Entertainment Industry

Category: The Simpsons

'Terra Nova' fights against extinction

Fox's "Terra Nova" is fighting to survive past its freshman season.
Are dinosaurs about to go extinct for a second time?

Fox's "Terra Nova," an expensive drama about a family that travels from the year 2149 to prehistoric times to try to save Earth, is fighting to survive past its freshman season. Because the show is costly and takes a long time to produce, Fox ordered only 13 episodes, the last of which will air on Dec. 19.

Now 20th Century Fox Television, the production studio that makes "Terra Nova" for the Fox network, is starting to lobby for a year two.

On the surface, the ratings for "Terra Nova" are not awful. It is averaging almost 10 million viewers in its Monday 8 p.m. time slot, and it is the No. 1 new drama among male viewers.

However, the pilot of "Terra Nova" alone cost about $15 million, and the show is one of the most expensive in history, so it may be hard Fox to justify a second year without higher ratings. The studio will likely try to make the argument that "Terra Nova" has done well in international sales, but that may not be enough to justify the financial risks of a second season.

Part of the challenge all along for "Terra Nova" was that it was trying to be a show that could appeal to families and kids in a time when the audience is very fragmented. A Monday night time slot probably didn't help it much. Sunday would have been a better fit for "Terra Nova," where it would have benefited from having NFL football as a lead-in and a better chance to grab families.

However, Fox has turned its Sunday night over to animation programming. "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" still deliver, but a case could be made that the other shows Fox has tried that night ("The Cleveland Show," "Bob's Burgers" and "Alan Gregory") are just riding the coattails of those two shows.

Going forward, Fox executives may have to decide whether they need to rethink their Sunday strategy if they want to try big-tent shows such as "Terra Nova."

-- Joe Flint


"Two and a Half Men" outdraws "Terra Nova"

"Terra Nova" to get aggressive launch from Fox

Photo: A scene from "Terra Nova." Credit: Fox

`Simpsons' cast strikes new deal


As Montgomery Burns would say, "excellent."

Fans of "The Simpsons" can rejoice that a deal has been reached between the actors who provide voices for the animated hit show and 20th Century Fox Television, the studio that produces the show for its sister Fox network.

The new agreement ends several days of tension between the two sides and ensures that "The Simpsons" will run for at least 25 seasons. The studio said it needed to cut the salaries of the actors to make keeping production going economically viable while the actors countered that the studio, network and parent company News Corp. were being greedy.

While terms of the two-year contract were not disclosed, 20th Century Fox Television had been looking to cut the salares of the actors by as much as 45%. The primary cast members currently make $440,000 per episode and the offer to keep doing the show was for about $250,000, according to people close to the situation not authorized to talk publicly about the matter.

The cast -- which includes Dan Castellaneta (Homer), Julie Kavner (Marge), Nancy Cartwright (Bart), Yeardley Smith (Lisa), Hank Azaria (Moe the bartender, Chief Wiggum and Apu) and Harry Shearer (Mr. Burns and Ned Flanders) -- had indicated it would be willing to accept a big pay cut in return for a piece of the money the company gets from reruns and other ancillary revenue streams. In a statement released Friday prior to the new deal being agreed upon, Shearer said the cast's salaries "pale in comparison to what the show's profit participants have been taking home." The offer to take smaller salaries in return for a piece of what is known as the back-end was resisted by the studio.

"The Simpsons" has been a staple of Fox's prime-time line up for more than two decades, and sales of reruns and DVDs as well as numerous licensing deals have made the program one of the most profitable in television history.  News Corp. has pocketed more than $1 billion in profit from the show, according to analysts and company insiders.

However, the Fox network, which pays more than $5 million for each episode of "The Simpsons,"  is losing money on the new episodes it airs, said two people with knowledge of the situation. Ratings for "The Simpsons" have fallen in the last few years while the cost to make the show has increased. 


Harry Shearer wants his piece of `The Simpsons' pie

'Simpsons' success pays for a lot at News Corp.

Don't have a cow, but News Corp. may be better off without 'The Simpsons'

Could Homer Simpson get his own cable channel?

 -- Joe Flint

 Photo: "The Simpsons." Credit: Fox.



Harry Shearer wants his piece of 'The Simpsons' pie

Harry Shearer, The Simpsons

He may provide the voice of greedy tyrant Monty Burns on "The Simpsons," but off screen Harry Shearer says it is the company behind Fox's cartoon hit that is being a bully.

Shearer, the first cast member of "The Simpsons" to speak publicly about the contract dispute between the actors who do the voices for the cartoon characters and production company 20th Century Fox Television, said the cast is being ripped off.

While acknowledging that he's hardly a pauper, Shearer said the salaries in the cast "pale in comparison to what the show's profit participants have been taking home." Profit participants are typically the creators and key writers and producers.

The studio has said it "cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model." Shearer and the other primary cast members have been asked to take pay cuts of 45%. Currently, the key cast members make $440,000 per episode, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Shearer said he will take an even bigger cut if he can get a "tiny share of the billions of dollars in profits that the show has earned." The idea of giving the cast a piece of what's known in the industry as the back end is a non-starter for the studio.

Though "The Simpsons" has been a cash cow for 20th Century Fox Television and its parent News Corp. for two decades, the Fox network loses money on the show. Its ratings have dropped over the last five years while the cost to the network to air the show has gone up.


'Simpsons' success pays for a lot at News Corp.

Don't have a cow, but News Corp. may be better off without 'The Simpsons'

Could Homer Simpson get his own cable channel?

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Monty Burns of "The Simpsons," left, who is voiced by Harry Shearer, right. Credit: Associated Press and Rob Loud / Getty Images.

The 'Simpsons' salary dispute and the costs of success

The Simpsons
A salary dispute between the actors who provide voices for "The Simpsons" and 20th Century Fox Television, the studio that produces the hit cartoon for its sister Fox network, has shone a light on just how much News Corp., parent of both the studio and network, has made from the show.

No doubt Bart, Homer, Marge and the rest of the Springfield gang have been a cash cow for Rupert Murdoch's media empire. Between reruns, DVDs and the slew of merchandise that has come out over the more than two decades that "The Simpsons" has been on the air, the show has generated more than $1 billion in profits.

However, it is not as if Murdoch takes that big pile of money and puts it under his pillow every night like he's Homer's boss C. Montgomery Burns. After everyone involved in the show, including the folks lucky enough to be profit participants in "The Simpsons," gets his or her cut, the bulk of the leftover dough gets pumped back into the company.

There it is used to sign writers and producers to make other shows, most of which will fail. That $15 million that was spent by 20th Century Fox Television to make the pilot for "Terra Nova"? "The Simpsons" helped pay for that.

The actors' contributions to the show's success should not be minimized, and they too have earned millions off of the success of "The Simpsons." The main voices on "The Simpsons" -- Dan Castellaneta (Homer), Julie Kavner (Marge), Nancy Cartwright (Bart), Yeardley Smith (Lisa), Hank Azaria (Moe the bartender, Chief Wiggum and Apu) and Harry Shearer (Mr. Burns) -- currently make about $440,000 per episode, according to a person close to the show who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. They also typically get paid for any use of their voices in "Simpsons"-related merchandise or commercials.

The studio wants to cut that by 45% to roughly $240,000 per episode. Producers and others involved in the show also have been asked to take reductions in pay.

The reason the studio is trying to cut the show's costs is because over the years "The Simpsons" has become a lot more expensive to produce. The longer a show is on the air, the bigger the salaries get for all involved. That's how it should be. With ratings success comes financial rewards.

For the Fox network, though, "The Simpsons" has entered into the loss leader category. Its audience has shrunk by almost 20% over the last five years, and at more than $5 million per episode the network no longer makes money on it, people familiar with the matter said. That's why Fox is pressuring the studio to lower the license fee and the studio in turn wants the creative team to take a pay cut.

Interestingly, the studio and parent company News Corp. also know that even if new episodes of "The Simpsons" end, that doesn't mean the money train will stop running. In fact, it could get bigger.

That's because once the show goes off the air, the syndication unit of News Corp. will be able to cut new rerun deals for "The Simpsons" and find other ways to monetize the show, including starting a cable channel devoted to the antics of Bart.

"Ironically, the cancellation of the show would allow News Corp. to finally sell off-network syndication rights into cable channels (and potentially to online distributors)," wrote David Bank, a managing director at RBC Capital Markets. Bank estimated that News Corp. could generate as much as $750 million in new rerun deals. It can't do anything with the reruns though until the show stops production, which would lead to the expiration of the original rerun deals signed in the mid-1990s.

Being asked to take such a big cut in a job one has held for more than 20 years is not easy to swallow, especially on such a hugely successful show. The bean counters at 20th Century Fox Television should look for every other place that fat can be trimmed from the budget of "The Simpsons." No doubt there is a donut budget in there somewhere that can be slimmed down.

The studio has set a deadline of Friday afternoon for the actors to agree to the terms. Odds are, as is often the case in these situations, some sort of an middle ground will be agreed upon. If not, then a lot of people will be saying "d'oh!"


Don't have a cow, but News Corp. may be better off without new episodes of "The Simpsons"

Could Homer Simpson get his own cable channel?

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Mr. Burns in "The Simpsons." Credit: Fox Broadcasting.

Don't have a cow but News Corp. may be better off without 'Simpsons'


Would News Corp. be better off if Homer Simpson retires?

On the surface that question seems absurd. After all, "The Simpsons" has been a staple of News Corp's Fox network for more than two decades and remains one of its most popular shows. Furthermore, the cartoon has pumped billions of dollars into the company's bottom line in the form of reruns and DVD sales around the globe.

But a contract dispute between the actors who provide the voices for "The Simpsons" and 20th Century Fox Television, which produces the show for the Fox network, is threatening the show's future and raising new questions about whether the economics for one of television's most famous programs still makes sense.

In a statement, 20th Century Fox Television said it "cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model." News of the dispute between the cast and producers was first reported by the Daily Beast.

The studio is seeking to cut the salaries of the cast. The cast is willing to consider that but only in exchange for a small percentage of the show's profits, which is not yet on the table. The key cast members include Dan Castellaneta (Homer), Julie Kavner (Marge), Nancy Cartwright (Bart), Yeardley Smith (Lisa) and Hank Azaria (Moe the bartender, Chief Wiggum and Apu).

"The Simpsons" is no longer the powerhouse it once was. So far this season, it has averaged 7.1 million viewers. That is a sharp drop of nearly 20% from five years ago, when "The Simpsons" averaged 8.7 million viewers. Among the coveted adults ages 18 to 49 category, "The Simpsons" ratings have fallen 17%.

To be sure, most shows experience ratings declines as they age. The conundrum is that the cost of producing shows also goes up as they get older because producers and actors tend to get big raises the longer a program remains on the air. The per-episode license fee that Fox pays its sister studio for "The Simpsons" is north of $5 million per episode, according to people with knowledge of the terms who declined to speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the situation. At that price, the show is no longer profitable for the network, these people said.

"The Simpsons" continues to generate lots of money for News Corp. through reruns and DVD sales, although not as much as it once did and there is little financial need for more episodes.

With regards to reruns, the deals for repeats of the show are very old and heavily favor the stations carrying it. Usually, TV stations pay cash plus a portion of commercial inventory (known as barter advertising) in return for getting to air reruns of popular shows. In the case of "The Simpsons," the barter advertising portion of the agreement with the stations that carry it expired years ago and now it is strictly a cash deal.

Until the show stops producing new episodes, News Corp.'s hands are tied with regards to finding new buyers that will pay more for the repeats. Once the show is done on Fox, the contracts News Corp.'s syndication unit 20th Television struck with local stations will start to expire and new rerun deals can be struck with both local stations and cable networks. Given the strength of "The Simpsons" performance in reruns, there will be no shortage of buyers. News Corp. Deputy Chairman Chase Carey has even talked about starting a cable network devoted to reruns of "The Simpsons."

"There’s only upside opportunity given the fact that the syndicator would be able to sell another cycle of the program to broadcast which would definitely include barter and also allow for a sale to cable," said Bill Carroll, a vice president at industry consulting firm Katz Television.

Although from a business standpoint a case can be made that it's time for Homer and the gang to retire, the show's creative team, which includes creator Matt Groening and executive producer James L. Brooks would like to see it last 25 years. The show just started its 23rd season.

"We are hopeful that we can reach an agreement with the voice cast that allows 'The Simpson' to go on entertaining audiences with original episodes for many years to come," the studio said in its statement.

"The Simpsons" is still a valuable platform for Fox. Its iconic characters remain the face of the network. A Sunday night without "The Simpsons" would be like a "60 Minutes" without Andy Rooney. Oh, wait a minute.


Could Homer Simpson get his own cable channel

-- Joe Flint

Photo: "The Simpsons. Credit: Matt Groening / 20th Century Fox Television



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