The Simpsons Showrunner Interview

Every summer at the Fox party for the Television Critics Association, I catch up with Al Jean. The showrunner of The Simpsons is always dutifully there, as the show is renewed through season 30 and Fox execs have given every impression of wanting to keep it going. I still have new questions for Jean every year because I’ve watched The Simpsons since they spun off the Tracey Ullman Show shorts in 1989 and every year adds new developments in Springfield.

This interview for season 29 happened before the show let composer Alf Clauson go, oherwise I definitely would have asked about it. That’ll be in next year’s interview, but this interview covers another Simpsons milestone (they will have produced more episodes of television than Gunsmoke), the new Halloween episode and season 18 DVDs. The Simpsons returns Sunday, October 1 on Fox.

Do we have The Simpsons Movie to thank for the last 10 years of Simpsons ideas?

It’s true and also a lot of the HD animation style was sort of developed in the work on the movie. One thing we hoped was that the movie would keep the show going and it’s been 10 years plus from the film. I have to say, we succeeded on that front.

Has it kept it going indefinitely? Fox might’ve said 20 is a nice round number but now they don’t seem to see 30 as an end.

Nor internally. Dana Walden said she doesn’t see any end. Obviously the cast has to be re-signed after season 30 so that’s not a given. Nobody’s told us to think of a last episode or structure the show towards an ending.

Would you have still gone HD if you hadn’t been developing the movie?

Well, we had to. We didn’t have any preparation so it was really lucky we did the movie.

Have you committed to Mrs. Krabappel being a ghost now that she’s shown up with Maude Flanders?

First, we would never use her voice unless it was Marcia [Wallace]. We recorded an episode where there’s a new permanent teacher for Bart but I don’t want to say who it is.

But you still had Mrs. K appear in scenes silently for a little after Marcia Wallace’s death.

That was just a symptom of the fact that we weren’t aware she was so ill. So there were a few shows that had come back where she was in half a scene and a couple episodes where we had her audio. So we used the audio that we had and that was it. When we had her farewell, it was just two lines but that’s all we had.

Are there any milestones coming up this season?

636 where we pass Gunsmoke. That’s really exciting.

Did you devise a specific episode for that?

We never know quite which one they’ll use. We have two in mind. I don’t want to say because I don’t know which one it’ll be.

In what month will 636 air?

March most likely. The other really exciting thing, the DVDs are back December 5. People were very upset that they had been eliminated and I was really, really, really happy to see them back.

Are Blu-rays back too?

No, right now it’s just DVD. It’s so important to just get season 18 out and it’s not up to me. I don’t make money off them. I don’t control them but the people who do, we’ve really got to do this for the fans. So I hope it’s successful because I really want to keep them coming.

Will it still be annual?

If it’s successful. I can’t guarantee anything beyond 18. We’ve recorded 19 so if 18 does well, we could easily put 19 out.

Would the season 19 commentaries be on FXNOW anyway?

Yeah, for 18, 19 and 20. It’s the same ones. If you heard those commentaries, they’re the same ones. We don’t have it in ourselves to talk about ourselves that much.

Does somebody write the menu jokes on the DVDs?

I know Patric Verrone wrote one. He did in the past.

What’s the season premiere?

The season premiere is called “The Serfsons” and it’s an affectionate homage to fantasy like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones where The Simpsons are in a magical medieval time.

What’s this year’s Halloween episode?

There is an Exorcist segment that we previewed at Comic-Con which went over really well. There is a CGI Coraline parody. We have Neil Gaiman voicing the cat and I won’t say what the third one is but it’s the scariest one we’ve ever had.

Is there one in each Halloween trilogy that’s really the genuinely scary one?

Always the last one. At this point people should know what they’re getting but if they’re kids and they watch it, the first one they’ll know it might be the most innocent. We don’t want to lead off with the scariest.

What other guest voices are coming this season?

We have Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from Game of Thrones, Martin Short, Sideshow Bob, Ed Sheeran.

Did you record Ed before his Game of Thrones appearance?

Yes, everybody’s asking about that. I have nothing against him for doing that but I don’t think people will react to ours the same way.

Is he playing Ed Sheeran?

No, he’s playing a character, playing a little older kid in school.

What does Nikolaj play?

I won’t say what he’s playing but it’s a very unusual part.

What are some middle episodes this season?

Ed Sheeran’s in one that’s a parody of La La Land where it’s “Haw Haw Land” where Nelson and Lisa have a romantic thing going. It is a musical. We have an episode where Bart tries to conquer Homer using the book The Art of War. We have an episode where The Simpsons go to New Orleans for the first time. At the same time, Lisa’s given up music so she’s miserable.

Have you thought about any more sequel episodes like “Camp Krustier?”

You know, I was really happy we did “Camp Krustier” but having done it, I didn’t want to approach it by “let’s do another sequel.” That one kind of lent itself. We had the original writer. We generally feel like we had monorail episode. People don’t want to see another one.

“Kamp Krusty” was considered to be an hour long. Did any ideas for the sequel come from those plans?

No, because we never got that far. We never really worked on it any longer than we should. It was hard enough to get the first one to 20 minutes.

Could you do another hour long?

I would doubt that we would because we don’t like to repeat ourselves. We did a live show. We did an hour long. We did VR which we were really happy we got nominated for an Emmy. So I don’t know if we’ll do any other.

What are some new ways you’re pushing the format?

The Halloween show is really different from anything we’ve ever done and the premiere is also pretty different too, so I feel like looking at those two, we’re always trying to do something new. The CGI in the Halloween and the premiere is a whole show in a different time period.

Have you thought about the 2018 Halloween episode yet?

Yeah, but I will say that 2019 will actually time out to be episode 666. That’s exciting.

Do you have something special planned for that?

No, no, we don’t think that far ahead. We have enough trouble dealing with the ramifications of our President Trump prediction.

It’s weird to me that there are grown adults who were born after The Simpsons started.

A lot of people. The shorts started in 1987 so if you’re under 30, there’s no way you would remember the show.

Do you meet fans who came of age in different eras of The Simpsons?

Yeah, it’s really weird to me because I always was looking from the inside out. It was a job and a great job though. Yeah, there are people who tell me that they’re actually really moved when they go to Universal and go to Moe’s Tavern. Wow, I’m happy but I worked on it. It’s probably the way I feel about Disneyland or Spider-Man, things that I grew up with.

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