Al Jean On The Continued Success Of ‘The Simpsons’
Al Jean has been with The Simpsons since the beginning. It’s hard to believe the show first aired back in 1989 and continues to draw in viewers and fans of all ages, and celebrity voices. Jean a writer, producer and showrunner at the hit show and we caught up to talk about how they keep the show fresh.
We also talk about his dream guest…George Clooney, if you’re reading this!!
The Simpsons is nominated for:
Outstanding Animated Program
Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance
Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation
I still remember The Simpsons when it first aired and here we are decades later.
It’s really beyond comprehension to me. I thought it was going to be a good show and that it was something that would get a lot of attention. I never dreamed that we’d still be going all these years later and that it would be an international hit, a movie, a short that got nominated for an Oscar and everything about it keeps on giving.
What’s the secret to keep it fresh and relevant?
It’s just all hard work between the writing staff and animators. They’re working on something very special and will be seen for years. Nobody wants to put less than their best in. It helps that the characters don’t age. There’s this evergreen quality to it that draws viewers in. If someone goes back and watches it, it doesn’t seem that different from 26 years ago.
What’s it like in the writer’s room and finding the right writer to join?
When I’m looking at a script, I want to see it’s funny first and foremost. I don’t read The Simpson’s scripts. I prefer something like Bob’s Burgers and reading something true to its characters. I meet with the writer and if all goes well, they join the staff.
Unfortunately, we have people are really good who don’t stay. We have had new writers and we had two this year. I’m always trying to look for fresh and diverse writers to join.
This year you had RuPaul voice.
He was great and was really exciting.
How do you pick who gets to be on the show?
We’re really lucky, almost everyone we ask says yes. It usually comes down to who do we really love and who do we think is really funny and a talent that isn’t going to be doing every other show in the world. The great thing is it’s always really funny people coming. We’ve had Patton Oswalt twice on the show now, once before he was really famous.
What were some season highlights?
We broke the record beating Gunsmoke for longest-running primetime show. It was really a big thing.
We had The Scariest Treehouse of Horror episode ever.
We also had an episode where Bart hasn’t had a teacher since Marcia Wallace passed away. We were able to solve that with a line from Marcia after her estate gave us permission to use it, so that was sweet.
The last episode was great with Bart having a nightmare was great and Lisa was making it worse for what he did to her.
I think I revealed my age to you when I said that I remembered the show first airing in the UK. What’s that secret to the wide appeal of the show?
It’s the most wonderful thing in the world that we have kids coming in fresh. Part of the long-term success of the show is that it was always going to be watched by kids because of the animation and the designs are so great.
It was always going to be aimed at adults and is satirical, but unlike a live satirical show, you’re going to have the kids watching even if they don’t understand the jokes. It’s a really great combination. You see it in animated movies if parents can go and enjoy it too, it’s unbelievably profitable.
Eighteen years ago you predicted the Trump presidency. I call Lisa for 2020.
I hope. That’s the only silver lining. I will say the prediction was on target, but it was a little less crazy. He was talking about running back then for the reform party. It was a goofy name but it made some sense. I never dreamed and was as surprised as anyone.
How do you predict something like that?
Someone said in the original draft that it was Johnny Depp instead but Trump was substituted in. I think it’s the fact that we do stuff and no one remembers the things we say that don’t come true. We are working a year ahead on each show. We try to see what people are interested in 2020.
How do you keep the show from not being so political and keeping that formula?
There was more of a middle ground in 1989 where people who sort of had different political views could still like the same thing. Now it’s about picking a side and you have to be one side or the other. As someone who tried showing both sides of an issue it gets harder and harder. The middle ground is really vanishing.
Animation has changed.
We used to do hand drawn in hand contained cells and we moved to computer animation but Matt was always careful to keep the hand-drawn appeal of the show. When we first aired, there was no internet and Google. There may be more people alive who don’t remember a world without The Simpsons.
What’s in store this Halloween?
We have Invasions of the Bodysnatchers where the population is mesmerized by tablets and cellphones and ignore that they’re all being swallowed up. We have the evil giant sea monster having an eating contest with Homer. Mr. Burns tries to make people live longer with dinosaur blood and it turns into geriatric park like Jurassic Park.
You can have one guest. Who would that be?
We’ve tried a few people like George Clooney so we stopped trying. Gal Gadot was really sweet, she watched it with her dad.