The table reads on the set of Fox’s “The Simpsons” have been surprisingly quiet lately. Marge, Homer, Bart, Apu, Waylon Smithers, Chief Wiggam, Comic Book Guy, Duff Man and Mr. Burns were nowhere to be found. The show’s six main vocal stars are skipping work as they attempt to negotiate raises.

According to published reports, Dan Castellaneta (Homer, among others), Hank Azaria (Moe and Apu, among others), Harry Shearer (Mr. Burns, among others), Yeardley Smith (Lisa, among others), Julie Kavner (Marge, among others) and Nancy Cartwright are looking for hefty salary bumps before reporting to work for the show’s 16th season.

The previous contract negotiations earned the cast members $125,000 per episode for seasons 13, 14 and 15. Those negotiations occurred without a work stoppage.

Reportedly, the six stars are asking for $360,000 per episode, which would bring their seasonal salary to $8 million. Considering that the voice recording for a single episode tends to take hours rather than days or weeks, that’s a healthy chunk of change.

The “Simpsons” stars last raised a ruckus over their contracts in 1998, when they were earning only $30,000 per episode. At the time, the show’s production company actually investigated the possibility of hiring new vocal talent.

The stars may want to consider the words of a wise man, who once said, “If you don’t like your job, you don’t strike. You just go in every day and do it really half-assed.”

That wise man was Homer Simpson in one of the show’s 1995 episodes.



FOX GETS ITS OWN BILLIONAIRE REALITY SHOW

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, NBC should be blushing right about now at the compliment Fox has paid it.

On the heels of NBC’s hit “The Apprentice” comes Fox’s take on the billionaire-fronted reality series, with Virgin Group founder Richard Branson at its center. ABC is in the game too, having previously announced a show called “The Benefactor,” featuring Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

The Fox show, tentatively titled “Branson’s Big Adventure,” will find Branson leading contestants on a series of challenges that parallel some of the obstacles he faced on his rise to the top of the business world, the network says. Branson will keep the people he thinks made sound decisions, eliminating one person each week. The network is keeping quiet about what the winner will receive.

“This isn’t about selling a glass of lemonade,” Fox reality guru Mike Darnell says, referring to the first “Apprentice” challenge. “In six weeks, these people will experience challenges and adventures beyond their wildest imagination. It’s not about business acumen; for Branson, it’s about finding that one extraordinary individual who has the right stuff to follow in his footsteps.”

Branson founded Virgin Records in the 1970s and has since expanded into publishing, air travel, telecommunications, retail and other areas. He’s also known for his several unsuccessful attempts to pilot a hot-air balloon around the world.

“Branson’s Big Adventure” will likely premiere later this year on Fox.



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AP-NY-04-01-04 1704EST


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