Simpsons" for one more season at most -- and only if it can pay 25 to 30 percent less for it, an executive close to the show told TheWrap.
The contention comes as producers have agreed to salary cuts to keep the show going past the current, twenty-third season, and as the show's six voice actors must respond by Friday to a studio demand that they agree to have their payments cut almost in half.
A person familiar with the actors' position dismissed the idea that Fox wants just one more season as "pure spin" and a negotiating tactic. The person said the offer now on the table for the actors would include a guarantee of two more seasons and the option of a third -- if they agree to the cuts. (Fox could cancel the show after one more season, but the actors would still be paid through the length of their contracts, the person said.)
If no deal can be reached between the actors and 20th Century Fox TV, then the current season will be the show's last.
Ending the series with this season -- or even after one more year -- would deny TV's longest-running scripted, primetime show the chance to hit a landmark 25 seasons. Fox was a distant competitor to ABC, CBS and NBC when "The Simpsons" debuted as a series in 1989. It was Fox's first show to crack the top 30 -- and quickly became a worldwide cultural phenomenon.
TheWrap reported Wednesday that, as ammunition in their salary dispute, the actors have commissioned a study estimating the show has made $1 billion in profits over its run. The study projected that the studio will eventually make about $2.9 billion from the show.
The actors have been asked to decide by noon Friday whether they will accept cuts to their salaries from the current $440,000 to $250,000 if the show continues past its current season, according to people familiar with the talks.
The actors offered last week to accept cuts to $300,000 per episode, in exchange for back-end payments they don't currently receive, but the studio rejected the offer.
The studio declined to comment. But the executive told TheWrap that new episodes of the show are no longer profitable for the network, and that Fox wants to pay 25 to 30 percent less for a twenty-fourth and final season. The executive said many on the show have been asked to accept salary cuts, and that producers have already agreed to them, as they try to reduce the licensing fee that Fox pays to air the show.
"The cuts proposed to actors are in line with cuts proposed to others involved in the show. The object here is not for the actors to pay personally for the reduction," the executive said. "The cost is that the cast is a component of the show, all of which is being downsized to do a final season."
The executive and others familiar with the talks spoke to TheWrap on condition of anonymity. Variety first reported that the producers agreed to pay cuts.
Earlier this week, Fox issued a statement saying it "cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model," and that it hoped for "an agreement with the voice cast that allows 'The Simpsons' to go on entertaining audiences with original episodes for many years to come."
The report commissioned by the actors estimated that the show has earned $3.95 billion in revenue -- including from network advertising, syndication payments, international airings, merchandising, and home video -- and has cost about $3.07 billion to produce.
The study estimated that the show would earn another $2 billion in cable and syndication deals, among other revenue sources, once it stops producing new episodes.
Under their current four-year contract, which ends this season, the actors earn around $9 million for a minimum of 20 episodes. They are being asked to cut their salaries to $5 million.
The actors being asked to take cuts are voice the show's major characters: Dan Castellaneta (Homer, Grampa Simpson, Krusty the Clown, and others), Julie Kavner (Marge and others), Nancy Cartwright (Bart and others), Yeardley Smith (Lisa), Hank Azaria (Moe, Chief Wiggum and Apu), and Harry Shearer (the voice of Mr. Burns, Principal Skinner, and Ned Flanders, among others).