Contemplating the (Improbable) Loss of The Simpsons and Dexter

Never forget the first rule of Hollywood: When there is money to be made, no franchise ends.

There are very few exceptions to the rule, and those exceptions come about only because the creative team decides to pass up the money (think Titanic or Seinfeld). There has never, ever been a case where a Hollywood studio has said, “You know what? Forget it. We don’t want to make $7 trillion this year. So go ahead and leave the airwaves, Friends. We don’t care.”

Hollywood doesn’t care about creativity, until the lack of creativity leads to poor ratings or box office results. Until then? Fast and the Furious 17 will be hitting theaters in 2025 with the guys racing in walkers.

That’s what made the early part of the week so interesting, with news that two hugely popular TV institutions of the last 20 years could be ending after this season because of contract disputes with its stars:

THE SIMPSONS

living in a world without the simpsons doesn't seem like a world i want to live in

living in a world without the simpsons doesn't seem like a world i want to live in

What’s going on?: The six main voice actors of the show reportedly are being asked to take a 45-percent pay cut from their current $400,000-per-episode salaries for this season. Fox says it can’t afford to make the show any longer with the actors’ salaries. While snatching almost $5 million a year to talk into a microphone 22 times a year is nothing to sneeze at, the pay cut is pretty insulting to the actors who have played a big part in making the show what it’s been for 23 years.

On one hand …: Fox has the leverage because this is one of the few times where a studio actually will continue to make money off something no longer being aired. The network already has floated the possibility of an all-Simpsons channel since the show is about to reach its 500th episode and will reach 515 by May. That gives the channel almost 260 hours of Simpsons-only programming, enough to avoid repeats for more than 10 straight days. And that’s not even counting those “Look Great Naked!” infomercials sure to air at some point and obvious reruns of The Tracey Ullman Show. Fox still, and always will, make a zillion billion dollars in selling Simpsons DVDs, toys, lunchboxes, T-shirts, toilet seats, whatever. And if it ever stops making money, Fox gives a phony apology to the actors, gets the them back together for one last trip and makes another movie. The first grossed more than $525 million around the world when the show was airing. Can you imagine the kind of money it would make if it’s gone for three years and thencame back with a movie? Since Fox actually would be doing hardcore fans a favor by just ending The Simpsons, it’s not like there would be major fan backlash.

i'm pretty sure i could still name everyone in this picture

i'm pretty sure i could still name everyone in this picture

On the other hand …: Let’s just take the last contract the actors signed in 2008 that lasts through this season (four years). It has paid each actor more than $8 million a year for a total of about $32 million. Their salaries had been around $125,000 per episode since the mid-90s (they also got a raise in 2004). So let’s just say that from 1995 to 2008, each actor, very conservatively, averaged $150,000 per episode for about 22 episodes. That’s almost $43 million each, bringing the total from 1995 to 2011 to $75 million per actor. That also doesn’t take the first five years of the show into account. The belabored point is that none of these people need money. They can walk away anytime and be set for life. Fox needs The Simpsons more than the actors do. Just in case you were looking for more evidence that they have money to burn, look no further than Nancy Cartwright, who is still able to voice the part of Bart despite apparently being brainwashed by aliens. 

Prediction: It’s coming back. No freaking way it’s not coming back. There’s just too much money to be made for everyone. We still need to see things like this anyway:

DEXTER

there's a reason the rest of them are in the back, back, background

there's a reason the rest of them are in the back, back, background

What’s going on?: Deadline.com reported Tuesday that star/producer Michael C. Hall and Showtime were about $4 million apart in negotiations for another two seasons of everyone’s favorite serial killer. Hall’s contract is up after this season, which premiered Oct. 2.

On one hand …: Showtime is kinda screwed here. You can’t kill off Dexter and invent another character to lead the show (ah hem, Two and a Half Men), because no show on TV is as closely linked with its lead actor as Dexter. You can’t ship him off to Colorado with his new girlfriend, never to be seen again (*cough* Michael Scott *cough cough*) while the rest of the cast goes on. The rest of the Dexter cast is borderline unwatchable with Hall, you can only imagine what it would look like without him. If Hall is not on board, the show is toast. The only possibility is just replacing the actor straight-up and hope audiences don’t notice or mind too much, a la Vivian on Fresh Prince. The only possible replacement I can think of — Joaquin Phoenix. And even that probably wouldn’t work. 

On the other hand …: If Hall is asking for $24 million in his dual role of producer and actor for two more seasons, maybe the show is getting a little too expensive anyway. Maybe Showtime wants to roll the dice and pay someone like comeback-craved Phoenix $4 million for two seasons and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, fine, just end the show. It’s not like anyone will stop making money on it, especially with an actor at a reduced rate. With Hall as a producer, he also likely gets a cut of the DVD and syndication profits, something studios and networks hate, hate, hate, hate giving out.

Prediction: The news was leaked at a curious time, a day after Showtime announced the Oct. 2, season six premiere was the highest-rated in the show’s history and the highest-rated Showtime show in more than a decade. That reeks of desperation by Hall’s negotiating team. Both sides will come together, and at the very least, there will be one more season of Dexter. More than likely, there will be two.

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