MEANINGLESS MILESTONES, SPRINGFIELD SHOPPER

An image of the Simpsons Season 1 DVD cover.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of The Simpsons: The Complete First Season DVD boxset in North America (tip of the hat to illustrator Bill Mudron for mentioning this). It was, for a time, the best selling TV show on DVD until it was eclipsed by Chappelle’s Show a few years later. Now that physical media has been rendered a relic by streaming services, let’s take this opportunity to look back at what’s been lost.
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THOSE CLOWNS IN CONGRESS

An image of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and an unknown third person from The Simpsons.

The IN THE NEWS Decision Desk projects that Diamond Joe Biden will win the election and become America’s Dictator, barring any last-minute chicanery from forces loyal to the embattled President Trump. Over on Twitter, Simpsons staff members are giddy with delight, including executive producer James L. Brooks, who had some… interesting thoughts regarding that gorgeous babe we call democracy. However, they may soon rue the day Biden staggers across the finish line once they realize they could be locked out of the Emmy Awards for another presidential term.

Back in 2014, IN THE NEWS posited a theory behind the show’s conspicuous lack of Emmy wins during the Obama Administration:

Of course, there may be another reason for the show’s recent Emmy drought. Their last win in the Animated Program category was for “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” in 2008, the last year of the Bush Administration. Could President Obama be behind this…?

Malarkey, you say? The Simpsons’ Emmy drought would continue until the episode “Mad About the Toy” won in 2019, which, according to Google, was when Donald Trump was president, giving credence to the theory.

The Biden campaign pitched his regime as a return to the Obama years. Undoubtedly that will involve bone-crushing austerity, but will it include Obama’s unprecedented blockade of The Simpsons’ rightfully-deserved Emmy Awards? In Biden’s own words: “nothing would fundamentally change.”

VOICE BOX

Negotiations with Harry Shearer appear to have hit a wee bit of a snag, as the longtime Simpsons cast member has apparently announced he’s leaving the show.

Shearer made the announcement on Twitter late last night, quoting an imaginary press release from James L. Brooks’s Lawyer, for some reason. Take a look:

Then he seized the opportunity to plug his new comedy song about cops. Hey, why not?

burning bridge

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RIP

Simpsons executive producer and animal rights activist Sam Simon died Monday at the age of 59 after a two-year battle with cancer.

Simon grew up in Beverly Hills and attended Stanford University, where he drew cartoons for the college newspaper as well as the San Francisco Examiner. He was later hired at Filmation Studios, where he worked on cartoons like Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (recently, he alleged Bill Cosby “had two of the writers write his phd thesis.”). After submitting a Taxi spec script, he was promptly hired as a writer by executive producer James L. Brooks, and soon became showrunner. He later wrote and produced for Cheers, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, and The Tracey Ullman Show.

Simon was hired by Brooks to help develop The Simpsons as it transitioned from a series of one-minute shorts to a half-hour series (Simon’s then-wife, Jennifer Tilly, had tried to talk him out of it.). As Brooks had his hands full with being a mega-producer and creator Matt Groening had limited television experience, it appears most of the day-to-day responsibilities fell upon Simon, who became the show’s first showrunner and head writer. In this role, Simon was a major architect of the show’s template and tone, even designing some of the secondary characters. He put together the legendary writing staff of the first few seasons; the show’s two most essential writers, George Meyer and John Swartzwelder, were allegedly plucked from Meyer’s underground comedy magazine Army Man, which was making the rounds in comedy circles (other Army Men contributors, including Ian Maxtone-Graham, Tom Gammill and Max Pross, would join the show in later years). In some respects, the hugely influential writer’s room Simon assembled became what Mad Magazine‘s “Usual Gang of Idiots” had been to an earlier generation.

During the show’s development, Simon and Groening had gotten along just fine; they had even collaborated on one of Groening’s Life in Hell comics. Tension soon mounted after the show premiered and became a smash hit out of the gate. Groening had become the public “face” of the show, and seen as the sole auteur by the media and general public. Simon felt he wasn’t being given enough credit (in a 1991 interview, writer Jon Vitti theorized it was “because there’s no book of Sam Simon cartoons you can read”) and wasn’t being paid enough, particularly when merchandising took off and made Groening an instant millionaire.

As early as February 1990, reports of a feud between Groening and Simon had become public. In a Los Angeles Times article about the show, Howard Rosenberg noted, “One senses from talking separately to Simon and Groening in their Fox offices that the two are as incompatible and out of tune with each other as the Simpsons.” Simon condescendingly characterized Groening’s role as the show’s “ambassador.” The friction between them grew incredibly petty, some of which was detailed in John Ortved’s 2009 oral history of the show, The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History. Brian Roberts, a former editor on the show, recounted one instance:

When we’d do a screening, it was Matt, Sam, and I. And they were like two five-year olds not speaking. We’d be watching an episode and Sam would say, “Do this.” And Matt would say,
“Will you tell Sam Simon I think that’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.” Sam would say, “Would you tell Matt Groening that he doesn’t know his ass from third grade.” We were all sitting shoulder to shoulder! It was extremely uncomfortable for me.

Allegedly, the Season 3 episode “Flaming Moe’s,” in which Moe takes all the credit for a flaming cocktail invented by Homer, was inspired by the acrimony between Groening and Simon.

One of their major disagreements was over the content and vision of the show. Generally, Simon wanted the show to be grounded and free from sitcom cliches. As Vitti said, “Thanks to Sam, Bart will never be hypnotized, there will never be a show with Bart lying in a hospital bed with cut-in clips from old shows, and nobody will ever get amnesia and have to be reminded of what happened by cutting different episodes together!” (Yes, these all happened later in some form or another.) Matt Groening, on the other hand, had some rather oddball ideas in the initial years. As Simon told Rosenberg:

“What really elevated ‘The Simpsons’ is that a lot of really talented people have come in from the Tracey show. Matt’s (creative) voice is certainly in ‘The Simpsons,’ but initially he was talking about a show where there’d be Martians and a lot of fantasy,” said Simon, grimacing. “I’m glad we rejected that.”

One of Groening’s ideas was that Marge Simpson was secretly a rabbit from Life in Hell, who was hiding her large rabbit ears in her hair. Simon firmly rejected the idea, but it appears Groening snuck the idea into The Simpsons Arcade Game without his awareness.

According to Ortved, Simon became increasingly difficult to work with, and his relationship with Brooks and his studio, Gracie Films, began to disintegrate. Eventually Simon reached a deal to leave The Simpsons, but keep his producer credit and all the money that came with it (an estimated $20-30 million a year). Since then, he made just a handful of contributions to the show: a self-portrait as an elderly recluse with really long fingernails in “The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular,” and changing his “spooky name” in recent Halloween episodes to “Simonsam@twitTERROR,” replacing the usual “Sam ‘Sayonara’ Simon.”

Nevertheless, the bitterness between Groening and Simon lingered for years afterward. In a November 2001 article in the New York Times Magazine, Groening called Simon “brilliantly funny and one of the smartest writers I’ve ever worked with, although unpleasant and mentally unbalanced.” Simon was more charitable: “When I see Matt now, I shake hands and say hello. I can’t lie and say that Matt did what he didn’t do, but I do appreciate him creating that family. Thanks to Bart Simpson I have a pretty good life.”

After his departure from The Simpsons, Simon worked on The Drew Carey Show and created a short-lived sitcom starring George Carlin. It appears Simon hadn’t become any easier to work with: “Lesson learned: always check mental health of creative partner beforehand,” wrote Carlin on his website. “We all knew Sam was crazy,” cast member Phil LaMarr confessed to the A.V. Club. “I would say that any show I’ve ever worked on, it turns me into a monster. I go crazy. I hate myself,” Simon explained in a 2007 60 Minutes profile.

Simon had a number of interesting hobbies. He participated in a number of poker tournaments, and for a time had a poker show on Playboy TV called “Sam’s Game.” He also coached champion boxer Lamon Brewster, and was named World Boxing Organization’s Manager of the Year in 2004.

Using the fortune he was earning from The Simpsons, Simon became a philanthropist. In 2002, he founded the Sam Simon Foundation, which rescues dogs and trains them to assist veterans and the disabled, provides spay and neuter services in the Los Angeles area, and provides vegan food for the poor. In 2012, he donated a $2 million ship to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, for their efforts against Japanese whalers. It was christened the SSS Sam Simon. He also donated to PETA (one of their headquarters buildings bears his name) and Save the Children. According to Inside Philanthropy, Simon wasn’t sure how much he had given away to charity.

In March 2013, Simon announced he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and had been given only months to live. For the next two years, Simon provided his Twitter followers with a candid look at his chemotherapy and treatment with good humor, posting pictures of his nurses, the seemingly endless medical procedures he undertook, and the marijuana and paraphernalia friends had given him.

On January 22, he tweeted: “Btw, even if I die tomorrow, Which i wont, i have beaten cancer. The past two years have been the happiest of my life.”

BROOKS BLOTTER

Spanglish director and Simpsons head honcho James “Jimbo” Brooks recently teased an upcoming guest star on Twitter, claiming it’s on par with Michael Jackson’s appearance in 1991:

It’s gotta be Obama, right? Dude’s willing to do a Funny or Die sketch, but not the venerable American institution known as The Simpsons? They’ve already gotten three Beatles, a sitting prime minister, a reclusive author, AND telephone voice Joan Kenley; who else is even notable enough to get these old grizzled comedy writers all jazzed up?

Other guesses I’m throwing out there:

  • Bob Dylan – Turned them down before, maybe he relented?
  • The Game of Thrones guy – All the writers are horrible nerds, so…
  • Pope Francis – Hey, it could happen.
  • Ella Fitzgerald – Maybe Brooks discovered a way to revive the dead during his time at My Mother The Car?

Speculate away in the non-existent comment section below.

NEWS BRIEFS

police dog

  • The Simpsons lost every Annie Award it was nominated for (including one for the infamous rag episode), but Simpsons alumni Rich Moore won Best Director and his film Wreck-It Ralph won Best Feature, so good for him!
  • My Google Alert for “Yeardley Smith sex tape” has finally beared fruit! Here is a photo of Lisa Simpson’s voice actress cavorting with a naked man in broad daylight.
  • Simpsons producer James L. Brooks is literally on the National Rifle Association’s enemies list. No word on Matt “NRA4EVER” Groening, though.
  • Speaking of Brooks, looks like he got his Twitter hacked, with little success at stopping it. He appears to be waging a hilarious battle with the Twitter-jacker over which one is the real one. Just goes to show you, even if you’re a big-time Hollywood mega-producer, you can still get your stuff hacked. Stay protected, yo. [via @vmcampos]
  • Former showrunner Bill Oakley posted the pre-distortion audio file of Ned Flanders from Homer’s chili-induced hallucination. Much respect for Harry Shearer.
  • UNRELATED SIMPSONS IN THE NEWS: 81-year old ex-senator Alan Simpson, namesake of the Simpson-Bowles commission, attempted to perform the Gangnam Style dance in a bid to turn young people into granny-starving deficit hawks. [via kushibo]
ANIMOTION MACHINE

Longest Daycare The Simpsons theatrical short shoved in front of Ice Age 4 last summer, Maggie Simpson in: “The Longest Daycare” (yes, that’s the full title), has been nominated for what’s known in the streets as an “Oscar” award.

Good for them, I suppose. It was definitely one of the better outputs emanating from the Simpsons Franchise Factory this decade. The fact no one had to recite terrible Modern Simpsons dialogue certainly helped. Even those haters at Dead Homers Society enjoyed it. And it was nice to see director and longtime Simpsons drawer-person David Silverman gobsmacked and thanking everybody on Twitter this morning (hey idiot, save the thanks for your acceptance speech!).

It’s the first Oscar nomination for The Simpsons. When The Simpsons Movie was announced, creator Matt Groening quipped “Come next Oscars, we think it’s going to be Milhouse’s night.” Now, I don’t know if they were intentionally gunning for an Oscar then; James L. Brooks just wanted a hit to rebound from Spanglish, and as far as I can tell they never put out one of those “For Your Consideration” advertisements in trade magazines (though voice actor Harry Shearer’s role in For Your Consideration really messes up the search results). But falling short of garnering a nomination in the Best Animated Feature category – deemed not good enough to compete with a movie about a surfing penguin – certainly had to sting. So perhaps this nomination provides some validation for bruised egos, and maybe a win could convince the producers to finally end the show since there’d be no more mountains for the franchise to climb (hahaha, just kidding, this show will go on forever). Win or lose, I’m betting there’ll be more of these shorts, which won’t have to rely on those pesky voice actors and their dumb mortality.

Other notable nominations this year include Wreck-It Ralph, directed by Simpsons alum Rich Moore and written by Simpsons alum Jim Reardon, for Best Animated Feature, and Simpsons arch enemy Seth MacFarlane for a song he wrote for Ted (he’s also hosting the ceremony, if you hadn’t heard). Yes, both The Simpsons and the Family Guy guy are nominated for Oscars this year. Will these Cartoon Wars never cease???

[The Oscars (part of the Go Network)]

EXCLUSIVE, OAKLEY CORRAL

PrinceBill Oakley has done it again. Last Friday on Twitter, the former Simpsons showrunner revealed his personal top ten Simpsons episodes that were “pitched, discussed, [and] written,” but, for whatever reason, never produced and lost to the sands of time.

Now, most of our competition would just lazily copy & paste the list and call it a day, but we here at rubbercat.net/simpsons have much more respect for you, the reader. We have attempted to dig up as much information about these would-be episodes as possible, from audio commentaries, interviews, and story outlines, to bring you the most complete picture of these extra-bonus-non-episodes as possible. Let’s run through the list, shall we?


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MEANINGLESS MILESTONES, SCULLY DUGGERY

scullyThe Hollywood Reporter did a big cover story about The Simpsons in honor its meaningless milestone of having churned out a certain number of product. Former showrunner Mike Scully used the occasion to share his death wish with the nation:

“I think the show will outlive all of us,” says former producer Mike Scully. “Nothing would make me happier than some episode in the future to end with a title card that reads, ‘In memory of Mike Scully.'”

Yup, Mike Scully wants to die. Nothing would make him happier. There is no other way to interpret that quote. After years of death threats from Simpsons nerds, it seems Scully has decided to embrace the icy hand of death.

The rest of the article is mostly just a rehash of the same stories they’ve been telling for years in interviews and audio commentaries (did you know Michael Jackson didn’t do his own singing???), but nonetheless there’s a few interesting tidbits I haven’t heard elsewhere, if you use a charitable interpretation of “interesting.”

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