Seen scribbled over and over on a blackboard at Springfield Elementary School: ''I will not go back to work until you triple my salary.'' According to Variety, the six stars of ''The Simpsons'' are keeping mum until they get a raise. The voice actors who play the residents of Springfield -- Dan Castellaneta (Homer), Julie Kavner (Marge), Nancy Cartwright (Bart), Yeardley Smith (Lisa), Hank Azaria (Moe and others), and Harry Shearer (Mr. Burns and others) -- have missed two read-throughs for the upcoming 16th season of primetime's longest-running scripted series. Insiders tell Variety that the actors, who are currently renegotiating their contracts, want to raise their salaries from $125,000 per episode to $360,000, or about $8 million over the course of a 22-episode season.
According to Variety, the actors claim that they're due to earn a larger piece of the ''Simpsons'' pie, which has been worth at least $1 billion to Fox and the show's producers over the last 15 years. As recently as 1998, the last time the stars threatened a walkout, they were earning just $30,000 per episode. Even at triple their current salary, they'd be earning only a fraction of what stars on the top sitcoms at other networks earn. The ''Friends'' sextet famously earned $1 million per episode, while Ray Romano, TV's highest paid actor, earns $1.7 million for each installment of ''Everybody Loves Raymond.'' On the other hand, the voice actors can complete an episode in just six or seven hours, compared to a week of rehearsing and shooting for a live-action show. Not even Romano earns $360,000 for a single day's work. As one exec told Variety, ''They already have the deal of a lifetime.''
Walkouts have proved effective in recent years for actors on such shows as ''Raymond'' and ''The West Wing,'' but would viewers notice if the unseen stars of ''The Simpsons'' were replaced? In 1998, producers went so far as to hire casting directors to recast the show before ultimately reaching an agreement with the existing cast. It's not clear whether Fox would try the same tactic this time, especially with the prospect of a big-screen ''Simpsons'' movie on the horizon. Maybe Fox can go the ''Practice'' route, fire the primary cast, and build a spinoff around baby Maggie.