Update 2: Nope, it’s a real salary dispute. Michael Schneider says the voice actors are demanding $75,000 per episode, and Fox is offering… not that.
Update: Or this could all be a hoax to attract attention to a Comic-Con panel. (No, it isn’t; see update # 2, above.)
Yes, apparently what you have heard is true: Fox has put out a casting call for the lead voice roles in the new season of Futurama.
According to no less than cast members John DiMaggio, Phil LaMarr, and Maurice LaMarche on their Facebook pages, a casting notice has gone out to replace actors DiMaggio, LaMarche, Billy West and Katy Sagal.
The casting call that follows lists all the roles played by those actors, and asks applicants to submit their best imitations of “these established characters.”
Those who remember the great Simpsons voice actor holdout of the late ’90s will remember that Fox put out a similar call asking for replacements. It was a negotiation gambit, to keep salaries down. The gambit failed because most established voice actors didn’t want any part of it (Pamela Segall, Bobby on King of the Hill, recalled that she told her agent not to go anywhere near this). In this case, there’s little doubt that Fox is doing this in hopes of getting the Futurama regular actors to take a pay cut, since Futurama will have a lower budget and less earning power on Comedy Central, and keeping voice-actor salaries down is one way to make budget cuts.
There are three ways this could work out, which I’d rank this way in order of likelihood: 1) The regulars are spooked into signing for less than they made before; 2) Fox can’t get any potential replacements lined up and the regulars get the money they want; 3) The show goes back on the air with new voice actors. I rank possibility 1 over 2 because Futurama is a less high-profile show than The Simpsons, being produced (now) for basic cable, and Fox and Comedy Central might have a better shot at at least signing up some plausible replacements, though not good ones.
West, of course, has been through the basic-cable replacement game on both ends. He replaced John Kricfalusi as the voice of Ren (on Ren and Stimpy) when Kricfalusi was fired by the network, and then, when the show came back with new (bad) episodes by Kricfalusi, West himself was replaced as Stimpy.
And, since I can’t find much else that deals directly with the replacement of voice actors, here’s a cartoon that ends with a guy getting scared into re-signing by the presence of lots of potential voice subs. “All righty, all here to read for the part of The Brain?”