The Simpsons are losing their voice

The patriarch of their family has spoken out in support of medicinal marijuana at a Phish concert. The matron puts up with more than any other woman ever born. Celebrities cherish being part of the life of this quirky family. However, money matters threaten to derail the magic of The Simpsons.

Simpsons fans owe it to the voice actors of their favorite show to make it known that the admiration could end with these actors’ currently amplified contractual greed.

The Hollywood industry daily, Variety, reports that Julie Kavner, Yeardley Smith, Nancy Cartwright, Dan Castellaneta, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer, voices for all of the principal characters of The Simpsons, are due to make $125,000 per episode of this season of the Simpsons.

However, though each season is usually 22 episodes in length, this fifteenth year in Springfield is in danger of being cut short because Gracie Films and Twentieth Century Fox, who produce the show, cannot bear to increase those salaries to $360,000 per episode, or $8 million per season.

But is a “d’oh!” from Homer really worth that much? These Simpsons cast members are inextricable from one of the longest running prime-time series of all time. But perhaps a voice contribution is not as indispensable to a cartoon as Kelsey Grammer’s nearly quarter-century-long portrayal of Doctor Frasier Crane was to Cheers and Frasier. The part earned Grammer more than $1 million per episode of the latter show. Coincidentally, Grammer crossed over to The Simpsons as the voice of Sideshow Bob.

Though Hank Azaria was most recently seen in Along Came Polly, the remainder of The Simpsons six is a somewhat anonymous group. That said, they deserve recognition, but not to the extent that their share of what The New York Times reports as $2 billion-plus in revenue drives a well-loved, yellow-skinned institution into the ground.

The increase in the Simpsons principals’ salaries in 1998 from $30,000 to the current level is more than enough lucre for roles lacking in on-screen exposure. Stars should not be given this sort of leeway to force their satisfaction into the public light — with shows such as Seinfeld collapsing under the weight of their stars’ avarice — expensive tastes lead to the expanse of failure. Homer might be made to say “mmm … dollar,” but conservative fiscal attitudes must be recommended to those involved in this dispute.

With stalled contract negotiations threatening the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth seasons, Simpsons fans do not have many assurances at this point. Just as grumbling professional baseball players were locked out in 1994, so may the voice actors in question be replaced by affordable individuals (though a walkout staged by Azaria and company in 1998 was ended by the aforementioned salary raise and not cast replacements as Fox was unable to find stand-ins).

If their bosses do not give in to their demands, the talents behind Lisa, Bart, Apu and the rest of the venerable Simpsons cast might not be as distinct as they have always been. As funny as its cadre of writers have made it in the past, the show’s ratings would most probably tumble if, for example, Homer were to become a falsetto or Mister Burns’ inflections shifted to those of a Briton.

With that in mind, it will be interesting to see if the dollar breaks up what Variety once called “America’s dysfunctional First Family.”

Contact staff writer Adrian Dowe at