DOHHH!
Becoming the most expensive voices in broadcasting history, the actors who provide the voices for the characters in The Simpsons have reportedly agreed on a new contract that will pay them $250,000 per episode, about twice the amount as they received last season. They had been demanding $360,000 plus a piece of the show's profits. It takes them about six hours to record a half-hour episode, which translates to about $42,000 per hour, about $10,000 more than the average annual wage in the U.S. In a statement, the studio said, "Despite our recent production delay, we are optimistic that they can look forward to a full season's episodes next year on Fox and hopefully many years to come."

... AND MORE DOUGH

NBC is selling spots on the Friends series finale for $2.1 million each, surpassing the $2 million that the network collected for the finale of Seinfeld in 1998, Bloomberg News reported today (Monday). Advertisers maintained that they have been willing to plunk down that amount of money for Friends because it allows them to reach the greatest number of people in one fell swoop. It's still the best thing in the world because you are reaching 40 million people, and I can't do that on radio or a magazine ad,'' Frank Ginsberg, chief executive of New York-based ad firm Avrett Free Ginsberg, told Bloomberg. "There aren't that many things that are this big that have this much water-cooler buzz,'' added Andy Horrow, a marketing executive at Gatorade, one of the finale's sponsors. Meanwhile, Friends star Jennifer Aniston has told TV Guide that after the show shuts down, she has no plans to appear in a movie with Brad Pitt, her husband. "The repercussions of couples doing movies are not always positive. ... We wouldn't want to go out there with bull's-eyes on our heads."

CAREY GOES OUT WITH A WHIMPER

Sam Simon, a frequent director of the Drew Carey Show, has blamed ABC's routine executive shuffling for the show's falling from the top ranks in the ratings to the bottom. In an interview with the Associated Press, Simon said, "If the people who put the show on the air at ABC were still there, we'd still be on the air and we'd still be a hit. ... It's just an embarrassment to new regimes when other shows do better than the ones they put on the air." AP pointed out that in recent years, the Carey show has been treated like an orphan, being moved to four separate time slots on Wednesdays, then moved to Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Mondays. After being off the air this past season, its final episodes are expected to be burned off during the summer, according to the wire service.

THE WB TO ABANDON FOCUS GROUPS

Jordan Levin, co-CEO of The WB, has told the Wall Street Journal that the network has stopped using test audiences to gauge the response to new pilots. Levin observed in an interview that more than 80 percent of all shows fail whether or not they are well received in audience tests. He cited as an example Tarzan, which drew raves from focus groups but flopped in the ratings and was yanked from the schedule after four weeks. Likewise, he noted 7th Heaven, which was knocked in the tests, is now in its eighth season. Of the latter show, Levin commented: "We could have panicked and changed the direction of the show based on those results."

CONTROVERSIAL 20/20 REPORT FAILS TO DRAW VIEWERS

Despite considerable controversy, ABC's 20/20 report on a 16-year-old pregnant girl who had to choose which of five couples would adopt her child finished third in its timeslot Friday night. Ratings were not immediately available for Ted Koppel's Nightline program, which broadcast the names and pictures of some 700 Americans who died during the hostilities in Iraq.

VIACOM TO OUTSOURCE ANIMATION TO INDIA

Viacom's MTV and Nickelodeon units are expected to outsource animation work from India, the Bombay daily Financial Express reported today (Monday). The newspaper said that while most of the animation content for the channels is produced in the U.S., it is like that some of the work for such animated series as Rugrats, Catdog and SpongeBob SquarePants will be produced in India. MTV Networks International COO Alex Ferrari told the newspaper: "We are looking at possibilities of sourcing animation work from India for our group of channels. There is a low-cost advantage. Besides, the quality of Indian animation is good. We, however, haven't firmed up our plans yet."

BBC PLANNING BIG INTERNET PLUNGE

The BBC is planning to launch a project this month that could result in all of its programs becoming available on the Internet, London's The Independent reported today (Monday). The programs could be viewed on a PC, burned onto a DVD and shown on a TV set, or could be transferred to a powerful new Palm-type PDA, the newspaper observed. Ashley Highfield, the BBC's director of new media and technology, told the newspaper: "If we don't enter this market, then exactly what happened to the music industry could happen to us, where we ignore it, keep our heads in the sand and everybody starts posting the content up there and ripping us off." The upcoming pilot test of the project will involve about 500 staff members of the corporation, who will be able to download information and entertainment onto high-quality PDAs. The second phase will involve 1,000 testers from the general public. "If the feedback is strongly positive we will have to look at how we clear bulk content and how we start to roll this out widely," Highfield said.

MEAN HAS NICE OPENING
Things couldn't have been nicer for Mean Girls at the box office over the weekend as the Paramount film far exceeded analysts predictions to take in $25 million. Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox's Man on Fire dropped only 33 percent from last weekend to take second place with an estimated $15.2 million. However Sony's, 13 Going on 30 which nearly tied Man on Fire last weekend took it on the chin from the similarly oriented Mean Girls as it dropped 53 percent to about $10 million. A clutch of new films that had in general fared poorly with the critics on Friday fared to better with ticket buyers. New Line's Laws of Attraction opened with $7 million, well below predictions, to place fourth. Right behind it was Lions Gate's Godsend with $6.9 million. DreamWorks' Envy debuted in sixth place with $6.1 million, while Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius barely made a divot with just $1.3 million and finished out of the top ten. The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. Mean Girls, $25 million; 2. Man on Fire, $15.2 million; 3. 13 Going on 30, $10 million; 4. Laws of Attraction, $7 million; 5. Godsend, $6.9 million; 6. Envy, $6.1 million; 7. Kill Bill -- Vol. 2, $5.8 million; 8. The Punisher, $3.4 million; 9. Home on the Range, $2.2 million; 10. Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, $2.1 million.

RINGS MUSIC ON 9-DISK CD COLLECTION

The soundtrack CDs for The Lord of the Rings movies are going the way of DVDs, featuring "extras" not heard in the theatrical versions, Britain's Empire Magazine reported Friday. Composer-conductor Howard Shore told the magazine that plans are in the works for a nine-disk set of music from the film, eight of them featuring the music from the theatrical versions and a ninth featuring "rare unreleased music" with commentary by Shore. Shore also indicated that he's hoping that the DVD of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King will also include a 45-minute documentary about the making of the Rings symphony and a performance with the Montreal Symphony. Shore, who currently is performing the symphony on a world tour, told Empire: "I don't think there's ever been a full concert piece of this size devoted to one particular film or series."

STRIKE DEADLINE PASSES IN PRODUCERS-WGA TALKS

The current contract between the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood producers expired at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, but both sides continued discussions until about 9:00 p.m. at which point talks were suspended until Wednesday. Published reports indicated that major issues had not yet been resolved and that negotiations were likely to become drawn out. The two sides declined to discuss the talks, adhering to a mutually agreed-upon news blackout that took effect following their first meeting four weeks ago. A terse statement said, "There was an exchange of proposals on Sunday. The guilds and the companies will meet separately before reconvening."

ALTERNATE OPENINGS FOR MULAN DVD

While alternate endings for movies are commonly presented in the "extras" packages on DVDs, Disney's Mulan DVD will also present alternate openings when it is re-released in the fall, Buena Vista Home Entertainment said over the weekend. The new special edition of the film will also feature a new song, new music videos, and games. The package will also include an educational film called Mulan's World that will depict life in ancient China. The DVD is due to be released on Oct. 26.

FINAL GODZILLA TO BE FILMED ALL OVER THE WORLD

Godzilla will go on a worldwide rampage -- and camera crews in numerous countries, including the U.S., France and Australia, will film his destructiveness -- before he winds up in a battle with a fire dragon at the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in the Pudong area of Shanghai, China, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported Saturday. The film, Godzilla: Final Wars. is expected to be Godzilla's final movie. According to the newspaper, the film will describe how Godzilla's child is accidentally killed by humans, which infuriates the monster, who then embarks on his rampage.

ARCAND BIG WINNER AT CANADA'S GENIES

Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions collected six major awards at Canada's 24th annual Genie Awards -- the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars. The French-language feature, which won the best foreign film Oscar this year, won for best picture, best director (Arcand), screenplay (Arcand again), actor (Rémy Girard), supporting actor (Stéphane Rousseau) and supporting actress (Marie-Josée Croze). Sarah Polley won the best actress award for her role in My Life Without Me. Other awards were dominated by French language productions, leading host Scott Thompson, the former Kids in the Hall member, to remark: "I can tell you there were a lot of amazing Canadian movies last year ... and not all of them were French."