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'The Simpsons' to End This Season over Contract Disputes?

Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic(LOS ANGELES) -- The Simpsons could end its historic run on Fox by the end of the current TV season.

It's not that the network is disappointed by the quality of the show, or its ratings. But in this economic climate, apparently even Homer Simpson has to tighten his wide belt.  Producer 20th Century Fox Television contends that the animated series, which is currently in its 23rd season, has become too costly to produce.

The studio addressed the future of The Simpsons following a report on that says the principal voice cast is in the midst of a salary dispute. The actors reportedly balked at a proposed 45-percent pay cut, proposing instead a pay cut of approximately 30 percent in exchange for a slice of the profits from sales of Simpsons merchandise. Fox rejected the actors' offer.

Under the terms of their current deal, the actors reportedly earn about $8 million per year.  The principal cast includes Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer and other characters; Julie Kavner, the voice of Marge and others; Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart and others; Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa; Harry Shearer, the voice of Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders and others; and Hank Azaria, the voice of Moe, Chief Wiggum and Apu.

20th Century Fox Television said in a statement Tuesday: "23 seasons in, The Simpsons is as creatively vibrant as ever and beloved by millions around the world.  We believe this brilliant series can and should continue, but we cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model.  We are hopeful that we can reach an agreement with the voice cast that allows The Simpsons to go on entertaining audiences with original episodes for many years to come."

The cast has been involved in salary disputes before. Most recently, production on the 20th season was delayed in 2008 while the actors negotiated a new contract.

The Simpsons premiered in 1989 and is the longest-running primetime scripted series in American TV history.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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