Tuesday, July 19, 2016

How we got our first SIMPSONS assignment

Here's a Friday Question worth a bonus post.  

It's from DyHrdMET:

Can you tell the story of how you got to THE SIMPSONS and came up with this story idea?

My partner, David Isaacs and I were friends with the late Sam Simon and had worked with him on a couple of other shows. When he became the showrunner for THE SIMPSONS he asked if we would write one. At the time they paid much less than a standard live-half hour sitcom. Because they were animated, the studio was able to get away with paying essentially the same as a Saturday morning cartoon. But we were fans of the show, wanted to help Sam out, and my kids were little at the time and Sam promised them jackets and toys. That’s really why we did it – for the swag.

We came in with some story notions. Most were Homer stories. At the time (early in the run) Bart was the breakout star but we identified more with Homer (Gee. wonder why that is?). I had spent the last three summers broadcasting baseball in the minors so the idea of Homer becoming a mascot for the local team stemmed from that experience. Those goofy guys dancing on dugouts very much exist. 

There are a lot of inside jokes and references to the International League in that episode – shamelessly so.   Also, if you watch the episode, freeze frame the outfield signage for more jokes. 

As I recall, the three of us (me, David, and Sam) worked out the story in a morning. I’m here to tell you, the real creative force behind THE SIMPSONS was Sam Simon. The tone, the storytelling, the level of humor – that was all developed on Sam’s watch.

One of the story elements we came up with was that Homer would get a call to the majors and fill in for the big league mascot. I've done some cartooning so I asked if I could design the character. Sam said, "Go for it" and I'm proud to say the Capitol City Goofball is my creation.

Other quick notes about that episode:

I got to be the voice of the Springfield Isotopes. The name I used was Dan Hoard, who was my broadcast partner in Syracuse and now is the radio voice of the Cincinnati Bengals and the U. of Cincinnati Bearcats.

When the city of Albuquerque got a new minor league team a few years ago they named them the Isotopes, based on our episode.  This was taken in the team's clubhouse. 

Tony Bennett got to sing the Capitol City song.

And we're on the bonus track of the DVD.

Writing the script was a blast. I remember saying to David that there was so much you could do with these characters that I thought THE SIMPSONS could go five or even six seasons. They’re on what, year 35?


B.A. said...

I remember with relish your commentary for "Saturdays of Thunder" and the mascot one. Those commentary tracks for the THE SIMPSONS dvds were joys to listen to- eavesdropping on writers and showrunners (from when the show was good). I don't want to imagine what commentaries are on SIMPSONS dvd sets of this century's episodes.

Peter said...

"They’re on what, year 35?"

Well, it stopped being funny from 2001 onwards. It's sad to note that the unfunny and dumbed down Simpsons has now been on air longer than the vintage years, which were 1990-2000.

They made the old mistake of not going out on top. The big bucks have kept the show going despite the quality going into the toilet. Had they ended it in 1999 or 2000, it would have gone out as the greatest TV comedy of all time. Instead, it'll be known as the show that was pure genius for a decade and then turned to shit.

Covarr said...

"I’m here to tell you, the real creative force behind THE SIMPSONS was Sam Simon. The tone, the storytelling, the level of humor – that was all developed on Sam’s watch."

I wish THE SIMPSONS still had that tone and sense of humor that it did back then. Various showrunners did a good job carrying it for years, but beginning in Season 13 there was a very sudden and noticeable dip in quality. Let's look at what we have these days:
• Jokes that waste time explaining themselves
• Jokes that are little more than an acknowledgement of pop culture
• Constant guest stars as a marketable bullet point (usually playing either themselves or a character based on themselves)
• Tons of obvious padding and filler (the average couch gag these days is over 30 seconds)

The thing is, this all happened under Al Jean. Up until this point, we'd had a variety of showrunners. Jean himself had even been co-showrunner along with Mike Reiss. But the moment he took over the role solo, the show started to stink. I've seen it said that the show's biggest failing is that it's been on so long, but I truly think its biggest failing is Al Jean.

Not only is THE SIMPSONS still making the same mistakes as when he took over, but these problems have become exacerbated in recent years, the past few seasons managing to be somehow considerably worse than seasons 13 and 14 were. I don't know if it's apathy or if his creative juices have run thin, but I definitely think new blood could really freshen things up.

Andy Rose said...

I know there's probably not much merch or spinoffs from the Goofball, but does the person who designs a side character (say, Apu or Comic Book Guy) see any percentage from the licensing? I think Mark Evanier once said that the writer who creates a recurring character gets a few dimes when that character appears in later episodes, but I don't know if it applies to outside revenue, too.

DyHrdMET said...


i was at a minor league game over the weekend in Binghamton NY where one of the mascots reminded me a bit of the Capitol City Goofball. Probably not as much now that I've seen the picture of ol' Goofball again, but I can see where your inspiration came from.

Aaron Sheckley said...

The Simpsons baffle me. It's almost universally derided as a shadow of its former self; opinions differ on exactly when it began to suck worse than a black hole, but it's safe to say that the show hasn't been good for at least a decade. And yet, it remains popular enough in the ratings with the 18-49 crowd that it's still lucrative for Fox to keep it going. Who is watching this thing? I watched it from the beginning, back in 1990, when prime time adult oriented animation was non-existent, so it had something of a unique feel to it back then (plus, it was damn funny). But now, in an era when adult oriented animation is both plentiful AND good, I can't fathom the continuing popularity of the Simpsons. Maybe it's nostalgia, because you'd have to in your thirties to be able to have fond memories of when the show was at its height. It's tough to imagine an 18 year old person watching this show and enjoying it for what it is now, without having that rosy glow of nostalgia for what it used to be.

Wally said...

Marc Maron & James L Brooks on yesterday's WTF

tb said...

One of those signs on the outfield wall - I think it was for something like a clothing store for "Tall and Gangly Gentlemen" or something, right? Lots of good stuff in that episode

Jahn Ghalt said...

Got a sports announcer Friday Question:

TV broadcasts are very reliable in my experience, so to lose the video doesn't happen much. I recall one time that the announcer seamlessly slid right in to radio-speak at a basketball game.

At the time, I thought, "he's old school, we got lucky this time."

But now I wonder, maybe that's the standard way for a TV announcer to come up - at least for national and major sports home announcers.

So finally: It is unusual for ANY TV sports announcer to have considerable radio experience at least enough to slip in to radio speak without a hitch? Maybe estimate a PCT?

Anonymous said...

Just noticed Netflix took a severe beating on their stock after they reported earnings. Seems analysts and shareholders are pissed off about how much cash Netflix has dropped to create/buy for their creative programming model. Analysts saying their profit model doesn't even make sense. It's all over the place.
I'm guessing folks like Louis CK will no longer get to take for granted that Netflix will save him when his projects fail. Hope Louis gets lucky, and they bail him out. I like his stuff, except Horace and Pete.

Andy Rose said...

@Jahn Galt:

From my experience, the vast majority of baseball play-by-play guys have extensive experience on both radio and television, especially at the national level. Some teams have an arrangement where a particularly popular announcer will move between the booths during the game, calling roughly half the game for radio and half for television. I worked with the Atlanta Braves network several years ago when they had a very unusual arrangement: 5 announcers on a rotation. For each game, two would be randomly assigned to the radio booth, two would be on TV, and the fifth would get the night off.

Also, baseball play-by-play announcing tends to be much looser than other sports. Since the games often drag on and on without substantial action (and the occasional rain delay), you have to learn to pick up on nuance and ad-lib for endurance. Also, the distinction between the PBP and color guys tends to blur on radio, as the commentator will often take an inning or two of calling the action. I think that's why it seems much more common for former pro players in baseball to end up becoming good team announcers (Bob Uecker, Joe Simpson, Joe Nuxhall, Steve Stone) than in other sports.

Scott O. said...

The Simpsons still has moments of brillance.

However, I became turned off when it seemed every episode had to have the word "penis" in it.

MikeN said...

So is Sam Simon really the creative spark of the show, or are you just against writers named Matt?

Along with Good Will Hunting, next you will tell us the real writer for Mad Men.

Anonymous said...

Regarding celebrities on the Simpsons, this was there from the beginning. Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson, the baseball players, etc. One episode was entirely written for Tom Cruise, who backed out.