Interview with The Simpsons Show Runner Al Jean
Today, IGN.com caught up with Al Jean, Showrunner of The Simpsons, hers the Interview:
Show Runner Al Jean reveals that they hope to bring The Simpsons to Season 60!
IGN: Season 14 has just hit retail. What's the most memorable episode of that season for you, and why?
Al Jean: Well, there are two things. I have become vaguely aware that some people say "The Simpsons hasn't been funny since season 8 (7?) (9?) (ever?) I am the last person in the world to be objective, but I would like to quote what Wikipedia says about The Simpsons Fourteenth Season:
Episodes of the fourteenth season won several awards, including two Primetime Emmy Awards. "Three Gays of the Condo" became the eighth episode of the series to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming less than One Hour). Hank Azaria won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance for voicing various characters in the episode "Moe Baby Blues".It was Azaria's third Emmy in that category. The song "Everybody Hates Ned Flanders" (music by Alf Clausen, lyrics by Ian Maxtone-Graham and Ken Keeler) from "Dude, Where's My Ranch?" received a nomination for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Music and Lyrics.
The show also won four Annie Awards, including its 12th consecutive in the Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Television Production category. The other awards won were Best Directing in an Animated Television Production (Steven Dean Moore for "'Scuse Me While I Miss the Sky"), Best Music in an Animated Television Production (Alf Clausen, Ken Keeler and Ian Maxtone-Graham for"Dude, Where's My Ranch?") and Best Writing in an Animated Television Production (Matt Warburton for "Three Gays of the Condo"). "The Dad Who Knew Too Little" (written by Matt Selman) won a Writers Guild ofAmerica Award in 2004 in the animation category. "Moe Baby Blues",written by J. Stewart Burns, was also nominated in the category.
The series was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Musical or Comedy Series in 2003. It was the first time The Simpsons had been nominated for the award. The episode "'Scuse Me While I Miss the Sky", nominated for an Environmental Media Award for Best Television Episodic Comedy. Chris Ledesma was nominated for the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing in Television Animation – Music for his work on "Large Marge".
Additionally, we won an AFI award for the calendar year 2002 (the only time the show has ever won). What I also can't forget about season 14 is the Fox News parody we did in Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington—it aired on the eve of the Iraq war, and the difficult process of getting it to air is detailed on the commentary for the episode.
I also want to add that a really memorable thing about the Season 14 DVD itself is the great guest voices we got to do the commentaries, including David Byrne, Scott Thompson, Weird Al, Tony Hawk and Mark Hoppus. Some of them I hadn't met the first time around; it was a real thrill to have them in (or on the phone).
IGN: How did the reaction for "Three Gays of the Condo" compare to that for "Homer's Phobia"? Had American society changed – or become more accepting – in the intervening years? How far do you think it has come towards accepting gay people now, and what role does a show like The Simpsons have in promoting such ideals?
Al Jean: Homer's Phobia is a great episode—like "Three Gays of the Condo", it won an emmy. What I wanted to build to in the latter episode was the moment where Homer is surprised by a kiss from his roommate Grady (voiced by Scott Thompson, who appears on the episode commentary with a great anecdote about Queen Elizabeth) and wondering if it was better than any kiss he'd had from Marge. There is no question you could never have done that sort of thing on a television show, much less a cartoon, before the 90s.
IGN: How has the energy of the writer's room changed over the years? How hard is it to maintain the energy and creativity of staff, and to keep the process as collaborative as it needs to be?
Al Jean: The one thing about the writers' room that hasn't changed is that everyone believes the show is the greatest job they've ever had, and we work our asses off to keep it fresh. With the luxury of success, we've been able to hire more writers than we had in the beginning, but nobody ever takes anything for granted, and we're always working like every episode is our last. I can say that during the span of my career, the introduction of word processing and google have revolutionized writing to a degree that it is impossible to believe we ever did without them.
Some of the stars that had cameos in "How I Spent My Strummer."
IGN: What episode are you most proud of writing, or being involved with?
Al Jean: I love so many episodes in different ways, but there will always be an amazing quality to the first Christmas episode "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" which I worked heavily on (even the title was mine), along with Matt, Sam Simon, Jim Brooks and Mike Reiss. I remember seeing it completed and thinking this is far, far and away the best thing I had ever been involved with in my career. I hope I've topped it since.
IGN: Do you think there's a danger that parodying modern media – whether that's reality TV or the latest blockbuster film – will date too quickly? Do you think modern popular culture is less enduring than classics of old? And if so, how do you try and ensure that those episodes will still work, years down the line?
Al Jean: I always think about what an episode will look like five years from now. That doesn't mean we can't satirize popular culture—we parodied The Shining over a decade after it premiered, and I am confident that our Charlie Brown Halloween parody will still resonate with viewers for a long time to come. But we try to weed out commentary of the moment that won't be as funny a year after we write it, when the episode originally airs (much less so years down the line). If I had to do it over again I wouldn't have made a "Joe Millionaire" joke in "The Regina Monologues". I'm afraid no one reading this has any idea what that means.
IGN: Now that the show has been picked up through to season 25, how long do you think it will go for? You jokingly told EW "30 seasons" recently, but how much longer do you think will make sense? How long do you think it should go for?
Al Jean: 60 seasons.
IGN: There's been some talk of an all-Simpsons cable channel. Would you like to see that happen? How likely do you think it is?
Al Jean: I am always happy for the world to see more Simpsons, but even with the number of episodes we have they'd burn through them in a little over a week. I think they're going to have to do a reality show about the writers' lives to fill the time. And trust me, that's a show no one wants to see.
IGN: The commentaries on The Simpsons DVD releases are some of the best around. With so many episodes under your belts, how do you even remember such specific anecdotes on episodes that you may have worked on ten years earlier?
Al Jean: I am blessed with a pretty good memory, as are most of the writers on the staff. The show has always had such unforgettable people behind the scenes, episodes that I worked on twenty years ago seem as recent as ones we did last week. (I still work in the same room, which in fact is the room I have physically spent most of my life in. It's an odd feeling.)
IGN: How did the move to fully digital production affect the show? Do you miss the imperfections of the old days, such as characters looking off-model? Do the artists and animators take steps to try and avoid clinical precision in the look in order to give it more personality?
Al Jean: We discuss the digital conversion quite a bit on the commentaries (I've heard it can even be used as a drinking game). We have always kept the hand drawn look, even as we've gone with digital color and high-def (and made a movie) because there is a charm and an emotional quality to those drawings that we never want to lose.
IGN: Aside from The Simpsons, what's the funniest show on television right now?
Al Jean: The two TV shows I always make time for are The Daily Show and Mad Men.
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