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Exclusive: 'THE SIMPSONS' AL JEAN CELEBRATES 400 EPISODES (AND A '24' PARODY) AND THEY STILL HAVEN'T RUN OUT OF IDEAS

The executive producer also teases about what "not" to expect in THE SIMPSONS MOVIE due out this summer


Published 5/8/2007

This Sunday, THE SIMPSONS hits yet another milestone – it’s 400th episode comprising two half-hour episodes (including a 24 parody featuring the voices of Kiefer Sutherland and Mary Lynn Rajskub. So not only is it the longest running animated series on television, it also managed to reach an unheard of episode number without being a reality series, a game show or a soap opera.

It’s a testament to the skill of the writers and producers of the series that has kept it so fresh who will also manage to bring the animated clan to the big screen this summer with THE SIMPSONS MOVIE -- nearly 18 years after the series made its debut on Fox.

Executive Producer Al Jean has been with the show off and on from the beginning and spoke with iF MAGAZINE in this exclusive interview about the longevity of the series, some morsels about the ultra-secretive movie and why the Simpsons clan will never become as long in the tooth as Beaver Cleaver.

iF MAGAZINE: You’ve been with the show for a very long time, yet it still seems so fresh. Why do you think you haven’t exhausted any ideas?

AL JEAN: There are several reasons why the show has lasted as long as it has. I think the way the show was originally created by Matt [Groening], Jim Brooks and Sam Simon. THE SIMPSONS universe is so rich and varied, we can really do different things every week and I think the fact that the characters don’t age and it’s animation. When you watch LEAVE IT TO BEAVER in the final year and suddenly Beaver is nearly an adult, it seems pretty stupid. It doesn’t age as well. Whereas the kids on our show, they’re eternally ten and so on. And we work very hard. We have staff of 20 writers and many more animators who are very dedicated and on the ball.

iF: What has changed for the show over the years?

JEAN: There are a couple of changes that affected the show and one of them is length of the show, which is less. On TV now, when you have a half-hour show, it’s shorter than it’s ever been. Maybe some times we have to do our plots more compactly or do shorter bits. The second change which happened in Season 14, the animation went from hand painted, to digital coloring and there are computer shots in the show now which weren’t there in the beginning. So we can be a bit more ambitious with the shots we select. We did a parody of A PERFECT STORM, where a lot of the animation was computer. We couldn’t do something like that in the second season.

iF: You stay away from becoming too immediate pop culture like FAMILY GUY and SOUTH PARK.

JEAN: We write the shows a year and an advance, and we go through several rewrites and don’t leave it to chance to have anything that seems too timely. I used to work on the TONIGHT SHOW, so I know how things can really date after a couple of weeks and months. We are trying to do something that will hold up after five or ten years, and hopefully will be as funny as the first years.

iF: You've never been very secretive about future episodes coming up with the SIMPSONS, yet everyone’s been very secretive about THE SIMPSONS MOVIE.

JEAN: I’m not even sure why we’re so secretive, but we’ve kept it so well, now we don’t really want to reveal it. There are things we can do with the animation and story we couldn’t do on a television show that’s 30 minutes long. One thing I can’t emphasize enough, when we made the movie, the show had been successful enough. We didn’t want to do something that was an attempt to make money off the show. We really wanted to do something we were proud of and do something that this is a movie that deserved to be a movie.

iF: How do you sustain 90 minutes without it being three half-hour episodes?

JEAN: It’s definitely not [three half-hour episodes]. I can’t discuss what the plot is. It’s a throughoughly thought-out story. It involves the major characters and it has roles for all the main characters in the show people want to see. There are several teasers out there now. From those four clips, people can get an idea of the scope the movie has.

iF: Many times the TV show starts with a B-story and evolves into the A story. Do you do that with the movie?

JEAN: I don’t want to get into details that specifically. We’ve kept the secret so long and so well, now the person who breaks it is going to get killed.

iF: What else can you do with the movie, that you couldn’t do with the series?

JEAN: I’ll give you an example of movies that love. I thought the SOUTH PARK movie. I thought it was brilliant. I think Pixar does terrific work. They’ve showed how you can take a 90-minute animated film and make it as good as anything out there. We’re going to be the true to the style of the show.

iF: Do you think you’ve exhausted every idea and permutation for the series?

JEAN: We really haven’t. Coming up up with Season 19, we have new ideas that we’re enjoying doing. We have an episode where Homer flies in Mr. Burns’ private plane. He loves it so much, he never wants to fly in a regular plane again. That might be our season premiere. Stephen Colbert and Lionel Richie are in it.

iF: The 400th episode coming up.

JEAN: [One of the episodes is a] great satire of what we go through to put something on their air now [with] the FCC [regulations].

iF: You’re doing a 24 parody as well, do you kill off a Springfield character?

JEAN: We talked about having Edgar from 24 coming in to get killed, but we didn’t do it.

iF: Do you have time to work on other things.

JEAN: I work on the show and work on the movie. I couldn’t be happier with what I’m working on. Either job would be great.

iF: Is there ever a SIMPSONS idea that you decide is something you won’t do?

JEAN: There is very little we won’t do, but it should have two things, a real human emotion connected to some member of the family or in Springfield and if you can make a satirical point, that’s even better.

iF: What’s the plans with the SIMPSONS DVDs?

JEAN: I think from now on, we’ll be doing two seasons of DVDs a year, so we’ll catch up by 2012 -- I think that’s when it evens out.

iF: Do you think the show will still be on the air?

JEAN: I hope so. The next big issue is the cast contracts are up after Season 19, but they love doing it.

iF: It would be silly not to do 20, since you’re so close.

JEAN: We’re doing the movie and one reason is it’s a way of bringing attention to how good we think the show is, getting people to watch the show and hopefully, doing more episodes of the show. We’re not doing the movie to end the show, but to keep it going.

iF: At the end of the day, when do you think it would be the end?

JEAN: If the cast didn’t want to do it or if we ran out of ideas. I don’t think the former is imminent and I’m still excited about the shows we’re doing.

iF: What are you doing for the Halloween episode next year?

JEAN: In the Halloween episode we do a thing where Kodos, from Kang and Kodas, lands in the Simpsons backyard. They think he’s a lovable alien, but he tries to kill them all. And we do a segment where Ned Flanders builds a Hell House and then he asks God to make it really powerful.

iF: Are you doing another non-Halloween anthology next season?

JEAN: We’re going to do a Valentine’s Day one in 2008. We always look for a theme, like "revenge" or "Tall Tales" every year and this one will be Valentine’s Day.

Reader Comments

simpsonspedia.net from germany sez....

who had forgot the calendar? this sunday comes the 398th episode

5/9/2007 12:09:05 PM
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