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  1. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by Channel Surfer
    Friday's questions:

    From George Cauldron:

    Every time I see your names listed on the show, they're always credited together. Was the work done between you 50-50? Did one of you write or manage in a completely different style to the other, or would you say you're both very much alike when it comes to comedy?

    From Mohammed Jafar:

    Was there any change in the level of collective staff participation in the writing process (as opposed to the credited writer writing the vast majority of material in a script) when you were showrunners to when Jean & Reiss or David Mirkin were running the show?
    George, Hi-

    When we wrote our Simpsons scripts, it was always both of us sitting at the same computer, going line by line together (having first mapped out the story together, etc.) These days, we have a much more refined system that works much more efficiently, with the same great results, but that's how we did it then.

    (A side note about that computer -- this was the very early days of the internet when most of America was not hooked up. Bill was a very early adapter, logging in to inform those early Simpsons websites about upcoming episodes, etc. This was when logging in was still sort of difficult, at least to me it was!)

    When it came to running the show, we would often split the duties, like one of us would go the editing bay, while the other one ran the room. But we would always keep each other informed (like watching a cut of the show, both of us would watch it, then give the other one notes and that person would stay with the editor, do a pass, etc. This is an incredibly boring detail, isn't it?)

    Do we have similar senses of humor? Absolutely. We've been friends since we were in high school in Washington, D.C., so our sense of humor sort of developed in tandem from that point -- we started a humor magazine together back in that high school and it was from that point on we knew we wanted to work in comedy (as teens, we both liked stuff like National Lampoon, SCTV, that sort of thing.)

    And we've been working together so long, we often know what the other one is thinking or what the other one might do even if they aren't there.

    We are different people, so we have different personalities, but we work very well as a management team, and we've always been big believers in the group effort, where we really listen to people under us (you never know where a great idea might come from), and when those people demonstrate their abilities, we place more trust in them -- for example, we would often have two rewrite rooms going at once, and sometimes one of these rooms might be run by a senior writer, like David Cohen or Steve Tompkins.

    It also helped that we were close to Matt - he was one of our favorite cartoonists when we were in college and he was doing "Life In Hell", and when we finally got to work with him, we found we almost always agreed on things like tone, stories, that sort of thing.

    We also worked extremely closely with the animators, and I think the trust and respect we gave them helped them really rise to the occasion. It also helped that we had animation geniuses like Matt and David Silverman and Brad Bird giving us and them advice.

    Part of the reason the Simpsons is so great is because it's a mammoth group effort by some of the funniest, most talented people around. But is does fall on the showrunner/showrunners to lead the troops. That's one of the reasons why we're so indebted to people like Al & Mike and Dave Mirkin, they taught us how to be great showrunners.

    Definitely more than you wanted to know! Ok, back to work.

  2. #32
    Came 2 Burgle Carnegie Hall billoakley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Channel Surfer

    From Mohammed Jafar:

    Was there any change in the level of collective staff participation in the writing process (as opposed to the credited writer writing the vast majority of material in a script) when you were showrunners to when Jean & Reiss or David Mirkin were running the show?
    The simple answer to your question, MJ, is no, there was no change. In every season, under every showrunner, there are some scripts to be heavily rewritten by the staff collectively and others that go on the air with only minor revisions.

    I think every showrunner would prefer to receive first drafts that could go right on the air, but in the history of the show, there have been only a few writers who could provide them. And even they have their "off days".

    These are the things that determine the "quality" of an episode:
    -The humor inherent in the original notion
    -The quality of the "pitchout" (which is when the whole writing staff sits around tossing out jokes and ideas for the episode, while the showrunner and writer guide the process)
    -The balance between "story" and "jokes" in the episode and the seamless integration of the two
    -The quality of the original writer's outline and first draft
    -The reception of the episode at the Table Reading and Animatic and how many changes are made based on that reception, and how much time there really is to labor over the changes and make them perfect.
    -The way the whole thing comes together as a package

    Some things are uniformly excellent (i.e. the actors' performances and the work of certain directors) and can be counted on reliably.

    Interestingly, however, some excellent, mostly unrevised, first drafts have resulted in mediocre and unmemorable episodes.

    And at least a couple all-time favorite episodes resulted from nearly unusable first drafts. After the showrunner and staff get over the initial disappointment with the script, sometimes a crazy, let's-stay-up-all-night, kick-out-the-jams and get really silly attitude prevails... writers get giddy and start riffing off each other... and this sometimes results in a classic episode.

  3. #33


    Monday's Questions:

    From Tomacco:

    I, for one, would love to know this dynamic duo got into TV, especially The Simpsons. I think it would be interesting, and perhaps inspirational for the kiddies here who someday would like to be in the same field.

    From Jeremy:

    For Mission Hill, what was the biggest hurdle in creating the show, and then getting it to DVD?

  4. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by Channel Surfer
    Monday's Questions:

    From Tomacco:

    I, for one, would love to know this dynamic duo got into TV, especially The Simpsons. I think it would be interesting, and perhaps inspirational for the kiddies here who someday would like to be in the same field.

    From Jeremy:

    For Mission Hill, what was the biggest hurdle in creating the show, and then getting it to DVD?
    Hello, Tomacco!

    HOW DID WE GET INTO TV?

    I briefly mentioned our early years together in High School in Washington, D.C. so I'll skip to our college days. Though we went to different colleges, we each worked for the humor magazines at our respective schools. Working on those magazines gave us a lot more training for writing for TV than any classes we took.

    After college, we wrote a bunch of sample "spec" material for SNL and "Late Night with David Letterman," hoping to get jobs there. Nothing happened with that, so we moved back to D.C., where Bill got a job doing publicity for "America's Most Wanted" and I worked in an advertising agency (my crowning achievement there was I got to write a newspaper ad for an Ikea bookcase. Also a lamp. Wow.) Not exactly breaking into it bigtime, but they were paying jobs in the media and we were grateful to have them.

    Our first luck came when we got hired to write for a game show on the HA! Network in New York, which was a very early form of Comedy Central (HA! merged with the Comedy Channel in the 1990's and became The Comedy Network.). So we moved to NYC, which was much more fun than stodgy old D.C.

    After the gameshow, we wrote for a funny talk/variety show on HA! which was co-hosted by a then relatively unknown Denis Leary. During that time, we also wrote some articles for Spy magazine. Our editor at Spy then got hired to run a variety show on NBC in LA. He hired us and we moved to LA in 1991.

    That show -- "Sunday Best" -- was cancelled after 3 episodes! So there we were, stuck in LA without a job. To get hired on a sitcom, you need to have a sample script -- a "spec" script. The spec script we had was good but not great. And it was for a show we liked, but didn't love. It didn't really get us much attention, and we were unemployed for many, many months.

    Our agent then gave us great advice -- he said we should write a sample for a show that we really loved, because it will show in the writing. At that time, "Seinfeld" had been on only a few times. We loved that show, and though we also loved "The Simpsons," we knew that a sample for an animated show would not be as well-received as one for a live action show. That's one of the crocks associated with "The Simpsons" -- even though it was and is the best written show on TV, a lot of people in the industry poo-poo it because it's a "cartoon".

    Anyway, we wrote a spec "Seinfeld" that was really inspired and it got us a lot of attention. Al Jean and Mike Reiss read it, along with some of our other sample material, and gave us our biggest break ever -- they said we could write an episode for the show -- not get hired on staff, but write this episode freelance, and if people liked it, maybe there'd be some hope later (the staff was still composed of all the original guys -- or "gods" I should say -- and there were no openings). That episode was "Marge Gets A Job". They liked what we did.

    Meanwhile, through our spec script (and I think the fact that we were assigned a "Simpsons" episode) we got an offer to work on another sitcom, this one by "Murphy Brown" creator Diane English. Of course, we were incredibly excited about this -- a real sitcom job working for one of the great writer/creators -- but, our first love was "The Simpsons". So before we totally committed to that job, we wasked our agent to ask Mike and Al if there were any openings. And there were! Jay Kogen and Wally Wolodarsky were leaving. A team! So Mike and Al hired us! Hooray -- one of the happiest days of my life.

    When we got there, I was totally intimidated. Here in the room were 10 of the greatest minds in comedy (Guys like George Meyer helped create Modern Comedy. And Conan, though he was the most junior guy on staff next to us, well, he was still Conan -- every day was like watching the Conan show in person) So we were pretty quiet for the first couple of weeks, but we finally got up our courage and started pitching jokes and ideas. And when people started laughing, we finally felt like we had made it...

  5. #35
    Came 2 Burgle Carnegie Hall billoakley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Channel Surfer
    Monday's Questions:

    From Jeremy:

    For Mission Hill, what was the biggest hurdle in creating the show, and then getting it to DVD?
    Jeremy,
    Thanks for this question, I could go on for hours about this topic. The interesting thing is that there were ALMOST NO HURDLES at all in creating MH and getting it on the air. However, the sad treatment it received AFTER we created it exemplifies the insane nature of network TV.

    We created the show in 1997 right after we left the Simpsons. As I've said elsewhere, we created it because on the Simpsons there are very few characters between 12 and 25 we thought we could build a whole universe out of that, with all the stories and characters built to service that world.

    We sold the show to the WB Network -- which had not yet premiered Buffy or Dawson's Creek -- and had yet to define itself as the teenage girl network. After they saw the script and the designs Lauren did, they ordered 13 episodes right off the bat. It was amazingly smooth and fun and easy. The WB clearly thought the show was going to be "their Simpsons".

    They loved the first 13 so much they even ordered five more episodes to be written and storyboarded.

    Then the trouble began. This was the time that every single network was rushing to put on "their" animated series. You may remember Stressed Eric and God, the Devil, and Bob, et al, etc. The whole genre was about to be incredibly devalued as America was flooded with these things. So we lobbied the WB to put the show on a.s.a.p., not to wait for midseason 1999-2000 but to get it on in fall 1999. They had no other new comedies that fall. So they put us on at 8:00 p.m. on Fridays (a night they had never broadcast on before), followed by their old stalwarts "The Wayans Bros.", "The Steve Harvey Show", and "The Jamie Foxx Show".

    Mission Hill was SO INCOMPATIBLE with these shows in SO MANY WAYS it boggles the mind. Perhaps the WB was just trying to make us happy, put the show on in the fall, and they assumed MH would be such a smash hit right out of the box that it would launch this whole new night for them.

    But they barely advertised the show at all. No one knew it was on, no one even knew what the WB was or that it broadcast on Friday night anyway. Certainly not the kind of people that would like MH.

    Of course, the show went on and got a bad rating. They aired it one more time, then determined it was dragging down the other three incompatible shows, and cancelled us.

    It was the single most aggravating thing that has ever happened in our career.

    Sadly, we learned the ultimate lesson about network (not necessarily cable) TV. It is a big irrational monster that only responds to one thing -- ratings. Because ratings equals ad dollars. Period.

    Anyway, a few years later Cartoon Network picked up the show and started airing it when they began Adult Swim and it really caught on with just the type of people we had intended it for. (Turns out there's only about 10,000 of them in America.) Furthermore, it began to air all over the world and continues to do so. It really speaks to a certain type of person -- certainly not the average network TV viewer.

    We still get two or three emails every day from all over the world from fans of the show, through the MH website. In fact, this morning, the three we got were from Brazil, Venezuela, and Canada where I guess the show is still airing.

    As far as the DVD, we and our agent finally tracked down the person who makes the DVD decisions at Warners about 2 years ago and began to lobby them. Predictably, they had never even heard of the show (which they owned). We sent over some tapes, they liked it, and gave the go ahead and the DVD's come out in three weeks.

    I don't think we personally will ever make one cent from them because Warner Bros must make back all the money they spent on the series before they give us dime one -- and that is very unlikely considering how "cult-y" Mission Hill is. But are definitely proud as we feel the show coming out on DVD sort of provides a decent Viking funeral for the saga of the show.

    Anyway, thanks for giving me the opportunity to rant.

    Bill
    Last edited by billoakley; 10-31-2005 at 02:52 PM.

  6. #36


    From Radioactive Man:

    What was the worst/most difficult thing about being showrunners?

    From Robertuybrush:

    Who is/are your favorite character/s? I know, so typical, but I'm curious.

  7. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by Channel Surfer
    From Radioactive Man:

    What was the worst/most difficult thing about being showrunners?

    From Robertuybrush:

    Who is/are your favorite character/s? I know, so typical, but I'm curious.
    Hello, Radioactive Man!

    WHAT WAS THE WORST/MOST DIFFICULT THING ABOUT RUNNING THE SHOW?

    Creatively, it was totally satisfying -- it was the huge load of work - the time required - that presented the biggest challenge. As I said above, the showrunner has about 10 different jobs to take care of every week (supervising writing, editing, animation, directing the actors, music, etc.) every week. And basically, because you're really supervising 2 seasons at once at any one time, the job is a 51 Week-A-Year job.

    And you don't even have weekends off. Just when you think you can relax, a huge, thick packet of storyboards arrives at your door, and you must go over them, make notes, etc. to hand in on Monday.

    Another thing that sucked was when an animatic would come back that obviously had problems and we knew we had a big rewrite ahead of us.

    And, occasionally, guest stars could be bizarrely difficult (listen to our commentary on "Marge Be Not Proud" about working with Lawrence Tierney).

    The most satisfying thing I think was when we would have a really great table read, where everything was clicking, the actors, the writing, etc. and people would come away from it going "Wow!". Also, because it was a break from the rewrite room, directing the actors and seeing them work was immensely satisfying.

  8. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by Channel Surfer

    From Robertuybrush:

    Who is/are your favorite character/s? I know, so typical, but I'm curious.

    Josh's answer:
    When I initially started on the show (Season Three), my favorite character was Barney. The simple reason why: he was just funny, the voice was funny, and the drunk jokes were funny.

    But after a couple years, I got kind of tired of Barney as that stuff wore thin comedically. Then my favorite character became Comic Book Guy.

    It's probably obvious, but what makes CBG so appealing that he's such a meticulously worked-out and well-drawn stereotype who always has something funny to say, something that satirizes that type of person. Some of the characters on the Simpsons are age-old stereotypes (wacky drunk, dumb police chief, crooked mayor) but others are delightful new stereotypes which had never been seen before the Simpsons. CBG is one of these.

    Bill's answer:
    No question -- Superintendent Chalmers. Chalmie is the one Simpsons action figure I actually keep on my desk. I know he's a weird choice cause he's so dry but here's what I like about him:

    He is the one adult in Springfield who seems like he's almost a normal, serious person and not a wacky kook. Yet he is constantly forced into situations where he has to deal with wacky kooks or sweaty liars like Skinner trying to pass off utter absurdities as the truth. I always find this type of character funny; he's a little like Oliver Wendell Douglas on "Green Acres" who was clearly the only sane man in a town full of nuts.

    This is why I chose Chalmers (or Chalmers and Skinner, his comedic foil) to write for, for my segment of "22 Short Films About Springfield." And when we had the staff baseball jerseys made up, mine was embroidered with "Supt. Chalmers".

    I realize Chalmers would be uninteresting on his own, but thrown into the sea of kookiness that is Springfield, it's funny to see him react.

    (As far as the regular, more funny-on-their-own characters go, I always love a good Prof. Frink gag.)

  9. #39


    From Veryjammy:

    Several members of the board believe there to be an increase in 'dark' episodes and humour during Season 8. Were any conscious decisions made between Seasons 7 and 8 about the style or type of episodes you wanted to put out?

    From Random Viewer Guy:

    Besides the controversial Don Brodka line, what are the funniest (or stupidest) network notes you've ever received?

  10. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by Channel Surfer
    [i]

    From Random Viewer Guy:

    Besides the controversial Don Brodka line, what are the funniest (or stupidest) network notes you've ever received?
    RVG,

    You may have heard that the Simpsons was/is in the almost unique position of not having to receive network creative notes. This is because when Jim and Matt and Sam created the show in the late 80's, they had so much clout and Fox was so eager to be in business with them that it was agreed at the outset that Fox would NOT BE ALLOWED to give creative notes on the show. Ever. In fact, network execs are not even allowed to come to the table readings. (Sometimes, we would allow the cooler, friendlier execs to come purely as a courtesy).

    However, the show is NOT exempt from the other two types of notes: 1) censor notes and 2) legal notes. As far as legal notes, we had the coolest Fox lawyer (a guy named Anatole Klebanow) who let us get away with virtually everything because it was his contention that people understood that since the show was a well-known satire and it was animated, that much of the libelous/slanderous material on the show was automatically understood by the viewers to be a joke. This is how we got away with saying certain candies were poison, certain brands of cars sucked, etc., etc.

    I do know that some Fox sponsors were not happy with the treatment they received (GM was mad about Flanders' crappy Yugo joke, I can't remember which episode but I think it was season 5) and I know that people from Anheuser-Busch actually came to the show to try to convince us to stop badmouthing beer after "Duffless". (And they didn't even give us any free beer! You can see where that got them.)

    Censor notes were another story. Censors are an independent body and they do not answer to any other network execs. It was our standard policy to ignore all their notes. Primarily because the shows often changed so much between first draft and final color delivery that most of the lines/scenes that they were mad about might be cut (just for comedy reasons, time, whatever) before we finished the show.

    There were a few occasions where we did come in conflict (and I know this is the meat of your question), but they were fairly predictable:

    1. Too many mentions of the word "ass". They also didn't like "scumbag" but I think we got it through.
    2. Drug references. There were at least two jokes involving bongs that I believe got cut.
    3. "Taste" issues. These are the good ones. The Brodka one, you might recall, actually DID GET CUT without our permission. They just snipped it out when we delivered the show and broadcast it their way. Fortunately, Jim went ballistic on them.

    And the other good one (and sadly, the only other one I remember) was with the ENTIRE "Homer's Phobia" episode. The censor notes were delivered by fax after the script went out and usually contained two or three typewritten sentences like "Please delete or replace for Homer's mention of the word 'scumbag' on Page 35."

    But after the "Homer's Phobia" script went out, they sent THREE SOLID PAGES of censor notes!!! They felt the whole episode, the whole area, was unsuitable for broadcast and then, additionally, felt every single line mentioning the word "gay" or dealing with the topic at all had to be deleted or replaced. As usual, we just went ahead an ignored them.

    When John Waters came to record his lines, we asked him what he thought -- whether he thought anything in the episode was offensive (of course, he did direct "Pink Flamingos", so... whatever) and he said that no, that he thought gay people would love it and in fact there was only one offensive thing in the whole episode which was when Homer called him a "fag". We immediately changed that to "queer" and had Dan record it that way.

    The censor notes kept coming, full and furious, through the record draft, the animatic, and so on.

    But between the time the animatic went to Korea and the color version came back, the president of the network was fired and a new president was installed.

    And after the color screening copy went out to the censors (unchanged from the original except for the substitution for "fag", with none of their 23 other notes addressed), this is what their fax said:

    "Acceptable for broadcast."

    Go figure.

  11. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by Channel Surfer
    From Veryjammy:

    Several members of the board believe there to be an increase in 'dark' episodes and humour during Season 8. Were any conscious decisions made between Seasons 7 and 8 about the style or type of episodes you wanted to put out?
    Hi, Veryjammy!

    I hadn't ever thought about this before you brought it up just now -- there certainly was not any conscious effort to make darker episodes. But looking back, I would agree the following episodes could be interpreted as "dark":

    A Milhouse Divided
    Hurricane Neddy
    Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie
    Homer's Enemy

    For those episodes, we did not set out to do something dark, but rather:

    A Milhouse Divided - We wanted to do an episode about divorce, and a real divorce, not a "sitcom divorce" where the couple get back together at the end of the episode. Obviously Homer and Marge couldn't and wouldn't get divorced (though Homer considers it in this episode), so we chose the Van Houtens. It fit nicely, too, in that it seemed to explain Milhouse's behavior.

    Hurricane Neddy - We wanted to do an episode that explained why Ned was the way he is. And it is true that, oftentimes, people who are so insanely happy and upbeat have dark things in their past that they're trying to make up for or cover up.

    Poochie - This was just to do a show about the show, and cover everything we could think of. Plus, we just loved the crudilicious idea of Poochie.

    Homer's Enemy - We wanted to do an episode where the thinking was "What if a real life, normal person had to enter Homer's universe and deal with him?" I know this episode is controversial and divisive, but I just love it. It really feels like what would happen if a real, somewhat humorless human had to deal with Homer. (There was some talk here on NHC about the ending -- we just did that because a)it's really funny and shocking, 2) We like the lesson of "sometimes, you just can't win" - the whole Frank Grimes episode is a study in frustration and hence Homer has the last laugh and 3)We wanted to show that in real life, being Homer Simpson could be really dangerous and life threatening, as Frank Grimes sadly learned. Poor Grimey.)

    I think one thing that makes the Simpsons so great is it looks at life unflinchingly, and everyday life can be agonizingly dark or amazingly wonderful and everything in between.

    Then again, it's just a cartoon...

  12. #42


    From Roarke:

    As a dweller in los angeles, i've wondered what staples of LA culture (or hidden treasures) you two, or the simpsons crew in general, partook in. favorite lunch places? late night think tank sessions locations? so i beg of you, satisfy my curiosity and maybe i'll get a new favorite place to dine out of it.

    From FuzzyWuzzyWuzABear:

    There seemed to be a big increase in quality in animation from season 6 to season 7 and then from season 7 to season 8. It's very noticeable even from 2F22 (Lemon of Troy) to 3F01 (Home Sweet Home...) to me. Were there any immediate changes in techniques of animation, or was it just the animation getting gradually better over time?

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    From FuzzyWuzzyWuzABear:

    There seemed to be a big increase in quality in animation from season 6 to season 7 and then from season 7 to season 8. It's very noticeable even from 2F22 (Lemon of Troy) to 3F01 (Home Sweet Home...) to me. Were there any immediate changes in techniques of animation, or was it just the animation getting gradually better over time?[/QUOTE]

    Hi, FuzzyWuzzyWuzABear!

    There were no changes in techniques of animation -- I think a large factor was that the show was really hitting its stride, and there were a number of animators who had been on the show for years and had totally honed their crafts.

    A few other factors could be:

    1) We instituted some extra steps in the actual process, one being that we met with the director and their team immediately following the table reading, going over the script page-by-page, telling him/her what we had in mind for specific scenes, designs for new characters and locations, that sort of thing, as well as getting their suggestions. From that point on, we maintained a very close relationship with the director and their team (storyboard artists, designers, layout people, etc.) throughout the 10 month long process. This also included intensive storyboard meetings as well, where we'd give notes on individual shots, jokes, etc.

    2) Obviously, the talents of the individual directors plays an important part. There was, and is, an awesome crew of animators at Film Roman. We got to know them pretty well, and that helped us determine which director was best for which episode. (i.e., Suzie Dietter always had an awesome sense of color, you can see that in episodes like "Home Sweet Home Diddly, etc.")

    3) During our time, both David Silverman and Brad Bird were very involved. These guys -- as you probably know -- are animation geniuses and we encouraged all the involvement we could get from them. (Brad always approached things in a fun, unusual way -- we wanted some footage to look old-timey and Brad suggested we take the actual film into a parking lot and run over it a few times! I remember particularly liking that suggestion, because it meant somebody would get to go outside for once!)

    David's back on the show now, and that's awesome news for the future of the Simpsons.

    Brad, I'm not sure whatever became of him...

  14. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by Channel Surfer
    From Roarke:

    As a dweller in los angeles, i've wondered what staples of LA culture (or hidden treasures) you two, or the simpsons crew in general, partook in. favorite lunch places? late night think tank sessions locations? so i beg of you, satisfy my curiosity and maybe i'll get a new favorite place to dine out of it.
    Great question, Roarke.
    But first, two others items:

    1. Yesterday, I referred to Ned's Yugo. I later realized I intended to say his Geo, and the episode I was referencing was "Homer Loves Flanders".

    2. Tomorrow is our last day for the Q/A session and I want to say to all of NHC how much fun this has been and how great your Q's have been. We will return, however, a couple of weeks after the release of the Season 7 DVD's to answer all your questions about those shows and our commentaries on the DVD's, etc.

    Okay, now onto the more interesting subject of food.

    As Josh indicated in an earlier post, running and/or writing for the Simpsons is an incredible amount of work. It can get monotonous sometimes. Day after day of sitting in the same room with the same dozen (mostly) guys. And the only change of pace, the only thing that varies from day to day, and provides a break from the endless work -- is FOOD!

    During the years we were there, many people were overweight because there was such a temptation to get up, go into the snack room, and spice up your day with 2000 calories of junk. Many people gained at least 20 pounds after starting at the show. I myself, after Simpsons and Mission Hill, went on a diet and lost 65 pounds. I know Mike Reiss dropped at least that many.

    Also, you'd always want to give yourself a treat by ordering a really complex lunch with an appetizer and entree and dessert and maybe even something for later, or to take home. On rare occasions, people would order a whole pie and eat it during the day! And two or three milkshakes, which they would put in the fridge and sip during the day! I am not kidding, this really happened.

    The show pays for your lunch, and there is a selection of menus. Normally, the person whose script we were working on would pick a restaurant and we'd all order and a production assistant would go pick everything up. Lunch was served at the show -- usually we'd have a brief break but sometimes we'd just keep on working as we ate.

    The best restaurant we ordered from was the Apple Pan. West LA on Pico, near the Fox lot, and arguably the best burgers in LA. Been around since the 20's or 30's, I think. If you've lived in LA for a long time, you've probably been there. We also ordered from Louise's Italian and Baja Fresh, neither of which I'm really crazy about. One time Dan Greaney made us all order from Weinerschnitzel and people just about killed him.

    I suspect you're looking for the restaurants/bars/clubs where the Simpsons staff hung out. There weren't any, we never left the office. The only time in the history of the show (to my knowledge) when the whole writing staff went out to lunch was that time between Seasons Four and Five that I mentioned earlier, where Conan and Dan McGrath and Josh and me were the entire staff. We all got in Conan's Ford Taurus and drove to Malibu to eat at the Reel Inn (which is awesome, by the way, on the PCH) and then drove up to the Malibu Country Mart to have ice cream cones. Ah, that was sweet.

    On Mission Hill, we encouraged people to get out of the office more and one time, we and the whole staff drove to Long Beach to eat at Johnny Reb's, which is my favorite restaurant in L.A. They have great, authentic Southern food and real Dixie beer which is impossible to find around here. We also had them cater our parties at Mission Hill.

    Now, our favorite work-related restaurant is Swingers (in Santa Monica), which is one block from our office.

  15. Thumbs Up To This Post by: Dark Homer

  16. #45


    Well, it looks like it's the final two questions then for a bit. Hopefully the next time we do this will be as interesting as this has been these past two weeks.

    From Binky:

    Have you produced any pilots (animated or live action) that never saw the light of day?

    From Veryjammy:

    The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase is an episode which seems to split fans right down the middle. Some argue that it is a sharp parody of the inanity of network television, while others claim that it is written so accurately, it actually becomes what it attempts to parody. How did you come up with this unusual concept, and, looking back, how do you view the episode?

  17. #46
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    Quote Originally Posted by Channel Surfer

    From Veryjammy:

    The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase is an episode which seems to split fans right down the middle. Some argue that it is a sharp parody of the inanity of network television, while others claim that it is written so accurately, it actually becomes what it attempts to parody. How did you come up with this unusual concept, and, looking back, how do you view the episode?
    Thanks for this, VJ. I am solidly in the first camp. I believe it is a sharp parody of network television. I don't believe it could actually "become" what it attempts to parody in any real sense because it's presented through the lens of the Simpsons -- how could the Simpsons "become" a terrible variety show from the 1970's, a crappy late 60's sitcom, or an cheesy action show from the 1980's?

    I can see the argument, however, that to some people it might be NO MORE ENTERTAINING than those crapfests, but then they're not the audience for that particular episode. This episode was produced to entertain people with a vast body of TV knowledge, people who would appreciate the spot-on satirization of those shows because they had grown up watching them. Most of those people are probably at least 35 years old now, if not more.

    We were well aware that not every episode we produced would appeal to everybody -- even at the earliest stages of the George Bush show and Frank Grimes, et al., we knew there was no chance that more than 20% of the viewers would understand or like what we were doing. (BTW, there were several people on the show who were violently opposed to '22 Short Films' and I would say the table reading was one of our least successful, but I think looking back that's definitely one of the best episodes we did and is generally regarded as such.)

    But that is the great thing about the Simpsons -- we got the opportunity to TRY these weird things. In the regular world of TV, where network execs breathe down your neck and have to approve the stories, at least a third of all great Simpsons episodes would never have seen the light of day, because they were too controversial, too "out-there", too silly, etc.

    As for this particular episode, like Josh mentioned earlier, we always wanted to do at least two episodes per season that "pushed the envelope", expanded the definition of what an episode could be. I'm not sure who had the original notion for this one, but we immediately loved it when we heard it -- a Halloween-show style anthology episode where each act would be a proposed "spin-off" of the Simpsons. I believe the writers all pitched an idea or two for a "spin-off" and we picked the ones we liked best and the ones that held the most potential for humor.

    To belabor the obvious, a quick recap -- the Wiggum one is a "Miami Vice"-era crime show, the "Love-Matic Grampa" is one of those 60's-era "I Dream of Jeannie" fantasy-sitcoms, and the Variety Hour is a direct parody of "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour". A viewer's appreciation of the episode will be vastly greater if he/she has seen the things we are satirizing.

    But yes, there's no denying there's a little bit of "sweatiness" to the episode - (that's why Troy McClure is hosting!) - because that's what were were skewering, desperate attempts by network execs and producers to wring more cash out of an aging franchise. In this case, the spin-offs were not "good" by any stretch of the imagination, but they were supposed to be funny in their "non-goodness", i.e. "crumminess".

    Now, I know a lot of people don't find "crumminess" funny. There are some people who can watch all of "Plan 9 From Outer Space" by Ed Wood and be thoroughly entertained, think the crumminess is a hoot. There are many others, myself included, who just find it boring.

    I imagine this is the sydrome you're describing for "The Spin-Off Showcase".

    My person opinion of the episode, VJ, is that it's very good but not in my top ten for 7&8.

    __________________________________________

    So that's it for me. Again, thanks to everyone at NHC for all your intelligent questions. It's really fun to talk Simpsons with a crowd of people who appreciate the show as much as we do, and where the questions are more fun to answer than "Is Smithers gay?" and "Where is Springfield?"

    We'll be back after the Season Seven DVD's come out to chat again about even more arcane Simpsoniana, so see you then!

    Best
    Bill Oakley

  18. #47
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    [QUOTE=

    [i]From Binky:[/i]

    Have you produced any pilots (animated or live action) that never saw the light of day?

    QUOTE]

    Hi, Binky!

    We've made a couple of pilots that didn't go anywhere:

    "The Ruling Class" -- Basically, it was "Animal House" in high school. It was based on our real-life experience in high school, where our class was the worst class in the history of the school. Because everyone else hated our class, everyone within the class got along (the nerds, the jocks, the stoners, etc.) and it was us against the school. We filmed it a few years ago for Fox. It was great, but as often happens in TV, we were told "it didn't fit in their schedule". We heard later that all the people under 40 at Fox loved it, and those over 40 didn't. Guess who made the decisions.

    "Zooburbia" -- Though this didn't get made, it's worth noting. We wrote and sold this animated CGI pilot to Fox a couple of years ago. Tom Hanks' company, Playtone, were the producers and the head director/designer was David Silverman! It was a simple, great idea (not our idea, but a guy named John Carls we were working with)-- A primetime, cutting edge CGI show in the vein of "The Simpsons" with CGI talking animals who lived in a suburban American town. Then a human being moves into the all-animal neighborhood. Anyway, we were doing it at the same time "Father of the Pride" was being developed. That show came on the air, died, and killed the idea of talking CGI animals on primetime TV. Thanks a lot, Siegfried & Roy!

    "The Funkhousers" -- We filmed this live-action pilot for ABC a few years ago, with Frank Oz directing. It was about a big, crazy family that lived in a big, crazy house and really stuck together -- the Dad, Burt Funkhouser, was the leader of the family. He believed in "old-fashioned" family values, really old-fashioned values ("one for all, all for one"), meaning if anyone tangled/messed with any member of the family, the entire Funkhouser clan would get revenge on them. It was a great pilot that I think was ahead of its time. If it was made in today's environment, it might actually get on the air.

    That's because a few years ago, nobody wanted to do "quirky" stuff. It's been said many times that a show like "The Simpsons" would never have gotten the go ahead from around 1992-Today.

    But today, finally, with the success of shows like "My Name Is Earl" and "Everybody Hates Chris", networks are slightly more open to unusual shows.

    So we'll see what happens with our pilots this year...

    THANKS EVERYONE FOR GREAT QUESTIONS! THIS HAS BEEN AN ENTERTAINING TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE FOR US. AND IF WE DIDN'T GET TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION THIS ROUND, MAYBE WE CAN AFTER THE DVD'S COME OUT. I ENCOURAGE ALL OF YOU TO LISTEN TO OUR COMMENTARIES AND THEN BARRAGE US WITH A WHOLE NEW SLEW OF DIFFICULT-TO-ANSWER, TIME-CONSUMING QUESTIONS. KEEP ON ROCKIN' ... FOREVER... FOREVER... FOREVER...

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    Thanks to everyone who submitted questions for this first round. Like they said, we'll be doing this again next month, so don't worry if you didn't get a chance to get a question answered this time around.

    And once again, a BIG thanks to Bill and Josh!
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