Shocking news for Simpsons fans concerned about the artistic integrity of an episode based entirely around a name-brand product: it turns out The Simpsons‘s upcoming 30 minute LEGO commercial was partially funded and essentially proposed by The LEGO Group.
Entertainment Weekly casually mentioned The LEGO Group’s financial stake in the episode in an interview with producers Matt Selman and Brian Kelley:
Lego helped pay for the episode. How much input did the company have into the creative side? I understand that there was a sex scene between Lego Homer and Lego Marge that they wanted to tone down.
KELLEY: Let’s say we had a lot of fun with the Lego sex scene, and I’m not surprised that it was a little too risque. But we’ll always treasure the memory. [Laughs] They were good partners. Our audience is slightly older than their audience, so they would occasionally have concerns, but all the words in the episode are ours. If they had an objection, which they did on very rare occasions, we’d find a way around it.
Good to know that a show with “a near-total absence of network interference” (virtually unheard of in the industry) is now taking notes from a toy company.
TV Guide went a little into depth about the formation of the episode:
This marriage actually began several years ago, when the 82-year-old Danish toy company approached Fox about marketing a construction set of the Simpsons’ home, including minifigures of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie and neighbor Ned Flanders, which went on sale in February. While that merchandising was still in the works, Wilfert pitched another idea: “We went to the guys at The Simpsons and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if you did your opening couch sequence LEGO-style?’ They quickly came back to us and said, ‘Forget the couch; let’s do an entire episode!'”
Also, I just want to point out here that the company selling the product had a short and restrained plug in mind, but apparently the writing staff are the ones who decided to devote a whole episode to it. I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work…?
Anyway, this revelation would seemingly contradict Simpsons showrunner Al Jean, who seemed to remember things a little differently last month:
“It’s a terrific episode, written by Brian Kelley, who, a long while ago, said, ‘What would happen if Homer, in his imagination, went into a world of LEGO?'” Jean explained. “And there’s a reason that he does, and theres a reason he prefers it. And we contacted LEGO company to see if they would authorize it, and it’s animation that looks like LEGO CGI for much of the show, and there’s some regular SIMPSONS animation.”
Evidentially he thinks the show came up with the idea independently and had to approach the LEGO people, instead of the other way around. Are Matt Selman and Brian Kelley keeping secrets from their boss???
While The Simpsons is certainly no stranger to merchandising, actual product placement within the show is a new frontier. While the show’s producers once gleefully eschewed and mocked the concept of product placement, the current generation embraces it with open arms and thinks misspelling brand names constitutes satire. Please end this show.