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October 9, 2015

Comedy Writers Rejoice in the 'The Simpsons' Renewal

by Maureen Ryan, posted Oct 10th 2011 12:15PM
Fans of 'The Simpsons' heaved a sigh of relief when news emerged late Friday that the show had been renewed for two more seasons.

And there are no bigger fans of the show than comedy writers. Recently I got in touch with some TV comedy professionals, none of whom could imagine a TV landscape without Homer -- or a world without the comedy college that is the 'Simpsons' writing room.

I asked veterans of shows as varied as 'Cheers,' 'Conan,' 'Cougar Town' and 'Futurama' what the show's 23-year run has meant for television, and why they are happy 'The Simpsons' is still around. Here's what they had to say.

Part of the writers' appreciation of what 'The Simpsons' has accomplished has to do with the show's sheer longevity. As 'Futurama' executive producer and former Writers Guild of America, West president Patric Verrone pointed out, 'The Simpsons' "premiered in the era of 'The Cosby Show,' long outlived 'Seinfeld,' and now co-exists with -- and even spawned -- '30 Rock' and 'Family Guy.'"

"Although only a few of the original [writers] remain (including showrunner Al Jean), the staff has remained remarkably unchanged for over a decade and has done more to influence humor in America than anyone since Mark Twain," Verrone said. "The Simpsons invented (and then perfected) the way animated television is written in prime time (which is different from feature animation writing as well as much of basic cable animation and what used to be called 'Saturday morning cartoons'). Every network animated show can trace its pedigree to it and nearly every sitcom currently in production owes a debt of gratitude for the comedic ground it broke."

Kevin Biegel, who wrote for 'Scrubs' and is one of the co-creators of 'Cougar Town,' might not be writing for TV if it weren't for 'The Simpsons.' "The show is one of the key things that not only made me want to write but that formed what I write," he said. "It's like one of those things that always has to be there. It'd be like cancelling the sun. ...Even if I don't watch as religiously as I used to -- and I used to, I can probably quote entire seasons -- I like knowing that 'The Simpsons' is still there, still doing new episodes."

For those who work as TV writers, "The Simpsons" writing room, which counts 'The Office' executive producer Greg Daniels and Conan O'Brien among its alumni, "is like Hogwarts," according to Rob Kutner ('Conan,' 'The Daily Show,' 'Dennis Miller Live'). "It's not clear how you get there, and it's full of impish scamps wreaking havoc on the everyday world with seemingly nothing but peculiar word-combinations and pointy sticks. Also, I'm pretty sure most of them are orphans with head injuries."

Ken Levine, writer/producer/director for 'Cheers,' 'Frasier' and 'M*A*S*H,' among other comedies, scripted two episodes of 'The Simpsons' with his writing partner, David Isaacs.

"Writing 'The Simpsons' was a hoot," Levine said. "At the time, they paid crap since it was still under the old animation agreement. We made what we'd make writing a Saturday morning cartoon. But it was a chance to help [friend and 'Simpsons' producer] Sam [Simon] out, and our kids were little and big 'Simpsons' fans, so Sam said he'd throw in a bunch of swag. The actual writing was a blast. The characters were so strong, with such clear attitudes, and having the freedom to go anywhere and do anything with them was liberating to say the least. ....I marvel at how they have miraculously continued to keep the show fresh after 23 years."

"'The Simpsons' revolutionized television animation and in no small way half-hour comedy," Levine added. "I think people (not just kids) will be watching that show in a hundred years. I'm proud to be even a small part of it. The only thing that pisses me off is that I've gotten older in the last 23 years. Homer has not. I'm giving up healthy food and switching to beer and doughnuts."

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I think the simpsons should have been taken off the air after the first 2-3 EPISODES

October 13 2011 at 5:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think 25 is a solid number for "The Simpsons" to go out on, and hopefully they do it with a bang. The writers have been as well known as the actors over the years. It would be great to bring them all back (Conan, Swartzwelder etc.) to each write an episode for the final the season. Here's hoping!

October 10 2011 at 5:06 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The writing is getting a little stale with each successive season and creatively, the show has seen better days. How about going out on top? While the voice actors pay dispute has been stealing entertainment headlines most recently, I doubt the show writers can barely afford to buy groceries let alone a bunch of private islands that the voice actors can. Thinking about all the syndication and product tie-ins around the world and obviously this show has been a huge herd of cash cows for some folks somewhere.

October 10 2011 at 4:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
318 north

Sure, it's been a ground-breaking show, but enough is enough.
Unfortunately, since it was one of their early hits, Fox will not cancel it. Remember how long they kept "Married with Children" around?

October 10 2011 at 2:43 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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