Simpsons Forever

Elise Harris talks to Simpsons creator Matt Groening
and the show’s executive producer, Mike Scully (article from 2000)

Just over 11 years ago, the Simpsons started as a tiny little segment just before the ad break in the Tracey Ullman show. It has since become one of the highest rated, and longest running, series of all time. An institution.

The show always had a reputation for subversion. George Bush famously berated it for undermining family values. But a lot of people say The Simpsons has lost its bite.

Executive producer, Mike Scully, disagrees, (doh!) “I actually think the show hasn’t changed that much, I think the world has kinda changed around it. Because of things like Beavis and Butthead, and South Park, suddenly we became Ozzie and Harriet. We’re still doing the same thing, but I guess it’s just not as shocking any more.”

But Matt Groening says they never consciously try to tone down the material, although they try not to include too many ‘don’t try this at home’ moments. “We try and be pretty responsible about the stuff that we show because we know there are a lot of kids watching. But in terms of the content of the show, Mike Scully has always been, If we’re not offending at least a few people then we’ve lost our touch.

‘I don’t like it when a week goes by and we don’t get at least a couple of letters.’

Mike Scully agrees, ‘part of the glee of being in show business is annoying a certain segment of the audience.’

As a cartoonist the thought appeals to Groening, ‘any time somebody gets offended and says “that’s not funny, I’m outraged” it’s funny. You get a picture of steam coming out of their ears.’

Mike Scully thinks one of the secrets of the show’s abiding success is Homer, who he believes, ranks as one of the greatest television characters of all time.

‘He can be insane and loveable there’s just so many layers to Homer that just make him fun to write for, so, and I think a lot of guys see themselves in Homer.’

Groening's favourite character is Lisa, ‘she feels like she’s the only character in the entire town of Springfield who’s going to escape and go on to something different. Everybody else is just mired in their own limitations. With Lisa there seems to be a little hope that she’ll get out.’

They are both aware that the secondary characters are what make the show for many people - Apu, Mr Burns, Smithers...

‘There are certain characters that we always like to get to in a show. Mo the bartender is one - Chief Wiggum, Krusty,’ Scully says.

Groening adds, ‘the comic book store guy is going to be featured heavily next season in a very special episode in which Bart and Millhouse end up working for him. The fans clamoured for it.’

But although fans have a big influence on the show’s development, there is one thing Groening can’t take any more. ‘This is a general don’t to the public at large - we’re not replacing Homer or Marge or Bart any time soon so you can stop imitating them to Mike or myself when you run into us in the street. You’re not going to get a job.’

There are no immediate plans for a Simpsons movie. Matt Groening says as long as the show gets laughs they intend to continue.

Scully says, ‘I always figured that when we’ve finished with the Simpsons we might tackle it.’

Groening joked, ‘as long as the TV series is successful there will be no movie. So I guess what I’m saying to fans is if you want a Simpsons movie you’ve got to stop supporting the show!’

So it looks like The Simpsons could run forever. Although... In August the voice cast (minus Julie Kavner - Tress MacNeille has stepped in) comes to Britain with the Simpsonsmania 2000 Roadshow.

Groening says, ‘coming over to Edinburgh and London with the cast is such a symbolically celebratory landmark in the show’s history that maybe we’ll start winding down after that. I don’t know. Either that or we’re going to go to Australia.’

And bearing in mind Bart’s appalling attempts at an Australian accent, that might not be such a great idea.

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