are those who say they don't have seasons in Los Angeles. Not true.
There is smog, rain, fire, and contract disputes. And last week, there
was a particularly nasty wage battle at Fox over The Simpsons contracts.
Early last week, 20th Century Fox Television, the studio that
produces the show, warned the six-voice cast that they would have to
take pay cuts of nearly 50%. Otherwise, Fox said, it would be curtains
for the series, now in its 23rd season.
Now, everybody in TV is overpaid. This is an economic reality of the
business. It costs a lot to fill swimming pools with Perrier and keep
the creative juices flowing out there in the Land of Silk and Money.
Simpsons cast members are no exception. The projected cuts
will bring each of them down to roughly $4 million dollars a year, food
stamp level in the People's Republic of Beverly Hills.
In demanding Draconian belt-tightening by its wage slaves, Fox is, in
effect, pleading poverty, even though the show is a cowabunga cash cow.
They have 500 episodes in the can, which could produce untold billions
in Rerun Heaven. As it is, they might have to hold a telethon to get the
24th season on the air.
The Simpsons have played a large role in the history of American culture and in Fox Television Network's financial picture.
The series began in 1989, at a time when Fox was known as "the coat
hanger network." Many of its stations were on UHF, and you needed the
fingers of a safecracker to get channel 98 on the dial. Programming-wise
it was the Lox network. That's because its other shows lay there on the air like a smoked salmon at Barney Greengrass.
The Simpsons was the shining light in the Fox schedule of sitcoma:
comedy programs that couldn't even make the laugh track laugh. It was a
rarity at the time: "an adult comedy", an animated program about a
family, which was closer to a real family than any of the so-called
"family programs" at the time. It could make a 9-year-old laugh along
with his 70-year-old grandfather.
Even more daring, it was -- and they still hold their breath while saying it -- satire. Where satire was said to die on Saturday night in the theatre, it died on the other nights of the week on TV.
The theory at Fox was, if at first you don't fail, try, try again. No
matter where Fox put it on the schedule in its early years, even
against The Cosby Show on Thursdays, it survived and prospered. Look: As I used to say as a TV critic, Good is Good©.
The highest accolade awarded the show, in my book, came from Barbara
Bush in 1990. The First Lady of that other humorous family called it "the dumbest thing" she had ever seen.
True, it didn't pander to the lowest common denominator as most other
sitcoms did. It had a family that dared to be different. It was the
only show on the air in prime time that had a character (Lisa) who had a
mobile in her room dedicated to what she called her role models: Susan
B. Anthony, Georgia O'Keefe, and the 98-year-old environmentalist who
was trying to save the Everglades even before Miami Vice.
It also was the only show examining the problems of nuclear facility
dangers. The episode dealing with the three-eyed fish should have won a
Nobel Prize in science for the best hideous mutation of the year. Who
could ever forget the safety inspection that found Homer using plutonium
bars as paperweights (one of 342 violations of basic safety procedures)
or the glowing green mice? It was the kind of offensive material they
never would have touched on NBC, or any other network formerly owned by General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE), a leader in PCB contamination of rivers and nuclear plant management bungling (Remember Hanford?).
But all of that is ancient history.
Now, I realize News Corp.
(Nasdaq: NWS), which owns Fox Television Network, needs a lot of money
to keep paying off all the folks in the UK whose phones were hacked
(unknown to Sir Rupert & Sons). But now is not the time to end The Simpsons' comic assault on the totally insane world we live in, over a few shaky American dollars.
Late Friday, The Simpsons got a reprieve. The two sides
reached a new two-year agreement that ensures the series will run for at
least 25 seasons. No one is talking about the terms of the deal.
As a Simpsons fan, I'm glad it's over. But I've one thing more to say to News Corp. CEO and chairman Rupert Murdoch:
Eat my shorts!