Last month, it was announced that Futurama would be returning to television with all new episodes. The cast was supposedly already on-board for the revival but now the studio is trying to replace them.
Futurama begins as a pizza delivery boy (Billy West) is accidentally frozen and then wakes up 1,000 years later in the far-flung future. He gets a job at Planet Express and meets a myriad of strange characters played by actors like Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Lauren Tom, Phil LaMarr, Maurice LaMarche, and Frank Welker.
The animated series was cancelled after a troubled four season run on FOX and then found new popularity in reruns. The characters were revived in four made-for-DVD movies and the films were then reworked into another season of television shows. Those were popular enough to cause the show to be revived for 26 additional half-hour installments.
When the new episodes were announced last month, stars like West, Sagal, and DiMaggio were said to have already been signed to return. That wasn’t quite true. The actors had all expressed interest in returning but the contracts hadn’t been signed. Now, because of salary disputes, it’s not happening at all.
As part of the deal to produce the new episodes, the production budget had been severely cut. When the offers came in for the talent, they were significantly lower than what the actors had been expecting. It’s unknown what 20th Century Fox TV offered but Variety reports the actors receive about $75,000 per installment. Via Facebook, LaMarr says Variety is incorrect and that they’re asking for much less.
The studio and performers weren’t able to come to an agreement so the executives have decided to put out casting calls to replace West, Sagal, DiMaggio, and LaMarche with cheaper, sound-alike actors.
In a statement, the studio said, “We love the Futurama voice performers and absolutely wanted to use them, but unfortunately, we could not meet their salary demands. While replacing these talented actors will be difficult, the show must go on. We are confident that we will find terrific new performers to give voice to Matt and David’s brilliantly subversive characters.”
The reaction to this turn of events has been understandably negative from fans of the show. Other voiceover professionals, some of whom could conceivably land the jobs, are also standing by their fellow actors.
One pro wrote to his fellow actors, “Bottom line is, the cast of Futurama deserve whatever amount they are asking for. The network and studio make zillions more than these actors ever will!! Many of in the Futurama cast are friends of mine. I respect their talent, and I respect them as people. I’m asking that if you are asked to audition for this, please respectfully pass. There will be more gigs, I promise! I believe in karma. And I know what goes around comes around. Don’t advance your career by damaging someone else’s.”
Of course, the studio may still be able to work something out with the Futurama cast. Fox tried a similar ploy they played hardball with the cast of The Simpsons several years ago. That became a public relations nightmare and a new deal was eventually hammered out.
Insiders caution that this situation is a bit different since the reduced production budget is making it possible for the show to be made on a cable budget. However, as part of the deal, the show could still be sold for a broadcast network run. If that were to happen, the studio’s profits would increase significantly.
What do you think? Do you care if the characters’ voices are different? Or, are you just interested in the quality of the stories? Are the voice actors as replaceable as Fox would have us believe?
Image courtesy Fox.