Simpsons writer Don Payne died yesterday at the young age of 48. The cause is unknown at this time, but former writing partner John Frink told the Wilmington Star-News he’d been suffering from bone cancer.
Fellow Simpsons writer Mike Scully broke the news yesterday afternoon on Twitter. Executive producer Al Jean issued a statement saying Payne was “beloved in the ‘Simpsons’ community and his untimely passing is terrible news to us all.”
Back in the 90s, Payne and Frink wrote for sitcoms like Veronica’s Closet, Men Behaving Badly and a bunch of unproduced pilots before they were both brought in to The Simpsons in 2000. Together they wrote the Simpsons episodes “Insane Clown Poppy,” “Bye Bye Nerdie,” “Simpsons Tall Tales,” and “The Bart Wants What It Wants.” They ended their writing partnership a few years later on amicable terms. Payne’s solo Simpsons credits include “Thank God It’s Doomsday” and “Fraudcast News,” the latter of which earned him a special Paul Selvin Award from the Writers Guild of America. In 2007, he gave the Star-News ten reasons why he loved working on The Simpsons, including “We can do jokes about socialism and Homer’s butt catching on fire.”
Rather than be constrained to writing television, Payne managed to achieve his childhood dreams of conquering Hollywood and writing boffo blockbusters. A lifelong comics fanboy, his first credited movie was the superhero spoof My Super Ex-Girlfriend, which later led to him co-writing the Marvel films Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Thor, and its upcoming sequel Thor: The Dark World. According to a 2011 interview, he had an idea for his own comic that he was keen to do if he could ever find the time between his Simpsons and film duties.
He is survived by his wife and three young children. [Wilmington Star-News]
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post’s headline mistakenly said “atom” instead of “at them.” IN THE NEWS regrets the error.
The most critically underrated component of the enormous Simpsons media empire is the Radioactive Man spin-off comic book series occasionally put out by creator Matt Groening’s Bongo Comics, which after 18 years is finally being collected in a deluxe hardcover anthology.
First, a little backstory. The premise of Radioactive Man is simple but ingenious: each issue was purported to be a random issue from the fictional comic book series’ nearly 50-year history, satirizing different comic book eras (Golden Age, Silver Age, etc.) and all the superhero conventions and gimmicks that come with it. There was initially a six-issue run in 1994, starting with #1 (mostly consistent with what we saw of it in the Simpsons episode “Three Men and a Comic Book”) and ending with a Spawn-tastic #1000, followed by an “80 page colossal” the following year. A second run debuted in 2000, this time written by the remarkable Batton Lash, with a noticeable improvement in the artwork. Each issue also featured faux ads from the Simpsons universe and letters from readers playing along with the joke (however, the letters in the second series were all fictional; i.e. #222 features a letter from a young Marge Bouvier). Everyone at Bongo is a giant comics nerd (the first issue of Simpsons Comics is a Fantastic Four reference, for example) and Radioactive Man really let them go hog-wild, sort of like how The Critic allowed Simpsons writers Al Jean and Mike Reiss do all the movie parodies they wanted.
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To the surprise of no one, Simpsons showrunner Al Jean told Entertainment Weekly he’d like to see the show continue past the 25 seasons guaranteed by Friday’s re-negotiation deal:
“I honestly think that 30 is a goal to shoot for. I want to put The Simpsons at 30 seasons before the end of the decade,” he quips, nodding to John F. Kennedy’s moon speech. “Forty sounds insane, but 25 sounded insane 20 years ago. Having seen how far it’s gone, it’s not for me to cap it… And Gunsmoke did 635 episodes [a record for a prime-time series], so that’s something to shoot for, too.”
Even though he’s supposedly quipping, keep in mind he can recite how many episodes Gunsmoke did off-hand. Please, nobody tell him about the animes.
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Executive producer Al Jean, November 29, 2010:
THR: Will there be a third chopper gag?
Jean: I think at that point you’re becoming stale. I believe that something is only funny twice.
The Simpsons, December 12, 2010:
Unlucky message boarder “JowTSJY” was forced to attend a table reading for an upcoming episode wherein Marge becomes a foodie, and he shared his horrifying ordeal with the good people at Simpsons Collector Sector with photographic evidence.
Some interesting observations:
Five of the six main voice actors were in attendance: Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, Nancy Cartwright, Julie Kavner, and Hank Azaria. Tress MacNeille and Pamela Hayden were also providing their voice acting skills, while Harry Shearer was represented by a speaker phone in the middle of the table. I was informed that Harry Shearer rarely attended the table reads, instead “phoning it in” from home. In fact, I was also informed that Shearer rarely came in to record his lines in the studio. He does that from home over the phone, too!
To be fair, he’s in a different recording studio using ISDN, but it’s still funny to imagine Harry Shearer as Charlie from Charlie’s Angels.
At 10AM the table read began as a man (whose name I didn’t catch) announced that The Simpsons had been renewed for its 23rd season. During the table read, this man narrated the non-dialogue portions of the script
Presumably, this man is showrunner Al Jean, who mysteriously doesn’t appear in any of the photos. That guy is craftier than Arthur C. Korn.
On our way back across the Fox lot, we saw Nancy Cartwright driving away in her Lexus. Her license plate read “4EVER10,” a reference to the fact Bart never ages. Someone mentioned that her old license plate used to read “I DO BART.” If that’s true, I can understand why she changed it!
hahahaha [Simpsons Collector Sector via No Homers Club]
If you were one of the people watching The Simpsons last night (sucker), you may have noticed something a little different about the opening sequence!
The “couch gag,” if one could call it that, was storyboarded and directed by the pseudonymous Britain street artist known as Banksy, whose distinctive graffiti has shown up across the UK and the US, and whose work has been auctioned off for millions of dollars to limousine liberal luminaries like Brangelina.
Showrunner-for-life Al Jean told the New York Times he seeked out the ostensibly underground (despite having a publicist) “art terrorist” and asked him, via a series of messengers, if he’d do the opening, later receiving the storyboards without ever meeting the mystery man. Although 5% was cut out by request of Fox Broadcast & Standards, Jean insists the final product was as close as possible to Banksy’s original intention.
The response has been enormous – Banksy became a “Trending Topic” on Twitter last night (which is, like, super-important and stuff) and there are currently hundreds of news stories about it – which I’m sure makes up for the 29% decline in ratings from last week. It’s to quantify these things, but I think it’s safe to presume this will get more attention than other recent Simpsons “viral” stunts, from the godawful Ke$ha thing to the Itchy & Scratchy parody of Koyaanisqatsi (in the old days, The Simpsons usually generated buzz with actual episodes instead of context-free YouTube clips, but I guess that’s the way things are now in the New Media Landscape).
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Last month, we were in a funk, because at Comic-Con executive producer Al Jean said they were writing a 2011 Christmas episode featuring Homer and Marge as grandparents, which would apparently confirm a 23rd season.
But in a recent interview, Jean jokingly suggests otherwise:
My math could be incorrect, but I believe your 500th episode will be airing this season. Are there plans for an extended special to celebrate this milestone?
Al Jean: I’m afraid your math is incorrect. Our current record schedule will take us to episode 493, so if Fox wants 500, then I’m afraid they will have to pick up season 23, hint, hint.
NOW I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO BELIEVE [MovieWeb.com]
Al Jean, executive producer and current showrunner:
“Nobody’s perfect,” Mr. Jean said in a telephone interview. “But I don’t think we have terrible secrets to hide.”
John Ortved, author of The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History:
The story ran in the August 2007 issue, and by the fall I’d signed on with Faber and Faber to expand the material into a book. When word of this got out, [executive producer James L.] Brooks sent a letter to every current Simpsons employee, and all the former ones he thought mattered, asking them not to speak to me. The writers’ agents sent denial after denial for interview requests and eventually stopped responding altogether. When I asked a mutual acquaintance to put in a query with Ari Emanuel, chief of the Endeavor agency (now WME Entertainment) – where many of the Simpsons writers were represented – Emanuel told my friend he couldn’t even begin to talk about it. James L. Brooks was on the warpath.