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The Simpsons creators celebrate 400th episode and movie - TCA Report

by Joel Keller, posted Jan 21st 2007 12:35PM
The SimpsonsIt's Sunday. The winter press tour is over. I'm currently coming down from being over-fed, over-sugared, and moderately-boozed. I'm also thinking back to the fact that during the last four days, I rarely left my hotel, because the networks were plying their wares for us from morning until night.

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."

Other notes:

  • 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.
Later this week, I'll post a quick two-question interview I had with Brooks after the session (one of my dopey questions was "What was your favorite project?" You'll be surprised at the answer). Also coming up is a Futurama-centric talk with Groening, who I encountered at the FOX party -- think fake snow -- last night.

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I can't wait for TSM. By previews it looks like part of the plot is Bart going to Christianity and joinig Ned Flanders and the gang. Wow, Bart! Never saw it in you! Skateboarding naked then becoming a Flanders. Reminds me of that episode "Home sweet Homediddlyoomdilddly" or whatever that was. Ned, you should be ashamed Bart will never stay with you!

March 27 2007 at 8:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

the simpsons movie is gonna be awesome.
If you wanna see the new trailer go to simpsonschannel.com and you will find it.
Remember that there is 1 more trailer coming out in May with the 400th episode and 20th year.

March 01 2007 at 12:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jeff stiefer

oh how i love the Simpson Haters. They make me smile : )

February 01 2007 at 2:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am glad there is a SIMPSONS MOVIE!
I bet it will be the best film ever.

January 29 2007 at 5:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am glad there is a simpsons MOVIE!
I bet it will be good.

January 29 2007 at 5:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love the simpsons so much.
I am glad there is a simpsons movie coming out.
I also sent another comment on the simpsonschannel.com. Please respond to both of them.
From Dean.

January 29 2007 at 5:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm with tcc3. I stopped watching regularly about 4 years ago. I see one or two a year now, and they're mediocre to lousy. I get very few laughs out of it now.

I've got 9 seasons worth of DVDs, and they're just at the point where the magic is gone. There's no way to have Homer meet that many celebrities, to have this financially poor family go on so many international trips, and to come up with more and more new careers for Marge & Homer without drying up the well. And they're not funny anymore.

They've become the hack cartoon show they used to make fun of.

January 22 2007 at 9:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jim Cronshaw

The writers are hardly egocentric.

Excellent article by the way.

January 22 2007 at 4:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The movie is going to be SO atrocious. All of the writers involved are rather egocentric, so the movie will likely be a horrid amalgamation of jokes without focus or (if the trend continues) humor.

January 22 2007 at 12:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This show is always repeating itself. They keep doing variations on the same theme, over and over again.

I would love for them to do all movies from now on. It would be good to see Simpsons shows of differing lengths, to give them something else to sink their teeth into, to see how they would adapt to a longer format, for instance. South Park's movie was great in this respect.

To my knowledge, the Simpsons have only done one two-parter, though I could be wrong. They need to challenge themselves to take on longer stories.

January 21 2007 at 8:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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