RIP

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]

SCULLY DUGGERY

Mike ScullySplitsider has another typically enlightening interview with a Simpsons writer, this time with the generally-reviled former showrunner Mike Scully. He talks about writing for the Golden Globes, his occasional acting on Parks & Recreation (I didn’t know his character had a name), and his short-lived series The Pitts (I only remember Fox’s obnoxious promos for it, which focused primarily on the girl getting a pipe stuck in her head and saying “I’ve got a freakin’ pipe stuck in my head!” or something similiar. Or maybe that was his other show, The Mullets, who knows).

The stuff about his tenure on The Simpsons is interesting – he had the choice of doing either that or Coach (I wonder what the inevitable “Craig T. Nelson gets leprosy” episode would’ve been like), met Conan right before he got sucked away by NBC, and rose from being a 1-day college dropout intimidated by the Ivy League-infested writers’ room to running it just a few years later.

He also lectures a bit about the importance of putting characters before jokes, which is a little galling coming from the guy who brought us panda rape and jockey elves. But he does give an apology, of sorts:

It’s funny going back and doing these DVD commentaries 10 years later. You get a chance to relive every bad decision you made. There are times when you wish you could fast-forward the DVD and just say, “Sorry folks, I don’t know what I was thinking on that one.”

Finally, some closure. [Splitsider]

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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GROEN DRAIN, SPRINGFIELD SHOPPER

matt groening dollSimpson creator Matt Groening went to Egypt to check out the pyramid and he foolishly ignored all the hieroglyphic warnings and trespassed into the forbidden zone when all of a sudden The Mummy appeared and cast a big curse on him. As karmic retribution for all his brazen merchandising and capitalist crimes, Mr. Groening was turned into a piece of merchandise himself, how ironic. Now he is no longer human, he is just a doll and can’t do human things anymore, rip.

OK but seriously now, for just fifty American dollars you can buy a toy version of the guy whose signature appears on all your other Simpsons toys. Here’s what the solicitation says:

Created by legendary “Life is Hell” cartoonist Matt Groening, THE SIMPSONS is celebrating its 500th episode in February 2012, and Kidrobot is honoring the father of primetime animation in the only way we know how – making him into a 6-inch vinyl toy! Complete with goatee and glasses, director’s jacket, and pad and pencil accessories, it is the first EVER Simpsons Matt Groening toy.

Essentially, if you cut out the middlemen, you can pay a guy money and he will give you a doll version of himself. This is so weird and messed up that I needed to lie down to fully contemplate the many levels of Meta this object encapsulates.

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THE INSIDE SCOOP

!!!!!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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TOON BEAT

Okay, listen up people. We all know The Simpsons can’t go on forever. Yes, it’s been on the air for a fifth of a century. Yes, we’re almost at the point where The Bad Episodes constitute two-thirds of the series. But it has to end at some point. Now, the smart money is on the show wrapping things up when Year 25 rolls around. But Fox can’t just cut and run; the network needs an exit strategy to take care of the gaping hole in its formidable Animation Domination programming block The Simpsons would leave behind. Luckily, the executives have thought ahead and ordered a whole bunch of animated series – some of which is already airing, some of which will probably get cancelled after a couple episodes, and some that probably already died in utero. Just for funsies, let’s pretend it’s a big Sport Game with brackets and stuff, which I have helpfully diagrammed below:

so you think you can replace the simpsons?!

As you can see, these cartoon sitcoms are locked into a NO HOLDS BARRED BATTLE TO THE DEATH. Only one show can take over the coverted 8pm Sundays timeslot sweetspot The Simpsons currently occupies. Or, actually, maybe one can take it over for a little bit, then be replaced in mid-season by another one. Who knows. Let’s take a closer look at the competitors…

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EXCLUSIVE

After finding out former Simpsons writer David M. Stern (Bart Gets an F, Kamp Krusty) developed Ugly Americans (watch it!! it’s cool), I got curious and decided to find out what some other ex-Simpsons people are up to. DISCLAIMERS/CAVEATS: 1. I basically only looked at wikipedia and imdb, so this could be rife with inaccuracies, etc. 2. With some exceptions, I don’t care about anyone who joined the show after it got bad or only wrote like one episode 3. This is essentially limited to movies/tv, since the internet assumes people fell off the face of the earth if they’re not doing something for mass audiences

Richard Appel (writer): Showrunner for The Cleveland Show

Wes Archer (director): Was working on The Goode Family until it got cancelled; unclear what he’s currently doing

Brad Bird (director): Doing a live-action movie for Pixar (zuh????)

Daniel Chun (writer): Now writing for The Office

David S/X. Cohen (writer): His beloved baby Futurama returns in June on Comedy Central

Jonathan Collier (writer): MIA

Jennifer Crittenden (writer): Producing mysterious project called What’s Your Number?

Greg Daniels (writer): Co-creations The Office and Parks and Recreation still going strong

Brent Forrester (writer): Writer for The Office

Ken Keeler (writer): Nerding it up at Futurama

Jay Kogan (writer): Executive producer for some supernatural live-action Nickelodeon show called The Troop; writing an adaptation of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Lauren MacMullan (director): MIA

Jeff Martin (writer/clown): MIA

George Meyer (writer): Occasionally contributes to The New Yorker

Bill Oakley (showrunner, seasons 7 – 8): Writing stuff from Portland

Conan O’Brien (writer): Legally prohibited from being funny on television

Jim Reardon (director): Presumably still Pixarin’ it up

Mike Reiss (showrunner, seasons 3-4): While technically still a producer for The Simpsons (I think??), he’s been doing a bunch of other projects like writing children’s books, computer-animated movies, and the critically-unacclaimed My Life in Ruins

David M. Stern (writer): Developed Ugly Americans, which recently debuted on Comedy Central

Mike Scully (showrunner, seasons 9-12): Writer on Parks & Recreation

John Swartzwelder (writer): Still cranking out funny books from his secret underground lair

Sam Simon (executive producer/showrunner, seasons 1-2): Doing some poker thing

Jon Vitti (writer): Co-wrote an upcoming movie starring Steve Carell; currently working on something called “Boo U.”

Josh Weinstein (showrunner, seasons 7-8): MIA??? Wikipedia says he’s a producer on Futurama (again), but I’m not sure if I believe that

Frank Welker (voice actor, Santa’s Little Helper): Most recent voice credit is “Additional Nuts Voice”

Lona Williams (beauty pageant winner/writing assistant): MIA

Wallace Wolodarsky (writer): Voiced an opossum in Fantastic Mr. Fox; adapting a Philip K. Dick story into a Disney cartoon

WRITER WATCH

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]

SCULLY DUGGERY

scullyNot content with ruining America’s Favorite Family, former Simpsons showrunner Mike Scully returned to television in 2003 with The Pitts, a horrible abortion of a live-action sitcom that lasted four weeks, and all was right with the universe. Now, there are talks of revitalizing that show, only this time as a cartoon, because the Fox Network is in dire need of another cartoon sitcom about a wacky family. [Hollywood Reporter]