Where would The Simpsons be without the distinctive voices of Homer, Bart, Marge and Lisa? The importance of the actors behind the world's most famous dysfunctional cartoon family was recognised yesterday with a new pay deal in which cast members will take home about $400,000 (£200,000) per episode.
Negotiations over pay have dominated Hollywood over the past 12 months and The Simpsons is no exception. It has taken several months for 20th Century Fox to reach a deal with the voice actors behind its flagship cartoon series, delaying the start of production on the 20th series.
The cast previously received about $360,000 per episode and work can now get under way on the new series, which has already been announced in Fox's autumn schedule in the US. Because of the late start, there will only be 20 episodes instead of 22.
The American entertainment industry bible Daily Variety reported that the key cast members of The Simpsons were due to turn up yesterday for the first read-through of the season. They include Dan Castellaneta, who voices Homer, Julie Kavner, who plays his long-suffering wife, Marge, Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart, Yeardley Smith, who plays Lisa and Hank Azaria, better known as bartender Moe.
Harry Shearer, the voice of Mr Burns, the richest man in Springfield, was reported to be finalising the details of his contract.
Castellaneta's role in the production has also been enhanced with a consulting producer credit. As well as playing Homer, he will now also contribute to the series as a writer.
It is not the first time that the cast of The Simpsons have been at loggerheads with 20th Century Fox, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. In 2004, the actors refused to show up for two "table reads", demanding an improvement to their pay packets, which at the time were worth $125,000 (£64,000) per episode.
The actors have argued all along that they deserve a decent slice of The Simpsons global franchise, which is worth several billion dollars. But studio bosses have countered that the cult cartoon show no longer commands the audiences it once did. The latest American audience ratings published by Entertainment Weekly showed that in 2007-08, viewing figures fell 8 per cent to eight million compared to the previous season.
The voice actors are committed to the cartoon for the next four years but there is no guarantee it will continue to be shown on Fox after the forthcoming 20th season. Fox's deal with Gracie Films, the production company that makes The Simpsons, expires at the end of the next series and has not yet been renewed.
Homer – Dan Castellaneta
Castellaneta, from Chicago, has been acting since he was six, and began his career in plays such as A Midsummer Night's Dream. His main character is the lazy but lovable Homer Simpson, but he is the voice behind a number of others including Krusty the Clown and Grampa Simpson. He also played Bill Clinton.
Marge – Julie Kavner
Kavner played Brenda on the TV show Rhoda in the 1970s. Her most famous Simpsons character is Marge, and she has also played Marge's sisters Patty Bouvier and Selma Bouvier.
Lisa – Yeardley Smith
Smith was spotted on Broadway by The Simpsons' casting director, Bonita Pietila, and was initially auditioned for the role of Bart, but was given The Simpsons' sensible and brainy middle child, Lisa, instead.
Bart – Nancy Cartwright
Not all fans know that the mischievous Bart – Homer and Marge's only son and the series' main character – is played by a female. She also plays Todd Flanders and a range of other characters.
Others: Charles Montgomery Burns and Scratchy – Harry Shearer; Milhouse Van Houten – Pamela HaydenReuse content