Oct. 6, 2011 at 12:57 PM ET
A disclaimer before getting too deep into this: I come to you humbly as a person who does not love “The Simpsons.” In fact, I don't think it would be right to even label me a fan of the show. Yes, I like the first family of Springfield well enough, but "The Simpsons" is hardly a go-to on my DVR, as it is for the other two-thirds of my family. When I do tune in, I’m amused enough, but it isn’t appointment television for me, like say, “Modern Family" or "Teen Mom" (just being honest!).
Even so, I am adamant about one thing: Fox needs to do whatever it has to do to keep the show on the air for a 24th season.
To bring everyone up to speed (or if you’re up on your “Simpsons” breaking news, now’s where you skip ahead): Earlier this week, the studio 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.”
Or, to be more succinct, the studio said, “D’oh! We need you to take a pay cut.”
If the principal actors do not take a 45 percent pay cut from their $8 million salaries, season 23 will be it for Bart and company (unless another network picks them up, or they get their own channel, but that’s a different column entirely). As it stands now, sources who spoke to Lloyd Grove say that the actors are going to submit a proposal that involves an even larger pay cut than requested in return for some back-end syndication pay and profits from merchandising. Two things that might be a good idea anyway, as to avoid future image-tarnishing lawsuits like the ones the “Happy Days” cast got embroiled in.
But back to “The Simpsons.” Studio financing has never been more complicated than it is now, and I totally understand that the days of “Friends” money are over. Look no further than the recent Forbes list of the highest paid women in television for proof that the days of making a million bucks an episode are over. But when we’re talking about a decades-long franchise that has earned more than $1 billion in profits, it seems to me the business model needs some tweaking to make room for 'The Simpsons'' continued success more than the programming lineup. After all, THE SHOW ACTUALLY WORKS. It’s proven, it’s an institution -- which is more than many networks that keep middling shows on the air can say.
And about “The Simpsons” being an institution -- that’s precisely why I, a Simpson’s liker -- not lover -- argue to keep it a little longer. The show has built a family that hails from no specific state yet speaks to viewers in every state. “The Simpsons” is irreverent enough to get laughs, but speaks enough truth that people write actual, sort-of philosophical books about it. It's reliably appropriate in its commentary on pop culture, and reliably inappropriate enough to actually say what a lot of people are thinking.
So, Fox, figure it out. And if the show must end, make it an elegant ending. Twenty-five is a nice round number, and an institution like this shouldn't have to go down amid a disagreement with a cast that's been so loyal. You owe it to them and, more importantly, your fans, to keep the show on as long as possible. And when the end comes, make it a fitting one.