Television viewers may have to start preparing for a Sunday night Fox lineup without The Simpsons. America's crassest cartoon family is fighting with the company over money and may end up moving out of the network's neighborhood if the tiff isn't settled.
According to The Daily Beast, the cast of the long-running animated series is balking at the demand from News Corp.'s (NWS) 20th Century Fox division that they accept a 45% pay cut. If the demands are not met, "The Simpsons will die an abrupt death as a first-run series," the website dramatically intones.
Bummer Ratings, Dude
While fans may be having a cow, News Corp. shareholders aren't. The stock is up a bit since the announcement.
It is true that since its debut in 1989, the franchise has earned Fox billions in revenue. But the show has been fading in popularity for years.
During the 2010-2011 season, the show was seen by an average of 4.39 million viewers ages 18-49, ranking 30th in that key demographic.
This isn't the first time the cast has clashed with 20th Century Fox over money. In 2008, The Hollywood Reporter said the actors received a pay increase to $400,000 an episode, from $300,000. That equals about $8 million a year, and was below the $500,000 they originally sought.
This time, the six main voice actors say they aren't averse to making some salary concessions. They've offered to take a 30% pay cut in exchange for a tiny percentage of the ancillary revenue generated by the show (also known as "the back end"), according to Daily Beast.
Whenever talk surfaces about replacing The Simpsons, the question arises of about what program should replace it. The answer is not an easy one. It might make sense to tap Family Guy creator and actor Seth MacFarlane. Family Guy and its spinoff The Cleveland Show follow The Simpsons on Sunday nights.
Unfortunately for Fox, those shows aren't doing very well in the TV ratings either. In fact, they fell double-digits among viewers 18 to 49 versus their season premieres.
Hold Your Goodbyes -- For Now
Simpsons fans can take comfort in knowing that Bart's devilish grin, Lisa's exasperated sigh,x Marge's longing for something better, and Homer's Zen-like stupidity will live forever in syndication. Maybe Fox will even try and squeeze a few more nickels out of the franchise with another Simpsons movie or two.
Given how Hollywood warms up classic TV shows like cans of SpaghettiOs, The Simpsons may grace the small screen yet again in about five years after its cancellation. It worked for Futurama. Remember, old TV shows never die as long as somebody can make a buck off them.
Motley Fool contributor Jonathan Berr does not own any shares in companies listed in this article.