The Simpsons creators celebrate 400th episode and movie - TCA Report
I'm going to post my overall thoughts on this TV smorgasboard later this week. But before I hop a plane back to Jersey, I wanted to talk about the session that was a TV nerd's dream, at least to this TV nerd: FOX's panel to celebrate the 400th episode of The Simpsons, which will air this May. On the panel was none other than creator Matt Groening, executive producer and TV legend James L. Brooks, current show-runner Al Jean, and voice actors Yeardley Smith (Lisa) and Dan Castellaneta (Homer and a bunch of other voices).
I've got to tell you, for people who have done a show for almost two decades, it seemed like everyone on the panel was as enthusiastic about the show as ever, especially Brooks. "The great thing to us about the show right now, if you saw any of our work weeks, is that the passion still goes into the show."
This was part of a response to a question I asked concerning the fact that the show has taken me through most of my adult years (it premiered when I was a freshman in college), and how they'd be able to write the show for fans like me if they stayed around another 18 years. "I don't think there's a constant mass that watched this show as they grew older," replied Brooks. Groening took that another step. "Sadly, many of our fans have died, they've gotten so old. But luckily, new ones are being born every day."
Of course, the grouchy critics took my goofy question and ran with it, saying how old they'd be if the show ran another 18 years. But the questions underneath their ball-busting were interesting: Do you ever repeat yourself? What keeps the show going? Why did it take so long to get the movie done?
How do they not repeat themselves? Young writers who grew up with the show and have photographic memories, that's how. Jean, who also was credited with having an "encyclopedic memory" of the show by Castellaneta, pointed out, "we've said on the show that Bart was born in 1980. We have a writer on the show who is now younger than Bart."
What keeps the show going all this time is the creative control Brooks, who was already a powerful entertainment presence in both the TV and movie industries, negotiated when he took on the show all those years ago. "If you took that away, probably we would have lasted maybe six or seven years," said Smith. "I firmly believe that was the magic bullet."
Finally, the movie. According to Jean, Brooks, and Groening, two more trailers are due out: one next month that will have teaser scenes, and another in May that will give the audience an idea of, you know, what the thing is about. They did show a trailer that showed Homer trying to save his family by taking a wrecking ball to whatever was threatening it. Let's just say that that strategy backfires and Homer is literally left between a rock and a hard place.
Why do a movie now?
Brooks: "We always wanted the right, at the last minute, to say we weren't doing a movie, even after we worked at the script." In fact, during the third-season classic "Kamp Krusty" episode, they thought they could make it into a movie, but decided not to bother. "And then, two years ago, almost simultaneously, we all began to think we should explore it."
Groening added later, "For me, part of the reason was, we're coming up on the 20th year of the show, and if we're ever going to do it, we should do it now." He'd rather do it while the show was on the air. "I thought it would really be neat to do a movie while the fans are still clamoring for it."
Because the movie is being produced at the same time as the series -- by what Brooks called the "home team," and Jean said was an "all-star team" -- Groening's and Brooks' involvement has increased. "I didn't realize it was all involving," said Brooks. "It's my day job and night job. This is where I live now."
- Castellaneta told the well-worn story about the devolpment of Homer's voice, from its early Walter Matthau-sounding days until its present version. But any chance to hear him do the voice live was welcomed.
- Yeardley Smith says the job has allowed her, both time-wise and financially, to do personal projects like a one-woman show she did last year and a future project she couldn't talk about yet.
- Why are the DVDs only on Season 9? Al Jean had a good excuse: "We're doing a show and a movie!" Groening pointed out that they've done commentaries on every episode they do, which is much more than other shows do.Smith also had a good point: "Isn't it true that when they started to put television shows on DVD, we were already on season 10 or something? So that would sort of create a lag, I guess."
- The 400th episode will be one of two episodes to air that night: a 24 parody, complete with guest voices from the cast, including Kiefer Sutherland, and an episode where Kent Brockman and his station run afoul of the FCC, which is a tricky task for Jean to accomplish. "We're trying to show something that the FCC won't allow on TV, you know, so we're trying to figure out how to do that.