Some may have thought the day would never truly come, but this week marked the finalization of Disney's massive takeover of 21st Century Fox. Disney marked the occasion with a mash-up image juxtaposing The Simpsons with popular film properties such as Star Wars, Deadpool, and Toy Story, which had some fans paranoid that the beloved animated family had been fully usurped by the House of Mouse and might change networks. But what's actually happening with The Simpsons?
To put it plainly: not all that much will change for The Simpsons, at least not in these earliest days of the post-acquisition. The reason is because Disney's wide-ranging takeover does not actually include the show's home, Fox Broadcasting Company. Rather, the animation-friendly network now has the newly monikered Fox Corp. as a parent company.
To be sure, the Walt Disney Co. does now own The Simpsons' production company, 20th Century Fox Television. As such, the entertainment giant will have a role in overseeing things on a behind-the-scenes level. However, that doesn't give Disney the standalone power to renew or cancel The Simpsons, and nor does it allow the company to shift the dysfunctional family away from Fox in order to air it on Disney+ or one of its many flagship channels alongside its superhero and CGI blockbusters.
The real power behind The Simpsons' fate still remains with Fox Broadcasting Company, and now with Fox Entertainment as a whole. Just last month, timed with the network's TCA offerings, Fox announced that The Simpsons was renewed for Seasons 31 and 32, which will bring the show to a whopping 712 installments. Both of those impressive stats will extend its current record for seasons and episodes produced by a scripted primetime series.
Also, when Fox's new-ish boss Charlie Collier talked about The Simpsons at TCA, he didn't sound the least bit ready to loosen the reins on what has long been a TV institution. Here's how he put it:
These franchises are remarkable, and these storytellers are so special. I will tell you, I geeked out. I snuck into the back of The Simpsons table read my first couple weeks there, because you should just do that if you’re fortunate enough to work in this magical place. . . . And, again, with a two year pickup, I think we showed our confidence in [The Simpsons].
It's certainly possible that Fox could decide to pull the plug on The Simpsons at one point or another in the future, by deciding not to renew it anymore. At that point, barring any unique contractual stipulations, it would presumably then be possible for Disney to step in and acquire the animated comedy for one of its own networks, should those execs so desire. But would that even happen at this point?
Maybe, maybe not. There was a time not long ago when it seemed like Disney might be actively interested in bringing The Simpsons to an end sooner rather than later. It was reported that lowered licensing fees for the series could be a sign that Fox would possibly be backing out in the future, no longer willing to lose the many millions in licensing fees. (That money is made back through the plethora of Simpsons-related merchandise, which has long been more lucrative than the TV airings themselves.)
If and when The Simpsons does end, expect for there to be some different kinds of financial fireworks involved. The series' broadcast rights were first written up at a time when cable was just starting to really take off, and they've been mostly locked tight ever since. So once those contracts are expired, Disney could make even more of a killing with licensing and syndication rights.
As admittedly awesome as it would be to learn about the formation of a more mature streaming service set to serve as the new home for more mature fare such as The Simpsons – possibly titled Disney Raw or Disney 18+ – that's probably farther away from reality than Bart getting a Master's Degree. Although, if The Simpsons can keep building generations of fans and can still bring in the money that Marvel and Star Wars does...