True Simpsons maniacs know that the show’s reclusive creator, Matt Groening, hasn’t been a part of the show since 1999, when he retreated to a yurt in central Oregon and cut off all ties with the outside world in a self-imposed exile. Well, apparently the Groenster has returned to the show, and he’s been making some MAJOR, DRASTIC CHANGES that will be hitting your TV screens in 2012.
I just received this e-mail from an anonymous Simpsons employee, literally less than 4 seconds ago. This brave insider has put his or her career on the line by breaking the terms of his or her non-disclosure agreement to tell us this EXCLUSIVE tale of behind-the-scenes turbulence and tyranny. I am republishing hir message in its entirety because it has to be seen to be believed…
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Simpsons executive producer James L. Brooks took to Twitter on Thursday to express his growing concerns about the iPhone search application Siri. Announcing that he was “on the brink of an insight through a troubling plot against us,” Brooks spent the next 45 minutes tweeting observations about the app. Mainly, he suspects Siri reflects our emotions, nothing “I believe that when I was hyper the other day she talked faster.” How, exactly, this proves Siri is plot against mankind is unclear. Nevertheless, Brooks is optimistic “we have a chance against her diabolical programmers” if he heed his warnings.
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First things first: The Simpsons, after days of cancellation rumors amidst a fierce contract negotiation between the voice actors and Fox, has been renewed for not only Season 24 (2012 – 2013), but also Season 25 (2013 – 2014), despite those honest, upstanding Fox “anonymous sources” telling every news outlet within earshot they would only renew it for Season 24 “at most.” That’s right: Twenty-Five. Goddamn. Seasons. Five Hundred Fifty-Nine Episodes. Let’s assume everything after Season 8 is bad. That means by the end of Season 25, the good seasons will comprise slightly less than 32% of the entire series. And this season just started two weeks ago, so we have a guaranteed three seasons of atrocious episodes to look forward to. Excuse me while I go stick my head in the oven.
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Oh boy, it’s that lovely time every three years or so when the Simpsons cast re-negotiate their contracts with Fox! And this time the stakes HAVE NEVER BEEN HIGHER. The Daily Beast reports that this time the voice actors are asking for a pay cut, instead of their usual pay raise. Say whaa??? Have we wandered into Bizarro World??? No, while they’re asking for a 30 percent pay cut, it’s because they want a piece of that hot, hot syndication and merchandise action worth billions of dollars in CA$H MONEY. Fox doesn’t want to give up that money (after all, their parent company News Corp. has tons of phone hacking victims to pay off), and this time they’re threatening to CANCEL THE SIMPSONS.
Difficult bargaining is nothing new for the show, which was created by James L. Brooks and Matt Groening. Fox studio execs have occasionally threatened to replace uncooperative cast members with sound-alike actors. But for the first time in nearly a quarter century of haggling, the executives have insisted that if the cast doesn’t accept a draconian 45 percent pay cut, The Simpsons will die an abrupt death as a first-run series.
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Polly Platt was an Oscar-nominated production designer, producer, and screenwriter whose career spanned four decades, the first woman in the Art Director’s Guild, and a frequent collaborator of James L. Brooks. Her credits include The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, and Bottle Rocket. But since this is a Simpsons website, I’ll just skip to a trivial footnote of her career.
By now, every Simpsons nerd knows the show’s origin: Brooks discovered struggling cartoonist Matt Groening, asked him to do some cartoons for the The Tracey Ullman Show; Groening feared the loss of his Life in Hell characters, so instead he designed a cartoon family, named after his own family; three years later The Simpsons was spun-off into its own show. Well, GET THIS: Polly Platt was the person who introduced Brooks to Matt Groening’s work. Here’s her remembering the story from John Ortved’s The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History:
I was nominated for an Academy Award for Terms of Endearment and I wanted to give Jim a thank-you gift. Matt did a cartoon called “Success and Failure in Hollywood.” So I called Matt and I bought the original.
[Jim] was thrilled! First of all, he loves to get presents. He really does. He just laughed and laughed and hung it on his wall in his office. It was a brilliant cartoon. Success and failure come out to exactly the same thing in the cartoon [i.e., death].
My suggestion to Jim: I thought it would be great to do a TV special on the characters that he [Matt] had already drawn. I never envisioned anything like The Simpsons.
So, had it not been for Polly Platt and her gift-giving skills, The Simpsons would’ve never existed. Kinda makes you think. [Los Angeles Times]
In a stunt that puts NBC’s “Green Week” initiative to shame, Fox has apparently ordered several of its shows to include a musical number as part of a week-long campaign dubbed “Fox Rocks,” presumably to promote the network’s two most unpopular shows, American Idol and Glee. The Simpsons is participating by having “Homer, Marge and the gang” “rock out” to the song “TiK ToK” by Ke$ha in a couch gag.
When The Simpsons started, executive producer James L. Brooks had enough clout to mandate no network interference, which helped make the show great.
What happened? [The Wrap]
The Simpsons turn 20 today (that is, if you don’t count the Christmas special as the first episode and completely ignore the original shorts from The Tracey Ullman Show), and there’s been a number of retrospectives to mark the occasion. An oft-repeated claim in many histories is that creator Matt Groening, fearing the loss of his Life in Hell characters, came up with the Simpsons in fifteen minutes before a meeting with Ullman producer James L. Brooks. But the characters actually originated nearly 40 years ago, in an unpublished novel Groening wrote in high school:
Chat Transcript (April 6, 1999):
Question hobgoblin: How old were you when you first came up with the idea for “The Simpsons”? I know that the show has been on for a long time.
Matt_G “The Simpsons” originated in high school.
Matt_G I wrote a bleak little novel called “The Mean Little Kids” starring a teenage Bart Simpson with buckteeth and a very bad complexion.
Interview with Robert William Kubey, published in Creating Television: Conversations with the People Behind 50 Years of American TV (Late 1991):
How quickly did The Simpsons gel in your mind?
I needed to come up with an idea really quickly. In the back of my mind was the idea of doing something that might possibly end up spinning off into its own TV show, so I created a family which I thought would lend itself to a lot of different kinds of stories. In high school I had written a novel, a sort of a very sour Catcher in the Rye, self pitying, adolescent novel starring Bart Simpson as a very troubled teenager. I took that family and transferred it, made them younger, and then drew. It took about 15 minutes to design the characters the first time out.
Were they all the same characters that we now know and love?
Yes, but they’ve been transformed.
Why didn’t you leave Bart as an adolescent?
TV does children really badly, and I thought there was room for something different. Teenagers are already running rampant on television, but kids are done very unrealistically in sitcoms. Sometimes, a particular character gels with an audience and becomes the star.
Was Bart at the center all along?
Yeah. The rest of the Simpsons in my original conception were in a struggle to be normal and Bart was the one who thought that being normal was boring.
And now you know… the rest of the story.
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.
Along with at least 100 other showrunners, Matt Groening and James L. Brooks joined in solidarity with the WGA strike, signing a pledge and vowing that they “will do no writing” until a deal is made. Wait, they still work on the show? [WGA.org]
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]