Pop Rocks: So Long, Simpsons?

"Who knows what adventures they'll have between now and the time the show becomes unprofitable?" - Troy McClure

A salary dispute is threatening to end one of television's most beloved comedies.

The actors who provide the voices for the long-running cartoon hit "The Simpsons" are at odds over a new contract with 20th Century Fox Television, the production company that makes the series for its sister broadcast network.

The studio is seeking to dramatically cut the mid-six-figure pay per episode of the key actors who voice the show including 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).

In a statement, 20th Century Fox Television said it "cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model."

That sounds familiar. Lots of us are having problems under the "current financial model." The real question is: will anybody mourn The Simpsons passing, should it...come to pass?

The irony, if I may be allowed to use that word incorrectly, is that ratings for the show have been in steady decline for years, yet the actors make more money the longer the show airs.

But the Simpsons actors may have picked a bad time to play hardball. They currently make $8 million a year -- around $400,000 an episode -- and offered to take a 30% pay cut in exchange for a share of merchandising and syndication profits. Fox is looking for a 45% pay cut. I'm gonna go way out on a limb and say nobody in this economy is going to feel sorry for a half dozen millionaires who've had 23 years in one of the best gigs a voice actor could ask for.

[One of whom (Smith) only voices one character. I'm all for paying Azaria and Shearer the big bucks, and even Cartwright voices Ralph and Nelson in addition to Bart, but $400K week for Lisa? An outrage, etc. etc.]

And now, and I say this as one of the biggest former Simpsons fans to ever buy the full run of Burger King figures (while on vacation in Scotland, no less), I don't think anyone will miss the show if it goes away.

For starters, at almost 500 episodes, it'd be a long time before you ran the risk of getting burned out on syndicated content. Some of you must remember watching Gilligan's Island reruns when you were a kid (or Happy Days, or Degrassi Junior High). The crew of the Minnow only lasted 98 episodes (the Fonz a respectable 250, those Canadian twerps a mere 42).

All they have to do is start returning the early episodes to regular rotation. I check the TV schedule periodically (reruns air at 6:30 and 10:30) and I don't think any of these are pre-2008.

Regarding the newer stuff, people have long made the argument the show never recovered from Conan O'Brien leaving (he wrote his last episode in 1993). I'm more generous; I say it never recovered from the death of Phil Hartman in '98. Lionel Hutz (AKA "Miguel Sanchez") and Troy McClure were vital recurring characters that helped ground the early seasons, keeping things from veering too far into ridiculousness. After Hartman's death, his characters were retired, and from that point on, the program -- already showing signs of fatigue -- gradually abandoned any pretext of reality.

A better question than "Who will miss The Simpsons if they go?" is "Do we really need them anymore?" The early years, and episodes like "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington" and "Flaming Moes" (season 3), or "Marge vs. the Monorail" (season 4) are highlight reels of 20th century television. It's almost unfair to compare recent seasons to them because they were just so fucking good.

But South Park does satire better (it's hard to argue that The Simpsons are even trying at this point), and other animated programs like Archer and The Venture Bros. are funnier, though less accessible to general audiences. King of the Hill was more consistent, and one animated show I thought wasn't given enough of a shot was Bob's Burgers (my bad, the show was actually - and barely - renewed for a second season).

We will not speak of Family Guy.

So maybe it's time for Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Expecting to pack it in. They'll get to 500 episodes this season, which should put them out of reach of everybody but Two and a Half Men, even after Jon Cryer kills himself and is replaced by Ted McGinley. Because after going to space, Hell, the "fourth dimension," Japan, England, Australia, Brazil, Africa, and Shelbyville, what new worlds are left to conquer?

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the passing of Steve Jobs:

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