The Simpsons, the longest running sitcom in television history, is about to launch its 29th season on Fox. The one constant throughout the show’s three decades has been its sterling voice cast, which consists of Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson, Krusty the Clown, Barney Gumble, many others), Julie Kavner (Marge Simpson, Patty and Selma Bouvier), Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson, Nelson Muntz, Ralph Wiggum), Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson), Hank Azaria (Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Moe Szyslak, Chief Wiggum, many others), and Harry Shearer (Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, many others). As the voices of one of the most celebrated shows in television history, the cast’s salaries have reached some dizzying highs, and occasionally have resulted in contentious showdowns with Fox.
When the show began in 1989, the largely unknown cast were all under contract for $30,000 an episode, which was amazingly the pay rate they were locked into until 1998, essentially the entirety of the show’s creative golden age and cultural zenith. The cast got a healthy pay bump up to $125,000 an episode in 1998. They entered one of their most contentious battles with the network in 2004, when the network threatened to recast the roles if a pay settlement couldn’t be reached. No one took Fox’s threats seriously, and the cast saw their wages bumped to $360,000 an episode.
The cast struck their most lucrative deal in 2008, topping out at $400,000 an episode. As the show has aged and become increasingly expensive to produce, the cast have had to take minor pay cuts, starting in 2011, when their per episode rate dipped to $300,000. That’s the current pay rate for the cast going into season 29, though there was very nearly a serious problem in 2015.
Harry Shearer, long the cast member most willing to criticize both the network and the show’s producers, announced he was leaving the show before season 27 was to commence. A very public, very nasty game of chicken ensued, with producer Al Jean saying the show would not retire Shearer’s characters – as it did when actors Phil Hartman and Marcia Wallace passed away – but would simply recast the likes of Mr. Burns and Ned Flanders, a horrifying prospect to the show’s devoted fanbase. Shearer eventually blinked, returning to the cast at the $300,000 an episode pay rate with no break in production needed.
Amazingly, The Simpsons is still one of Fox’s flagship shows. It’s routinely the network’s most watched show in its Sunday night animation block, besting younger, trendier shows like Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers. And while debates rage about the show’s varying quality over the years, it’s difficult to imagine the television landscape without it. The cast will likely have to take further pay cuts as the economics of the show continue to get trickier (the show recently parted ways with its longtime composer, Alf Clausen, over budgetary cutbacks). And after thirty years, the time is likely coming where the show will have to grapple with the prospect of either a major recasting or closing up shop on Springfield.
For now, The Simpsons remains an American television institution, with an incredibly talented – and handsomely compensated – cast at the helm.
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