The Simpsons was almost forced to recast its stars before the tenth season due to a contractual dispute between the actors and the Fox network. The Simpsons Season 10 Recast 1 The Simpsons has been on the air for over 30 years with the voice cast being the most enduring aspect of the show. The actors are the characters to the shows millions of fans worldwide. But despite their importance the producers came dangerously close to losing their primary performers less than a decade into the series.
Ahead of the shows tenth season The Simpsons was almost forced to recast its stars. Contract disputes nearly derailed the show at the peak of its popularity. If not for both sides being able to come to an agreement the series and the broader franchise would have changed completely.
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While The Simpsons has a deep well of regular cast members including Pamela Hayden Tress Mac Neille Maggie Roswell and Kevin Michael Richardson the stars of the show are Dan Castellaneta Julie Kavner Nancy Cartwright the outspoken Yeardley Smith Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer. Those six provide the voices of the majority of the shows regular characters and have given the series a strong consistency even as the decades have seen changes in writers show runners and comedy style. Despite the ever evolving writing staff bringing new perspectives to Springfield the cast has remained a bedrock for the franchise.
But that nearly all came to an end during what is still arguably the shows Golden Age. In 1999 ahead of Season 10 the cast found themselves in a contract dispute with Fox. At the time each member of the main cast was paid $30000 per episode. Considering the massive critical and comercial success the series was already enjoying they demanded a higher salary $125000 per episode as reported on by The Age. The dispute reached a point where the cast threatened to strike. Fox in turn hired casting directors across the United States to search for potential replacements if the performers would not budge on their pay rate.
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Recasting them could have disrupted the series while it was largely considered to be in its prime except for one Season 12 episode and could have derailed the entire franchise which was estimated to be worth over $1 billion just a few years later. Luckily Fox ultimately caved and the cast received major pay bumps. Series creator Matt Groening came out in defense of the cast during a later interview with Mother Jones saying “It looked for a while there like we might not have a show because everyone was holding firm on all sides. Thats still my attitude Hold out for as much money as you can get but do make the deal.”
These kinds of issues would continue to plague the series over the years however. Harry Shearer briefly threatened to leave the show and another round of contract disputes almost led to Season 23s “Holidays of Futures Passed” becoming the series finale. The same problem has also affected Groenings other series as the upcoming Hulu revival of Futurama almost lost John DiMaggio due to a dispute over pay before DiMaggio reached his own agreement. Theres still debate over recasting certain roles with characters of color like Dr. Hibbert no longer being played by white performers but those feel different than attempts by the network to recast in lieu of raising the casts wages.
Given the comic sensibilities of The Simpsons it wasnt a surprise that the show went on to directly poke fun at the incident. Season 10s “Homer to Max” featured a gag where Homer noted how networks love animated shows because they can get away with not paying their cast much and Flanders added that the voice actors can be easily changed. Flanders is voiced by recurring cast member Karl Wieder gott for the joke highlighting how noticeable it would have been if The Simpsons most prominent characters suddenly had new voices after almost a decade.