‘The Simpsons’ producer is proud of record-breaking legacy
Consider this: If you were 10 years old when “The Simpsons” premiered in December 1989, you’d be turning 37 next month.
And you’d be closing in on 40 when Fox’s animated crown jewel kicks off its 30th season in 2018.
It’s been on that long.
“A lot of people who were fans of the show at the beginning don’t watch anymore, but we always have a new audience coming in,” says veteran “Simpsons” executive producer Al Jean. “It’s a new show to them, which is a pretty amazing thing. And that’s partly due to its animated nature, since the characters always look the same. I look at it as someone who’s under the age of 30 can’t remember life without ‘The Simpsons.’ That’s a weird fact.”
Jean was more than happy to talk about Fox renewing “The Simpsons” for a record-busting 29th and 30th seasons. That will take Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie et al. to 669 episodes — the most episodes for any scripted show in TV history, surpassing CBS Western “Gunsmoke,” which aired 635 episodes from 1955-75.
“When we hit 300 episodes I looked it up to see what show had the most episodes and saw that it was ‘Gunsmoke,’” Jean says. “I joked back then that we were heading for them, and here we are, closing in. But it’s never about hitting milestones. There was a definite pride in reaching 600 episodes and it will be cool to surpass ‘Gunsmoke’ … but we just want to keep going if it’s good. The audience will tell us [when to call it quits] when the ratings start to drop.”
Jean says he had an idea the series would be renewed once it kicked off its 28th season Sept. 25. “I just looked at the ratings. I always thought it was coming back,” he says. “I believe we’re currently the second-highest-rated show on the network after ‘Empire.’ ”
Jean was asked if, after all these years, “The Simpsons” runs on auto-pilot. “My answer would be I wish we could be on auto-pilot, but every episode is its own struggle,” he says. “We never get to rest on our laurels. It’s animated well and we make it funny — but we’ve never, from the beginning of the show to now, phoned it in. I work pretty much every weekday of the year trying to figure out how to make the show better.
“People want [the ‘Simpsons’ characters] to be happy,” he says. “We’ve always resisted any permanent change to the template because I think, once you do that, it becomes a different show. People ask, ‘What if [the characters] did a time-jump to high school?’ I would say that, rather than do that, I would end the show. It’s gone on so long it has to stay in its current incarnation.”
And, Jean says, there’s one future episode of “The Simpsons” about which he’s excited.
“The one I’m looking forward to is number 666, which will fall around Halloween. It’ll probably be a ‘Treehouse of Horror’ episode,” he says, alluding to the show’s annual Halloween episode. “Aside from 666, I imagine the next milestone we’ll be celebrating is our 700th episode.”
“The Simpsons” Airs 8 p.m. Sunday on Fox.