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.
Newsarama tried to stealthily ask showrunner Al Jean why he’s been showrunner for the past nine years, and he answered that the writers haven’t been getting offers to work on other comedies and that comedy might finally be back on the upswing. I guess all those Judd Apatow-produced movies and animated comedies (some of them not created by Seth MacFarlane) and single-camera sitcoms like Arrested Development and The Office that have popped up in the past couple of years were actually part of a downswing?
Nrama: But haven’t you always had a philosophy of keeping the writers rotating? It kept new blood flowing.
Jean: Well, it was never a philosophy. There were two dynamics at work. In the 1990’s, there were a lot of comedies on the air. People who were on ‘The Simpsons’ got all these offers to work elsewhere. So they would leave, often to head their own projects. So we’d replace them.
This decade, unfortunately, comedy has not been doing so well. If people are doing a good job, then I keep them. So it doesn’t rotate as much. Still, I’m encouraged by this year’s ratings. Comedy might be back on the upswing. ‘American Family’ has started off really well.
After twenty years on the air, it should be hard to come up with fresh, new ideas for the show, right? Not so, says executive producer Al Jean:
If you look at The Daily Show, which is obviously on daily, I mean, they’re still hilarious after ten years. And we’re only on weekly, so we really have the liberty of picking and choosing the ideas that we turn into episodes. The world is a very interesting place and The Simpsons is a great way to view it.
See, The Daily Show comes on four times a week and it’s hilarious. Well, what if you took only the best parts of those four episodes and crammed them into one episode a week? That would be four times as hilarious, and that’s what The Simpsons is, supposedly. [TV Squad]
In the opening of the upcoming annual “Treehouse of Horror” episode, Homer attempts to vote for Barack Obama, remarking that “it’s time for change,” but his EVIL ELECTRONIC VOTING MACHINE marks it as a vote for John McCain. A scuffle ensues, and the machine ends up killing him. (SPOILER ALERT: The previous two sentences may have contained spoilers).
In an eerie parallel, Al Jean has entered his eighth consecutive season of running the show, more than any other showrunner’s “term of office” in the show’s history. If his two years co-running the show with Mike Reiss during seasons 3 and 4 are taken into account, Jean will have been a showrunner for half the show’s run by the end of this season. Is it time for change? Even Homer thinks so. [Wonkette]
In a fan Q+A, The Office writer-actor Mindy Kaling (Kelly) namedrops Simpsons writer Danny Chun, who was apparently “raving about Hot Chip and Vampire Weekend like fifteen years ago.” Given Mike Scully’s love for NRBQ and Al Jean’s love for on-the-nose musical montages, Chun needs to be promoted to executive producer immediately. [Office Tally]
Despite reports to the contrary, the next season is looking to be a continuation of the death spiral that was the past two seasons, if the Simpsons panel at Comic-Con is any indication. A look at what’s to come:
Is executive producer Al Jean hepped up on goofballs, or is he just reading off a generic press release? Read this in a stoner voice and decide for yourself:
Jean recalled the magic of making the first full-length episode, The Simpsons’ Christmas Special. “That show – wow – it was one of the best things,” said Jean, who has served as the show’s head writer and, since 2001, its executive producer… “It had emotion, humor – it was just beautiful,” Jean recalled… “A lot of times, we first think about who we would like to meet and then write a character for them,” he said. “The show has had a lot of success in getting people to come on.” When asked for some his favorite celebrity performers, Jean immediately ticks off names: “Well, Phil Hartman, of course. Kelsey [Grammer] has been great. Jon Lovitz is really amazing. Eric Idle was great. We even had George and Paul and Ringo from the Beatles… It was very exciting when Liz Taylor came on to do Maggie’s voice. She said one word, ‘Daddy,'” Jean recalled. “Ms. Taylor had a little dog – and a ring bigger than my fist. It was all very ‘movie star.'”
IMPORTANT NEWS DISCLOSURE: A publicist for parade.com sent me an e-mail and asked if “[I] could make this announcement on [my] website and include a link to Parade.com” [Parade]
TW: Fans talk of the golden age, seasons three through eight or nine. Now that you’re into season 18, haven’t there been other phases, maybe a new renaissance?
MG: I don’t feel like I want to defend the show to people who don’t like it, but I would say that the animation is better, that we’re doing shows that I defy anybody to say that we’ve already done. We’re coming up with, I think, ideas that are certainly surprising to us. And the show still makes me laugh. That’s all I care about. I hope that it makes other people laugh, too.
For comparison to other executive producers:
Al Jean: “I think the last couple years have been among our best”
James L. Brooks: Season 17 is “a classic”
Matt Groening: Animation is better, surprising new ideas, still makes him laugh [The Wave]
You know those episodes I executive produced? Yeah, they’re some of the best ones ever. Not really that surprising if you think about it. I’m pretty much the King Midas of the show. I know it looks like I’m bragging but I’m actually being quite modest here. [IGN]