GROEN DRAIN

An image of Milhouse surrounded by unused child designs.

Back in 2011, during a Twitter discussion about whether Milhouse’s design was inspired by Wonder Years actor Josh Saviano, Simpsons superdirector David Silverman dismissed that theory, mentioning Milhouse had originated from an unproduced Saturday morning cartoon Matt Groening had pitched to a network in the 80s, and his design was recycled for a Butterfinger commercial. I wrote about it at the time.

Silverman mentioned that cartoon again recently (the Wonder Years thing just won’t die!), and this time some more details have emerged.
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READING DIGEST

did u ever know that ur my hero

Back in 1994, there were plans for a spinoff of The Simpsons centered around Krusty the Clown moving to Los Angeles and becoming a talk show host. The twist is that the show would’ve been live-action, with Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Krusty, starring as the character. Creator Matt Groening, who co-wrote a pilot script with The King of Queens creator Michael Weithorn, was quoted in a 1999 Entertainment Weekly article reflecting on the challenges of working in live-action:

We had this running joke in the script that Krusty was living in a house on stilts and there were beavers gnawing their way through the stilts. But somebody at the network pointed out how expensive it was to hire trained beavers — and an equally prohibitive cost would be to get mechanical beavers — so I said, “If we animated this, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

And that was absolutely everything we ever knew about the project… until now!

Simpsons expert @ThatGuy3002, known for his deep dives into scripts on Twitter, found out a lot more about the ill-fated spinoff, and shared his findings in a tweet thread:

Click through to read the whole thread, which reveals plot details about the surprisingly death-heavy pilot episode, how another Fox show about an alcoholic clown may have poisoned the well for clown-related entertainment, and what really killed the spinoff (spoiler: money). I have my doubts about the quality levels of what sounds like a Larry Sanders rip-off mixed with the 1992 Boris and Natasha movie, but I’m nevertheless fascinated by this odd footnote in Simpsons history. It doesn’t sound like production ever went any further than the script, but if any photographic evidence of Dan Castellaneta in full-blown Krusty makeup exists, please please please share it with the world.

NEWS BRIEFS

An image of Mrs. Krabappel reading a book while a fucked-up Bart-like creature writes on the chalkboard. Also, there is a Smarch calendar.

  • Simpsons writer Marc Wilmore, whose credits also include In Loving Color, The PJs, and F is for Family, passed away from COVID-19 complications at the age of 57. Before joining the show, he participated in a prank on a writer where he pretended to be an irate mayor. [New York Times]
  • The late Marcia Wallace will be making a posthumous g-g-guest appearance in an upcoming episode where Bart finds Mrs. Krabappel’s diary. [TheFutonCritic.com]
  • What’s going on with Bongo Comics, Matt Groening’s all-but-defunct comic book publishing company, and what does it mean for Simpsons Fun Calendars? The situation is unclear, but the hosts of the podcast Talking Simpsons tried to make sense of it. I remember one year (2001) they included a page for Smarch, and it’s those little touches that set them apart from other calendars. [Talking Simpsons (25:52)]
  • Former Instagram tech nerd Thomas Dimson used AI to create a horrible nightmare Simpsons character generator. [This Fucked Up Homer Does Not Exist via Adam B.]
GROEN DRAIN

An image of Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy

Disenchantment creator Matt Groening appears to have quietly launched a YouTube channel last night. Currrently its sole video is “Trumpy’s Rhapsody,” a short cartoon directed by Dwayne Carey-Hill featuring Donald Trump singing a song, with the lyrics credited to Groening and Dan Castellaneta (TV’s Homer Simpson) providing the voice.

This raises some questions:

Why now? For someone who’s arguably the most famous cartoonist of the era, it’s remarkable that Matt Groening has maintained almost zero internet presence. His personal website was supposedly “under construction” for years (the domain name appears to have lapsed) and outside of the rare promotional Q&A, he’s had no official social media account or means of communicating directly to fans. Which is fine, because it’s always disappointing when you follow someone and discover they have a weird axe to grind against Cuba or whatever, and it’s also really funny to me when people – sometimes people he works with – unknowingly tag phony accounts.

What the hell did I just watch? This Trump Jib-Jab thing with Putin jokes is, uh, not my cup of tea, to put it politely. Groening is a rich, aging baby boomer Democrat (albeit one who donated to orb queen Marianne Williamson during the primaries) who works in the entertainment industry, which partially explains why he’s succumbed to Trump derangement syndrome like the rest of his peers. But I still can’t quite wrap my head around a line like “Sorry I ruined the Republican party!” coming from the same guy who drew this.

Why do it independently? The Simpsons has been putting out godawful Trump shorts since he announced his candidacy. Why Groening chose not to use the existing Simpsons infrastructure is a real head-scratcher. Was it somehow considered too edgy???

What’s next? Was this a one time thing? Could this be the start of his own version of Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy? Who knows!

[Matt Groening on YouTube via Bob Mackey]

GROEN DRAIN

How did Simpsons creator Matt Groening get to be so rich and successful? Well, it turns out he had a trick up his sleeve… a time-traveling trick!!!

It has now become clear that at some point in the future where time travel has become achievable, Matt Groening warped back to Olympia, Washington in the 1970s, and gave his past self a bunch of Simpsons memorabilia and a 20-year plan for creating the franchise and becoming king of all media. Unfortunately, Old Matt didn’t count on Young Matt painting all this new information and hiding it away for years. Now, those paintings – the only known evidence linking him to the crime of violating the Temporal Prime Directive – have resurfaced.

As originally reported by the Kitsap Sun, a 69-year old artist bought some Simpsons watercolors at a Seattle-area thrift store and thinks they were made by Matt Groening when he was a student at the Evergreen State College, more than a decade before the Simpsons shorts began airing on The Tracey Ullman Show. She is now trying to auction them off at $2,000 apiece.

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D'OH REPORT

doh

Fox announced they were picking up a “DOUBLE D’OHse” of The Simpsons earlier this week, but it turns out they may have forgotten to make sure all the contracts were signed before hitting “send” on that press release.

TMZ is reporting that “one of the key players” is holding out for unspecified reasons. Going by the history of previous contract negotiations, the mystery holdout is almost definitely Harry Shearer, trying to get himself a cut of some of those sweet, sweet back-end profits. If true, this would make his grumpy tweets about how almost none of the news coverage mentioned him pretty ironic, I guess.

In the unlikely event the show’s producers can’t come to an agreement with him, they have a backup plan:

A designer said that Al Jean (longtime executive and consulting producer) is optimistic that new contracts with vocal talent will be finalized, but Matt Groening was reported to have said:

“If necessary, I’LL do the voices.”

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.”

AZTEC THEATRE, MY TWO CENTS

The Simpsons live show is over now, with far less casualties than the usual Hollywood Bowl event. In defiance of the rules, some audience members recorded it with their cell phones and cameras. Here’s a video of the Friday show, which could be taken down at any time:

Dead Homer Society has some more videos of the Saturday and Sunday shows, but I’m not going to bother watching them.

Some observations:

  • “Unlike Seth MacFarlane, Matt [Groening] will not force you to listen to him sing” burnsauce
  • Whoever recorded this decided to leave it on for part of the intermission, but ran out of battery during Jon Lovitz singing the Planet of the Apes musical, and then somehow regained power immediately after. Okay…
  • Jon Lovitz is basically a more likable version of Ricky Gervais.
  • Host Hank Azaria got to live his greatest nightmare onstage because nobody told him a clip he was setting up was cut.
  • The Alf Clausen tribute seemed abrupt and a little at odds with the rest of the show’s tone. Still, nice to see the Sideshow Bob motif get its due…
  • Conan O’Brien seemed energetic, but “The Monorail Song” isn’t really much of a song, come to think of it.
  • “Do The Bartman” was really disappointing. Granted, it’s hard to do the Bart voice while singing in front of hundreds of people with limited stage experience, while also trying to make sure you don’t fall off the stage, but still…
  • Here’s the weirdest thing: Harry Shearer (who generally doesn’t agree to anything that’s not in his contract because he feels cheated by Fox) apparently didn’t give permission for his voice to be used in clips. So, twice they had to replace him with a “scratch” voice that’s REALLY OBVIOUS AND WEIRD. Shearer also declined to do The Simpsons Ride, but his voice is still present in episode clips that play while you’re waiting in line, so I don’t know what the deal is.
TREEHOUSE OF ERROR

Matt Groening giving an interview

During an interview with London’s Financial Times back in April 2002, Simpsons creator Matt Groening mused “I think we are closer to winding it up.” It was a fairly innocuous comment – the show had been on for over 12 years at that point, and he naturally didn’t think it would go on for another 12 – but our alarmist media took it to mean the show was ending immediately, causing something of a global panic. It was all very stupid:

D’OH! THEY’RE MAKING FUNERAL PLANS FOR… THE SIMPSONS (New York Post)
Save the Greatest Show on Earth; Can Simpsons Creator Matt Groening Be Persuaded Not to Quit? (The Evening Standard)
‘The Simpsons’ may be . . . D’oh! (Philly.com)
Are Homer’s days numbered? (Daily Telegraph)
‘The Simpsons’ soon to bow out (CNN Money)

In an effort to quell the uproar, Groening later clarified, “I don’t want anyone to think I am predicting the demise of the Simpsons. They will live on with new adventures for years to come. As long as there are things to make fun of we will be around.” The next episode’s chalkboard gag also addressed the issue.

At the time of the “wrapping it up” comment, The Simpsons had been on the air for 4,517 days. It has now been 4,518 days since that comment was reported, and there is still no end in sight.