The Simpsons is a bit of an anomaly in that it’s not only an animated show starring yellow-skinned characters, it’s managed to outlast its contemporary TV show rivals to become the longest-ever running sitcom that’s come out of the U.S.
But here’s the question: why has The Simpsons gone on for so long?
In a word: money.
The Simpsons was brought to life in an era where TV syndication was a big thing. In ELI5 terms, syndication where a studio creates a TV show, makes a heap of episodes of it (usually 100) if the ratings are good, and then sell the broadcasting rights to TV networks for a huge chunk of change once the show is done.
Most shows last only a couple of seasons, syndicated TV shows usually last around five-ish seasons and really popular shows like Friends go for about 10. But The Simpsons was a different beast as the consistently solid ratings meant and its presence in the public consciousness meant there’s no reason to cancel the show.
Throw in the various merch, media and various tie-in deals associated with the show, this meant meant it was valuable to keep The Simpsons alive than dead.
Now having said that, The Simpsons has found itself in a bit of a weird syndication/money conundrum.
Making The Simpsons costs the studio money (the costs are split between Fox Broadcasting Company (FBC) and 20th Century Fox) but they more than make this shortfall up in merch sales and what not. But since no one expected it to be as popular is it is, The Simpsons just keeps churning out episodes, meaning that Fox can’t sell the broadcasting rights to TV networks for that sweet, sweet syndication money just yet.
Those old TV syndication deals the show initially started with hinge on the condition that Fox keeps airing new and original episodes, meaning that there’s financial incentive to keep The Simpsons going rather than killing the cash cow right now.
What this old syndication deal also means is thatFox isn’t able sell the broadcasting rights to streaming services either, which is a bummer since most people watch stuff on streamers rather than old-school TV networks these days.
Now Fox did manage to broker a massive $1 billion streaming deal with US network, FX, back in 2013 only after much legal wrangling and figuring out how to make it work alongside the limitations of The Simpsons‘ old TV syndication deal. But even though that’s a huge deal, it’s still far less than what the Fox could’ve gotten for it.
So if there’s so much money to be made in streaming and syndication, why not just cancel The Simpsons now?
Well here’s the thing, if there’s a lot of money to be made if The Simpsons were to be canceled today, there’s even more money to be made in the future if the show just kept going and banking more episodes. More content means the licencing fee in which the show can be sold to other networks and streaming services will also continue to rise.
So in a weird instance of irony, The Simpsons‘ crazy longevity is really the only thing that’s saving it from being cancelled at the moment because people have invested literally decades into this and they’re too far in to pull out now when the cash cow continues to get fatter and the prospect of a MASSIVE pay day is seemingly so close.
However, this could all change now that Disney has acquired 20th Century Fox as this means the FBC will have to foot the production costs of The Simpsons all by itself and there’s no guarantee these expenses will be recouped through the previous model of merch and licensing sales.
If Fox can’t recoup those expenses, no new episodes can be made, and those old TV syndication deals are voided and this leaves Disney in a good position to rework all that old paperwork for even more moolah but in its favour rather than Fox’s.
So to sum up this incredibly complicated spiel about why The Simpsons is still going: there’s money to be made the longer it goes on hence why it’ll never die despite all our protests over how the show is well past its prime.
But with so much money on the line, it’s more likely The Simpsons will end because the writers and producers are over it rather than any money pissing contest between Fox and Disney. No one knows when The Simpsons will end but when/if it happens, it’ll be a big day for fans and a huge pay day for those who have stuck with the show since 1989.
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