The End of Zombie Simpsons: Still Unlikely

Last Exit to Springfield5

“Well, let’s look at the contract ourselves, eh?  Benefits!  Perks!  A green cookie on St. Patrick’s Day!” – C.M. Burns

There are a few pieces of new information about the current money wrangling going on between FOX and the six principle voice actors.  I’ve linked three articles below along with a summary of what actual news each contains.  As of noon today, this what’s known to the internet:

‘The Simpsons’ producers accepted pay cuts | Variety (via):

  • An unspecified number of executive producers have agreed to take an unspecified pay cut, but as yet no contracts have been signed. 
  • FOX has set a deadline of Friday for an agreement with the actors.
  • That deadline is supposedly linked to the production cycle.  As of right now they still have enough time to produce a series finale that would air next year under the current deal.   

Another ‘Simpsons’ Season Would Likely Be Last, Executive Says (Exclusive) | TheWrap TV:

  • An unnamed executive said that even with a new deal, FOX only wants the show for one more year. 
  • A FOX press release contradicted that, saying they wanted the show “for many years to come”.
  • A financial analysis commissioned by the actors reports that the show has earned $3.95 billion ($3,950,000,000) so far against a total production cost of $3.07 billion ($3,070,000,000). 
  • The same analysis also concluded that the show as it stands will earn roughly another $2 billion ($2,000,000,000) once production ceases.

Analyst: Fox Could Get Around $750 Million in New Syndication Revenue After ‘Simpsons’ Cancellation – The Hollywood Reporter (via):

  • David Bank, an analyst for RBC Capital Markets, believes that FOX could earn $750 million ($750,000,000) from new syndication deals alone once the show ends.
  • The original syndication deals were struck when cable was much smaller and on-line didn’t exist and FOX is presently unable to sell rerun rights for those outlets.
  • Each episode is probably worth between $1 million and $2 million dollars ($1,000,000-$2,000,000) from those sources.

To my mind that third article is far more important than the others.  The first two are the usual press leaks that occur during negotiations.  Numbers of dubious provenance get bandied about and the quotes used are often deliberately inflammatory or misleading because all of the sources are party to the negotiation.  It’s basically just a public way of saying this:

Management: We’re losing money, you guys need to take a pay cut.
Labor:  Bullshit.
[angry crosstalk]

None of it changes the fact that every previous time this has happened everyone involved eventually realized that doing some kind of deal makes them all more money.  Sometime after that the contracts get signed.  So while I’d love to hear what FOX’s internal discussions are regarding the future of Zombie Simpsons, the odds of getting that through the entertainment press are very long indeed. 

The third article, however, puts a number on the pretty heavy cash payout for FOX once the show stops production.  Syndication is an obtuse process and is governed by rules and conventions that only deeply involved players really understand, but the basic premise is very simple.  Once a show has enough episodes to be worth syndicating (usually four seasons), a temporary syndication deal is struck for rerunning the show while it is still in production.  Once a show stops production, i.e. once everyone involved knows for sure how many episodes there are going to be, a new deal is done to cover the whole show. 

Since Zombie Simpsons has gone on for so long, not only is the catalog of episodes for sale enormous, but the original and temporary syndication deal is now hopelessly out of date.  The economics of television have changed a lot since the early 1990s, and the duration of a purposely temporary agreement from that time has created a lot of potential revenue.  Right now that money only exists on spreadsheets, but it would become very real once the 1990s deal finally expires.  That’s where you get the $750 million number, which would not come all at once, but which would be in cash and very nice for FOX for several years.  That means that FOX can cancel the show without hurting its bottom line for years to come, an important consideration in a business that freaks out over quarterly reports.  Of course, the flip side of that coin is that the longer the show goes on the bigger that potential revenue becomes. 

So, what does all this mean?  I’m afraid the answer is still “not much”.  We don’t know what the real numbers are.  We don’t know how personally interested the actors and key producers are in keeping it going.  We don’t know how confident FOX is that they can plug the hole in their Sunday lineup.  Having an unnamed FOX executive tell The Wrap that they’d only want one more season anyway is meant to generate attention, but it probably isn’t anything more than bluster. 

If production of the show actually shuts down then we can start getting our hopes up.  Ditto if there’s a credible report that the word has come down to make the last episode a series finale.  But until either of those things happens this is far more smoke than fire. 

4 Responses to “The End of Zombie Simpsons: Still Unlikely”

  1. 1 Mr. Incognito
    6 October 2011 at 4:55 pm

    I do find it interesting that this executive has said that new episodes are no longer profitable for the network. Troy McClure was prophetic when he asked, “Who knows what adventures they’ll have between now and the time the show becomes unprofitable?”

    No, the end of episodic profitability doesn’t mean the end of Zombie Simpsons, but it is telling on just how far things have fallen, and is just another example of how Zombie Simpsons became the thing that The Simpsons once mocked.

    • 7 October 2011 at 8:07 am

      What’s interesting is how you think the show, at first thought, would be more profitable when you consider people DO still watch it — and there’s more of a POTENTIAL audience considering the internet, DVD sales, viral shit, and the fact that there’s just more people around, period, than there were when the show started — and the show, technically, would at least seem EASIER to make, with computers doing the job of tons of little people sitting around doing a thousand drawings to represent 30 seconds of action.

      Of course, the ratings are at an all time low, while everyone is getting paid an all-time high, and with the economy and the fact that everything is more expensive, period, well…

      I wonder how much it costs to make a South Park episode, considering they’re made in 5 days, give or take.

  2. 3 sVybDy
    6 October 2011 at 8:21 pm

    This is 2011. Even if FOX cancels Zombie Simpsons, some other Cable Channel might be perfectly happy to slurp up their dregs.

    It could even be off the air for seven years, and barely kept alive with more than three but less than five direct-to-DVD movies before anyone does anything about it.

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