Producers of The Simpsons are seeking big pay cuts for the actors who provide voices for Homer, Marge and Bart Simpson and the other characters. Photograph: AP
The future of the US cartoon series the Simpsons
is in doubt after 20th Century Fox
Television said it could no longer afford to produce the show without its voice actors taking a huge pay cut.
The company issued a statement after a report said it had threatened to end the cartoon unless the actors accepted a 45% pay cut.
"We believe this brilliant series can and should continue, but we cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model," the statement said.
"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 Simpsons, the longest-running comedy series on US television, is currently in its 23rd season on Fox. The show generates billions of dollars through global syndication as well as DVD and merchandise sales.
The Fox statement followed a report on the Daily Beast news website, which said the principal voice cast members – including the voices of Homer (Dan Castellaneta), Marge (Julie Kavner), Bart (Nancy Cartwright) and Lisa (Yeardley Smith) – were having difficulty renegotiating contracts that currently see them earning around $8m (£5m) each per season.
The report, quoting an unnamed insider, said the cast had tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a 30% pay cut in return for a portion of the show's profits. Fox did not dispute the report.
The Simpsons is broadcast in more than 100 countries and 50 languages and has become a staple of American culture.
TV industry sources said producers have enough episodes to keep the comedy on the air until the end of the 2011-12 TV season in May.
The sources said the dispute would need to be settled by December so writers would be able to work on either the season finale or the series finale, depending on the outcome of talks.
Other members of the cast and crew are also reportedly being asked to take pay cuts.
In recent weeks, executives at News Corp, which owns Fox, have said they are looking at ways to make more money from the show in the future, both in syndication rights and other areas.
The company's chief operating officer, Case Carey, told an investors conference on 14 September that executives had held a number of meetings in the past six months to "look at opportunities from A to Z".
"Whether it's channel, digital, ourselves, third parties, it's a series unique in television, with a volume to it that is unprecedented," Carey said.