Interview with Al Jean of "The Simpsons" on FOX - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite
 

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By Suzanne

Al Jean 

Interview with Al Jean of "The Simpsons" on FOX 9/19/16

It's always great to speak with Al Jean. He's been great about talking to us about the show every Fall. It's so amazing that the show is almost 30! The season premiere is pretty good. I hope you enjoy this fun interview. It's a shame more people didn't turn up to ask questions, but I guess you never know with these calls how many people will show.

Final Transcript
FBC PUBLICITY: Al Jean Conference Call
September 19, 2016/1:00 p.m. PDT

SPEAKERS
Michael Roach
Al Jean

PRESENTATION

Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the Al Jean Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. Instructions will be given at that time. [Operator instructions.] And as a reminder, this conference is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the conference over to our host, Mr. Michael Roach. Please go ahead.

Michael: Thanks, everyone, for joining us today on this conference call with executive producer and show owner, Al Jean, on behalf of the Season 28 premiere of The Simpsons titled “Monty Burns Fleeing Circus” which premieres this Sunday, September 23rd at 8 p.m./7 Central on FOX.

And, Stacy, we’re ready to begin the call.

Moderator: Okay. Would you like to take questions at this time?

Al: Yes. That would be great.

Moderator: Okay. One second here, just give me a second to bring this up. Alright. [Operator instructions.]

Our first question comes from the line of Suzanne Lanoue. Please go ahead.

Suzanne: Hi. Good morning.

Al: Good morning.

Suzanne: I was wondering—was it the 27th season?

Al: The 28th.

Suzanne: The 28th. Are you already planning something big for Season 30?

Al: Well, we will definitely go at least a little into Season 29. The cast is signed for two years beyond that, but we haven’t officially been picked up for Seasons 29 and 30. I think we will be, but that’s just my guess. So, no, can’t plan it yet, but hoping—fingers crossed.

Suzanne: Okay. Oh, I’m sure. They’ve got to at least let you get to 30, I mean, my gosh, who wouldn’t do that?

Al: I know.

Suzanne: I watched the premiere, and I enjoyed it. It’s always good to see Mr. Burns and his background stuff.

Al: Thank you very much.

Suzanne: I would think after all this time, though, do you have trouble, not just—I don’t mean coming up with ideas but like character history, little things like that that define the character’s history?

Al: Well, the amazing thing, there’s so many characters on the show that people are interested in, and if you explore their pasts or their connections with each other that haven’t been seen on the show, there seems to be a relatively, an almost infinite number of combinations and plots you could do. So, it’s hard, it definitely gets harder as the years go by but it’s not impossible and we really love doing it.

Suzanne: Alright. Well, we appreciate all the hard work you guys do. It’s a great show. Thanks a lot for talking to me today.

Al: Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you. And our next question comes from Tara Bennett with Blastr.com. Please go ahead.

Tara:
Hi, Al. Thanks so much for doing the call.

Al: My pleasure.

Tara:
I wanted to ask about the “Treehouse of Terror”. It was the 600th episode. You guys have been doing these, and they’re always wonderful every year, so when you know it’s a milestone episode and you’ve been doing them for so many years, and have used so many things in the horror genre as inspiration already, where did you guys start this year in terms of planning and writing and how to shake it up?

Al: We weren’t sure which one was going to be the 600th, and we were just doing a Treehouse show. It came out, even by our standards for those episodes which are quite high, we thought very well. And so at that point we thought it would be—what was great was the 600th episode will air October 16th, so we could make that the Treehouse and it wouldn’t be out of place.

Because in the past, I have to admit, we’ve said things like that the 302nd episode was really the 300th and tried to fool people which you cannot do anymore. And then once we knew it was the 600th, there’s three things we’re doing with it. There’s a special ending which actually we shot at Comic-Con.

There’s a special beginning and there’s a third thing, I can’t say it, but there’s three—the 1st and the 100th episode Bart wrote on the chalkboard, “I will not celebrate meaningless milestones,” so we’ve made sure to really celebrate this one.

Tara:
Any voices that you can tease, anybody that you’ve got in to do vocal talent or are you staying—?

Al: Yes. Sarah Silverman plays Lisa’s imaginary friend, and when Lisa starts making real friends, the imaginary friend is so jealous she starts murdering them. Drew Carey has a cameo, Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, Kelsey Grammar as Sideshow Bob and also Hank Azaria as Frank Grimes. That wasn’t so hard to get, but he’s back.

Tara: Nice. Wonderful. Thank you.

Al: Thank you.

Moderator: And we have a question from Liam Mathews with TVGuide.com. Please go ahead.

Liam:
Hi, Al.

Al: Hello.

Liam:
I just wanted to ask about what can you tell us about Amy Schumer’s guest appearance coming up.

Al: She’s across all three animated shows on this Sunday on premiere night on FOX. Because this is something where all three of us said well, we’re going to do a musical themed episode and we’re going to try to get the same guest star, we said oh, let’s go for a woman who is funny—Amy Schumer fits most of those qualities. And we said a good character for our plot would be that she’s Burns’ mother in the past and kind of the source of this unhappiness that he has that’s haunted him to the present.

So she recorded it over the phone, and she was very funny. It’s not a huge part, but that was because, again, we didn’t have the actress until a little late in the process that we knew who was going to be in all three shows.

Liam:
And did you feel competitive with the other shows to make the best use of her?

Al: The competition is over; the Emmy’s are done, so now we’re just wrapped [ph].

Moderator: Okay. And our next question comes from Art Shrian with MyNewYorkEye.com. Please go ahead.

Art:
Thank you. Hi, Al. Great to talk to you again and congratulations on the last interactive show that you guys did in [indiscernible]. It was wonderful.

Al: Thank you.

Art:
Can you share a little bit about your experience after doing that particular episode and are we going to see more interactive programming as we go?

Al: It was really cool to do, and the trickiest part of the technology was honestly getting the phone calls in, making sure we had calls and making sure Dan could respond to them. And what was wonderful to me is I got to see how Dan Castellaneta ad libs, thinks on his feet. That’s what we get to work with every week, and it was a pleasure to share it.

I think in terms of that animation style, we consciously just did it three minutes long because it’s kind of hard to make it look interesting for much longer than that, and I don’t know that you’re going to have full animated shows much less series that way for a while because it’s just too limiting. I mean, it would be great because then you could do a live animated show and comment on the events of the day, but I wouldn’t want to see it visually for what the current process is for more than three minutes.

Art:
Right. Right. It was really fun, I mean, to be able to be a part of it, for the audience to be able to be part of such a wonderful show.

Al: It was great too. The fans got to call in and we were—it was very exciting. We really loved doing it.

Art:
Yes, it was awesome. So I did watch the episode, and I really, really enjoyed it. You created a lot of destruction in Springfield, of course. All the destruction and all the chaos that’s going on, does that in any way reflect the chaos that’s going on in the country right now with the political situation and all that stuff? And are we going to see now—I’m sure we are but I mean how much of that are we going to see on the show, the political chaos that’s going on? Are there going to be any upcoming episodes or something you want to talk about?

Al: Well, we do some things that are based on politics, but it’s hard with our lead time. We have an episode coming up, actually after the election, and it was originally pitched without a political context. It was that they start a for-profit university in Springfield, and we thought well, it would be great if it was Burns’s University once we heard about Trump University and then the ideas kept springing forward.

But I think even if Trump loses, this idea that a rich man starts a university to make money is still going to be something people are going to be aware of, those private colleges aren’t going away, and it’ll still be funny, so it’s that kind of thing we do.

Art:
That should be fun. That will be really cool. One question, something that I wanted to ask you and I forgot last time, about the diversity in your show which is very much of a conversation right now. You do have an Indian character on the show which is great to see. But I’ve talked to my friends about it and some love it and some friends feel offended by the character as well.

On one side, the way the character sounds and stuff, I can find it offensive, or the fact that there is an Indian character on your show, on such a big show and an important character, that’s wonderful. Can you talk a little bit about Apu, and I mean, why make him such an important character? And can you talk about the process, how this character shaped up and how do you think of diversity in an animated show or on TV right now?

Al: Well, there’s been a history of diversity of a small cast doing multiple accents and characters, and we’re part of that tradition. But I will say, I’m aware of what you’re discussing, and I certainly respect people’s opinions.

We did an episode where a critic of Apu, Utkarsh Ambudkar, voiced Apu’s nephew and voiced many of the criticisms that you or your friends expressed, and it aired this past January. I think it was a really interesting one, so that was sort of—we like to take our position or make our opinion through what we do on the show and that was the episode we chose for that.

Art:
Right. But I still would like to say that I and several of my friends appreciate that you do include that diversity factor in that. One last question, several folks who have read the interviews asked me to ask you if you would want to answer—probably not though. Where is Springfield? Do you want to tell which state Springfield is in?

Al: We can never really answer it. I would say just judging by the street names and locations, it’s closer to Springfield, Oregon, where matt Groening is from Oregon, than any other Springfield, but the great thing about it is it’s universal. I grew up in Michigan, and I can totally relate to it. Anybody, wherever you’re from, has a Springfield near them.

Art:
Right. Right. So then I’m going to drive the main theory. I’m going to throw a new bomb today and say it’s say it’s not Maine, I will say that it’s Oregon.

Al: Sure. Let’s run that up.

Art:
Thanks a lot. It’s wonderful talking to you, and it’s great seeing all this wonderful work you’re bringing. It’s amazing. Last time you said a critic, we should not write up critic. Are you going to? Any exciting news on critic? Are we going to see something?

Al: Nothing new, but you never know.

Michael: We need to move to the next caller. Thank you so much.

Art: Thanks a lot.

Al: Yes, thank you.

Moderator: Thank you. And our next question comes from the line of Phyllis Thomas with TV Music Network. Please go ahead.

Phyllis:
Hi, Al. How are you?

Al: Good.

Phyllis: Good. [Audio disruption].

Al: I’m so sorry, I can barely hear what you’re saying.

Phyllis:
Sorry. I just said, the look and [audio disruption] of the show has been consistent over the years. How did you manage that?

Al: Well, it’s always been based on the hand-drawn style of Matt Groening, and obviously there have been changes, but mostly since Season 2, as you say, it’s been pretty consistent. We had a consistent style sheet, and we had background packages that we relied on after that point.

We had to change, obviously, for HD, and there’s a lot more information. We used to do things where you’d have like cartoonist squiggles for writing, and you can’t do that now. You have to actually have some joke and write out what’s being said.

But mostly we have just this fanatical animation crew, the directors and the storyboard artists and the designers who really know the show, and we were always trying to make it so that you believe these are real people. The way Matt had created the designs, they’re so—I would say what’s genius about them is that even like a 7-year-old can draw Bart, and as soon as you see the drawing and you know it’s Bart.

And they’re very expressive and very simple drawings that convey a world of information.

Phyllis: That’s great. Is there anything that—I know that you guys have left [audio disruption] the network, but is there anything that they want in the episodes every season, or have they given you any feedback about what the seasons should look like?

Al: They like when we do—we’re going to do an hour-long episode in January. They like anything we can do, because there’s so many channels and it’s not a small TV universe like it was when we started where you can make a little bit of an event of an episode. It’s not to say that we go into our plots thinking okay, how can we make this big and brassy? We always want to do stories that are real.

But I understand that, especially a show that has been on 27 years, you’re trying to say to people it’s still great and we want you to watch it, and even if you’ve seen 600 of them, the 601st will be worth your while.

Phyllis:
Great. And there’s been so many milestones seen on the shows throughout the years. Are there any that stand out especially personally?

Al: Well, the beginning was really special. The 400th ironically, it just so happened to be the last episode before The Simpson’s Movie came out so that was a time that was a lot of work but also memorable, and I think 600 is great. I mean, there’s only one other scripted show that’s every gotten this far in the US— Gunsmoke, and to get this far is really, I have to say it, we’re proud of ourselves.

Phyllis:
Great.

Moderator: And then we have a question from Jennifer Bollnow with Voice of TV. Please go ahead.

Hello, Miss Bollnow? Miss Bollnow, your line is open. Did you care to ask a question? Apparently not. I’m going to release her line.

[Operator instructions.] We have no further questions at this time. Please continue.

Michael: Great. Well, thank you so much. Thanks, everyone, for joining us today on this call and thank you, Al, for taking time out of your schedule. As a reminder, The Simpsons premieres this Sunday at 8 o’clock p.m.

Al: And this is the first of five new episodes, and the 600th show will air October 16th.

Michael: Perfect. Thanks, everyone.

Al: Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you. Ladies and gentleme. You may now disconnect.

AL JEAN

(Executive Producer, THE SIMPSONS)

            Emmy Award-winning producer/writer Al Jean has worked on THE SIMPSONS since it became a series in 1989. He has a credit on more than 500 episodes and has been showrunner for more than 300. In addition to eight Emmy Awards, he has won the coveted Peabody Award and was nominated for two Golden Globes. Currently, he serves as executive producer and showrunner. He also served as writer and producer on “The Simpsons Movie” (which took in more than $525 million worldwide), working heavily on the film throughout its entire four-year production and was producer and writer on the Academy Award-nominated short film “The Longest Daycare.”

Jean co-created “The Critic” and “Teen Angel” and served as producer of “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” for which he won three CableACE Awards. Other television credits include “The PJ’s,” “Alf” and “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

            Episodes of THE SIMPSONS that Jean has written or co-written include “Moaning Lisa,” “The Way We Was,” “Treehouse of Horror II & III,” “Stark Raving Dad,” “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala (annoyed grunt) cious,” “Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder,” “Day of the Jackanapes” and the Emmy Award-winning “HOMR.”

            Jean also co-wrote Funny or Die’s “SNL Presidential Reunion Video,” which is credited with helping establish the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, Jean served as vice president of the college’s humor magazine, “The Harvard Lampoon.”

            He lives in Los Angeles.

THE SIMPSONS EPISODE INFORMATION:

**SEASON PREMIERE**--“THE SIMPSONS”— (8:00-8:30 PM ET/PT) CC-AD-HDTV 720p-Dolby Digital 5.1

MR. BURNS PUTS ON A VARIETY SHOW TO HEAL OLD WOUNDS

ON THE ALL-NEW SEASON 28 PREMIERE OF “THE SIMPSONS” 

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, ON FOX

Amy Schumer (“Inside Amy Schumer,” “Trainwreck”) Guest-Voices on

Tonight’s Season Premieres of BOB’S BURGERS, THE SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY!

When Springfield is burned to the ground, the Simpsons beg Mr. Burns to fund its rebuilding. Burns agrees – with one condition: he gets to put on a variety show at the Springfield Bowl, on the all-new “Monty Burns’ Fleeing Circus” season premiere episode of THE SIMPSONS airing Sunday, Sept. 25 (8:00-8:30 PM ET/PT).

Voice Cast: Dan Castellaneta as Homer Simpson; Julie Kavner as Marge Simpson; Nancy Cartwright as Bart Simpson and Nelson; Yeardley Smith as Lisa Simpson; Hank Azaria as Moe; Harry Shearer as Skinner; Tress MacNeille as Dolph; Pamela Hayden as Milhouse

Guest Voice Cast: Amy Schumer as Mrs. Burns

 Additionally, the milestone 600th episode of THE SIMPSONS is the “Treehouse of Horror XXVII” episode, airing Sunday, Oct. 16 (8:00-8:30 PM ET/PT).

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