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By Krista

Interview with Al Jean of "The Simpsons" on FOX 9/25/12

Final Transcript
FBC PUBLICITY: The Simpsonís Conference Call
September 25, 2012/12:30 p.m. PDT

Michael Roach
Al Jean


Moderator Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to The Simpsonís Conference Call. Now at this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question/answer session. We do remind you that todayís call is being recorded. Your host and speaker, is Michael Roach. Please go ahead, sir.

M. Roach Good afternoon and thank you for participating in this conference call today with The Simpsonís Executive Producer, Al Jean. Just as a reminder, Season 24 of The Simpsonís premieres this Sunday, September 30 at 8:00/7:00 Central on FOX.

In the season premiere episode, Zooey Deschanel makes a guest voice appearance as Bartís long lost love, Mary Spuckler; whose moved from Springfield to New York City to reinvent herself and the Simpsons take a trip there, so Bart can reconnect with her.

Also next week, the 23rd installment of the ďAnnual Treehouse of HorrorĒ airs Sunday, October 7th at 8:00/7:00 Central, as well. And thatís about it, Kevin. Thanks, we are ready to begin the call.

Moderator Okay and the first question will come from Adam Buckman, Xfinity TV. Please go ahead.

A. Buckman Hi, Al, are you there?

A. Jean Yes, I am.

A. Buckman Hi, good to talk to you. I watched the premiere episode twice and got a lot out of it as usual, lots of interesting details. Sorry to come up with some trivial questions, but these wonít take long. For one thing, you have a sign in there indicating 1,007 miles to Springfield from New York. Are you once again teasing us about the location of Springfield?

A. Jean Yes, and it could be in the middle of the Atlantic, too. So, who knows?

A. Buckman But that would be doubtful. Itís closer to Springfield, Illinois which is 999 miles from New York. We look these things up. Iím going to clarify something about the clip thatís out there now with Homer Simpson voting for Mitt Romney.

A. Jean Yes.

A. Buckman A lot of people were under the impression this was in the season premiere and this might sound like a stupid question since Iíve seen the premiere twice; itís not in the season premiere, correct?

A. Jean No, and itís not in the Halloween show either.

A. Buckman Okay, just something that got produced. Tell me the story of that please.

A. Jean Yes, what happened wasóhonestly we were trying to figure out a way to remind people the premiere was September 30th, and the Halloween show is early this year, October 7th. So I thought, hey, why donít we have Homer vote again like he did in 2008 you know with the topical references to this yearís election. So we wrote it about a month ago, and then Dan Castellaneta came in, and he does all of the voices except the woman on the voting machine as Tress MacNeille. And Film Roman animated extremely quickly. Hey, it helped.

People were wondering why we sort of staged it the same way since it wasnít part of an episode, and we wanted to do it so quickly it helped that we were using the same basic set up as we had the time before. Then, we want to do more things where we release them online first. We may put it in an episode. We have a third one that might air before the election, but if that is preempted by baseball, then itíll only be online.

A. Buckman Thanks for clearing that up.

A. Jean Yes.

A. Buckman Thank you.

Moderator We do have a question on the line of Joshua Maloni, Niagara Frontier. Please go ahead.

J. Maloni Hi, Al, thanks for your time today.

A. Jean My pleasure.

J. Maloni You know Al, you guys have had so many great guest stars over the years. I would think that everyone would want to be featured on the show, be thrilled to be invited to be in the show, but do you guys ever get anybody that says no I donít want to go and be a voice on the show?

A. Jean Yes, occasionally. Iíve said before, there are people that even asked to be on, and then we wrote them apart, and then they declined. I wonít name them. Alright, I will, Jon Bon Jovi.

J. Maloni When you guys are this many seasons into it, and you have had the level of success youíve had; what goals remain for you for this show?

A. Jean Well, the great thing about it is, as we were just talking about that online Homer voting, you have this great setting and this format that people are still really interested in. So, you can express yourself. You know, I like anybody, have opinions about this yearís election. So, you can still write and a lot of people will see it if itís on The Simpsonís, and thatís the great thing and thatís the reason we do it.

J. Maloni Alright, thank you. Looking forward to the season premiere.

A. Jean Thank you.

Moderator Our next question is from the line of Bill Harris, Sun Media. Please go ahead.

B. Harris Hey Al. I donít know if youíre a Seinfeld person, but there was an episode, of course, back in the 90s where he was talking about you reach a point in your life where you just have your allotment of friends; and somebody might seem very nice, but you just donít have any openings.

I sometimes think of The Simpsonís sort of starting this little Golden Age of animation that weíre in, and along with subsequently Family Guy and South Park. I think of those three and I think, you know, they seem to have cornered the market on just about every type of subject matter, every type of animation, every type of story line, pushing envelopes. I know you guys continue to do it, but do you think to yourself, weíve almost cornered the market on ourselves. Youíve kind of made it very difficult for people following your footsteps, because youíve kind of done everything.

A. Jean Well, I have a couple of answers. One is at the same time The Simpsonís debuted there was a parallel boom in feature animation starting with The Little Mermaid and including Pixar. So, we certainly didnít have any corner on that. Then, I think that there are still great new shows. I think Bobís Burgers is a really funny show. Even with the difficulty that itís a show about a family thatís animated; I still think thereís fresh things to do.

I will admit, I donít watch other shows to much because I hate feeling not only canít I do something because we once did it, but then, if I see something on another show and someone pitches it, Iíll be stymied if I have to watch 5,000 episodes of television and not repeat one thing thatís in any one of them.

B. Harris I know certainly in terms of subject matter, and yet in terms of the look of the show, too, how do you guys push the envelope in terms of the look of the show? I know in terms of everything going digital a number of years ago, etc., but not just in story content, which has got to be hard enough to come up with continuing story lines. How do you guys continue to push the envelope visually?

A. Jean Well, we have a lot of great resources when it comes to parodying other animation, whether its live-action parodies orówe did a Pixar parody that was perfect, I thought, a couple years ago. The basic style of the show which came from Matt Groening, I think is so original and intriguing to the eye that I think no matter what we stand out. You know, flipping through the channels and you hit The Simpsonís, you always know it.

Then, we just try to challenge everybody. Take a look at the Halloween show this year, itís really ambitious. We have this black hole moving through Springfield that I thought they did a terrific job with. Within the format of The Simpsonís, I think thereís still a lot of room for talented people. The Annie Awards, which are animators only, we won all three we were up for this year; directing, writing, and best show, best television program.

B. Harris Well, thanks very much. Always nice talking to you.

A. Jean Thank you.

Moderator Next question is from the line of Rick Porter, Zap2it. Please go ahead.

R. Porter Hi, thanks for your time today.

A. Jean My pleasure.

R. Porter Iím curious about returning to New York, and if you guys saw that as an opportunity to revisit any of the things from the old New York episode?

A. Jean We do, the cloud collage vendor makes a reappearance in this and we see how much better heís doing. Since we did such a memorable New York episode, we wanted to do it only if we had a new story line. And it was basically doing a Moon River type story with Zooey Deschanel and Bart looking up this old girlfriend.

Also, we do locations that I havenít seen, not even in an animated show, but even in films like they go to the High Line, which wasnít there when they went to New York previously. So, we try to do stuff like that. You know, New York is a rich place full of interesting things. We just tried, either if we repeated something it would be to say, hereís what happened to that person. Or if we donít repeat it, in general with the show, weíre trying to cover new ground.

R. Porter Great, are there any other callbacks in terms of Homer being a parking fugitive still or anything like that?

A. Jean No, no, thatís long been forgotten. There is a funny thing where he gets his pocket picked, and he says, ďI thought there was no more crime in this city, Giuliani.Ē

R. Porter Okay, thanks.

Moderator Alright, next question is from the line of Terri Schwartz, Spinoff Online. Please go ahead.

T. Schwartz Hi Al, thanks so much for talking with us.

A. Jean My pleasure.

T. Schwartz You have some really exciting guest stars this season with Steve Carell and Benedict Cumberbatch and Zooey Deschanel, of course. Iím wondering if you guys have any other big names lined up for the rest of the season that you can talk about?

A. Jean We do, one that Iím really excited about is that they have mock trial at the Springfield Elementary presided over by Janet Reno who plays herself, and Lisaís always trying to curry favor with her. We also have Edward Norton, Tina Fey, and Jane Krakowski, just recorded the show all in, those are three separate episodes.

T. Schwartz That sounds fantastic. Then, sort of a follow up, The Simpsonís has been around for so long now and youíve had so many big names on the show, looking back are there any guest actors whoíve really set out as some of your favorite that youíve had involved.

A. Jean Well, thereís a bunch. Iíd have to say Phil Hartman was absolutely wonderful. Kelsey Grammar has been incredibly memorable in every part that heís done for us. Anne Hathaway won an Emmy for her role on the show. Kiefer Sutherland was terrific. Thereís a really long list, and Iím just saying four people there out ofóthereís a bunch.

T. Schwartz Awesome. Thank you so much.

A. Jean Thank you.

Moderator Alright, next question is from the line of Ben Levesque, TV Guide. Please go ahead.

B. Levesque Hey Al, thanks for talking to us.

A. Jean Thank you.

B. Levesque So, itís pretty safe to say Seasons 24 and 25 would not have gone ahead unless there was some pretty tight budget cuts across the board. Would you agree with that?

A. Jean Thatís true. Yes, I donít know the exact figures, but it was 20% of the budget or more. We were a very high budget show. Everybody, including myself and the cast, agreed to take a cut because we love doing it so much.

B. Levesque And, just a New Zealand question, have you ever thought about using any other New Zealand guest stars on the show, after Flight of the Conchords anyone else?

A. Jean They were wonderful and it was a terrific experience. They only predisposed me favorably towards other New Zealanders.

B. Levesque Cool. And do you have any idea when you can imagine The Simpsonís possibly ending? Twenty-five sounds good, or would you like to go to thirty and onwards from there?

A. Jean Well, the pickup was definitely open-ended. Nobody ever said weíre going to stop the show after we produce these episodes. So, you know at the beginning I was hoping for five years, much less twenty-five. I wouldnít even guess where weíd end up.

B. Levesque Cool, thanks for your time.

A. Jean Thank you.

Moderator Okay. We do have a question on the line of Adam Buckman, Xfinity. Please go ahead.

A. Buckman Hi Al, another question. It reminded of this question when the other reporter asked about the New York episode. And certainly they harkened back to the other episode in the sense that Bart makes a joke about Homerís two least favorite buildings not being in New York anymore and thatís, of course, in reference to the World Trade Center where the action took place.

A. Jean No, but thatís not what the building there that Homer--

A. Buckman I know that. But you know, and I know that the joke is set up to at first indicate the Towers and then the punch line is itís the Penn Station and the other building.

A. Jean The really bizarre thing about that other episode, which you might be aware of where there was a pamphlet that Bart holds up that says, New York on $9 a day with the two Towers. Itís really bizarre; it came out years before 9/11. People have used it to say thereís a conspiracy that somehow The Simpsonís knew about it beforehand. I guess, I would say just donít believe in conspiracy theories. Theyíre pretty, you know--

A. Buckman That is interesting, but my question was going to be is there a risk involved? Because comedians joke about this with there too soon line about dealing with 9/11 in comedy. Was there a risk in having any kind of line that is even faintly comedic at all about 9/11?

A. Jean Well, the tragedy itself is horrible. You know, thereís nothing funny about it. Certainly people have done, gingerly done, material about it since then. I think a year later we did a Bin Laden in a blender joke. But certainly you always have to be sensitive to taste.

A. Buckman Okay, thank you.

Moderator Alright, next question from the line of Krista Chain, the TV Megasite. Please go ahead.

K. Chain Yes, I was just wondering if you had a favorite episode that you had worked on.

A. Jean Thereís too many to name at this point. I really love; last year we did a Christmas episode set in the future, where you saw Bart and Lisa as parents with problem kids. That was great. The first Christmas show we did I really loved doing and a lot of the ones in between.

K. Chain Okay, and what do you think are some of the reasons why The Simpsonís has remained so popular for so many years?

A. Jean I think the main two reasons would be itís about a family and everyone comes from a family, and usually not a family thatís doing perfectly. And secondly, because we work really hard and we really take care and care about the show.

K. Chain Okay, great. Thank you, and wish you luck on the next season.

A. Jean Thank you.

Moderator The next question is from the line of Rick Porter, Zap2it. Please go ahead.

R. Porter Hi, a ďTreehouse of HorrorĒ question. This is the 23rd one and with three segments per show that means youíre approaching 70 of these things that you have produced so far. Does there tend to be a struggle to find things to parody at this point or do you always just go back to the well of classic horror and Sci-Fi?

A. Jean Yes. The ďTreehouseĒ, because itís such a thriving genre, I think a little easier to come up with ideas for. Plus you donít have to come up with a full story line. Thirdly, youíre often just saying Iím going to hop on the shoulders of this original great story that people are familiar with. Coming up with ideas and new story lines is definitely the hardest thing that we can do, and the most difficult aspect of the job now. But I would say with the ďTreehouseĒ, itís actually easier.

R. Porter Okay. Is there something that youíve not done yet? Some classic thing or something youíre sort of dying to do in the ďTreehouseĒ?

A. Jean Well, we just recorded the ďTreehouseĒ for next season and it included a very violent world resembling Dr. Seussís and also the movie Freaks. This is airing in October 2013.

R. Porter Freaks, the classic Peter Lorre. Yes, okay.

A. Jean Yes, I donít think it was Peter Lorre, but it was black and white in the early Ď30s.

R. Porter Yes, right. Thank you very much.

A. Jean Thank you.

Moderator Thank you, and next question is from the line of Terri Schwartz, Spin off online. Please go ahead.

T. Schwartz Hi, again. I was just curious, we already see that weíre going to see The Simpsonís take on the election this season, but Iím curious what are some of the other recent pop culture events from the past years you guys have had fun playing around with and making fun of?

A. Jean Well, we always have that lead time which makes it difficult except for Internet only, but in the Halloween show it opens with the Mayan prediction that the world is going to end in December of 2012. It also fortuitously deals with the Higgs boson ďGod particleĒ, which was discovered in July. So, we are hopping right on that incredibly popular trend.

T. Schwartz Awesome, and then, Iím also curiousóThe Simpsonís have had over 500 episodes, what do you find most difficult about making sure you donít repeat yourself?

A. Jean Well, the hardest thing is that weíve done about 50,000 pages of dialog, and we have them all recorded. We have a file that has them all in it, but we donít have a computer that immediately spits out, oh you already did this. So, itís generally me or Matt Selman, another of the producers, that remembers. Iím not perfect so there have been a couple of times like when we had Homer and Marge watching fireworks saying, ďLetís make some fireworks of our own.Ē Then theyíre actually making fireworks with powder and putting stuff together. We did that in ďKamp KrustyĒ and we also did it in an episode called ďSpecial EdnaĒ. So when that happens, I get embarrassed.

T. Schwartz Well, great. Youíve done a great job, otherwise. So, good job.

Moderator This question if from Bill Harris, Sun Media. Please go ahead.

B. Harris Al, when you look back over the course of the show, youíve obviously been able to add many, many layers of characters. Can you think of a couple or point to a couple where you look back and you think to yourself, I could not have imagined we couldíve gotten as much mileage out of what maybe started as a completely extraneous character who have later on become characters that weíve all known and loved?

A. Jean Iíll tell you two. One is Cletus, who was originally a man that got married right before Homer and Marge. You know, was just like a hillbilly guy. Little did we dream how popular hillbillies would become? Then Comic Book Guy, who obviously we didnít even bother to name at the time, the fact that heís had episodes devoted to him is unbelievable to me.

B. Harris Okay, thanks.

Moderator Thank you. Now, at this time, we have no further questions in queue.

M. Roach Great. Well, thank you so much everyone for taking part in this conference call today, and thanks, Al, for taking time out of your busy schedule. Just as a reminder, The Simpsonís Season Premiere is this Sunday, September 30th at 8:00/7:00 Central on FOX. Thanks, everyone.

A. Jean Thank you, my pleasure. Bye-bye.

Moderator Thank you, ladies and gentlemen that does conclude your conference. We do thank you for joining and using AT&T Executive Teleconference. You may now disconnect.

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