BBC pulls out of bids for 'The Simpsons'

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The Independent Online

D'oh! Homer Simpson may epitomise an all-American under-achiever but it seems his family is now too lordly to accommodate poor old Auntie.

The BBC has been forced to pull out of bidding for a new series of the cult animated show after the price reached more than £17m.

Fierce rivalry from Channel 4 and Channel 5 squeezed the BBC out of the talks after the price went to eight times the industry standard of about £100,000 an episode. A BBC spokesman said: "It's like the Premiership – it's too much money and we can't justify it."

It is the second time in recent days that Jane Root, the controller of BBC2, has walked away from negotiations on one of her top-rating shows. She also pulled out of a new deal with the chef Jamie Oliver after she was unable to square rigorous BBC rules on advertising with his appearances in commercials for Sainsbury's.

Winning The Simpsons would be a coup for Channel 5 in its bid to change image and move upmarket but Channel 4 is thought likely to give it a run for its money on the contract because it would be unhappy to see the cartoon on another commercial channel.

The BBC's current deal lasts until 2006. It still has three new series of the popular comedies ready to air and is about to start screening them five nights a week but will then cede subsequent shows to whoever signs the new deal.

A BBC insider said: "We've still got things like Malcolm in the Middle and, by 2006, there will be other shows. If we had outbid Channel 5 and got to nine times what we are paying now, we would have been fairly criticised."

A Channel 5 spokesman said last night: "We can't discuss any commercial deals that might be in the pipeline."