The Simpsons Folder
The Simpsons Rakes In the D’oh! – An interview with Al Jean, a Simpsons producer
October 15, 2001, By Jason Tanz, Fortune
Homer Simpson isn’t much of an investor–he once bought stock in a company hours before it declared “superduper bankruptcy”–but he still makes money. Between syndication, licensing, and merchandising fees, Fox’s The Simpsons is one of the most profitable sitcoms ever. Officials at News Corp., Fox’s parent, describe the animated series as a “$1 billion asset.”
The show, which enters its 13th year this fall, is the longest-running sitcom on the air and one season short of breaking Ozzie and Harriet’s record. In late September, Fox released The Simpsons–The Complete First Season on DVD. FORTUNE caught up with Al Jean, a Simpsons producer from the start, to talk about Homer, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, and what really goes on at Moe’s Tavern.
Q: If I’d told you in 1989 that you’d still be on the air in 2001 …
A: I would have said, “Get out, you’re crazy. We’ll only last as long as President Bush.”
Q: How would you say the Simpsons as characters have changed over the years?
A: Very minutely. When you have a live-action show, especially one with kids, they grow up, they look different. Suddenly the kid on Leave It to Beaver is six feet tall. On this show, the basic dynamic of the family is really the same as it was.
Q: But you still have to keep things fresh.
A: Well, there’s topical satire. This season we’re going to satirize all these reality shows every chance we get. But we’re conscious of not dating the show too much. You want to be able to watch a show from ’93 and not think it’s completely passe.
Q: What else can we expect to see in the upcoming season?
A: Apu is going to have an affair. Lisa converts to Buddhism, and Richard Gere is a guest star. Homer gets addicted to medicinal marijuana. We have a show where Jon Lovitz returns as the man who loved Marge in high school, and he offers Homer $1 million to try to steal her away. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays [Monty] Burns’ girlfriend; the Internet will be happy to hear about that.
Q: The Simpsons was also one of the early successes for the Fox network. How is it working for Rupert Murdoch?
A: We’ve been given independence to do what we want. They’ve never told us to tone down the jokes. And Rupert himself has been a very good sport about several appearances he’s made on the show.
Q: Some Simpsons viewers are fanatics. Does that get frightening for you?
A: We were at one cast reading in London where this guy came onstage, and he had his whole body tattooed with Simpsons characters, including Ralph Wiggum and Comic Book Guy. That was beyond the pale.
Q: Who are your favorite characters to write for?
A: Well, everyone loves writing for Homer. He’s such an everyman. And some of the things he’s done are things that I’ve done.
Q: Like what?
A: There was an episode where he ate a big submarine sandwich that had turned bad. The one I ate hadn’t actually turned bad, but I was pushing it.
Q: This book, The Simpsons and Philosophy, raises a question that I wanted to run by you. Lenny and Carl: Lenin and Marx?
A: Uh, no. [Pause.] That’s my answer.
Q: What is Moe really like? Behind the scenes?
A: You know, [he’s] pretty scary. He seems to have people buried in the bar, and he runs pandas out the back. I really don’t want to probe it too deeply.
Q: One final question: Can I have a job?
A: The way people apply is they submit a spec TV script.
Q: Oh, come on. You can’t cut me some slack?
A: No. Sorry.