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The voice cast of The Simpsons has played hardball over their salaries several times over the course of the show's 23 years on the air, each time coming back with more money that was still a minuscule amount compared to the billions and billions the show makes off syndication, merchandising and DVD sales. But this time, their demands might not have to be met-- according to reports that broke yesterday, the network is considering ending the show rather than giving the actors what they want, which is a reduced salary in exchange for a cut of all that merchandising cash.

Now we have a slightly clearer idea of why the network might be willing to kill their longest running and most profitable series. According to an analysis at Deadline, The Simpsons might be worth more dead than alive. Essentially, the show has been tethered for 17 years to a syndication deal that allows them to only syndicate the show to local TV stations, which is why you see Simpsons re-runs on your local FOX station but never on Comedy Central or Spike. The deal was signed when cable was a lot, lot less important than it is now, and according to Deadline's analysis, 20th Century Fox TV could make $750 million by ending the show and signing a new syndication deal, which could allow them to stream re-runs online or to whichever cable network gives them the highest bid. There's even speculation about creating a Simpsons Channel to host all 506 re-run episodes.

That kind of calculation-- provided it turns out to be true, of course-- takes away the actors' biggest bargaining chip, and makes it all the more likely they'll agree to the deal and secure a few more seasons. After all, 20th Century Fox Television knows they can make huge bank by signing a new syndication deal for The Simpsons whenever it ends, be it this year or 10 years from now. Why not get more seasons out of it if they can? This kind of conversation, you'll notice, is not at all about the quality of the show or whether or not it should be on the air; like with so many other things, the only thing anyone wants to talk about here is plain, simple money.

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