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How long can The Simpsons go?

Franchise boasts power to nuke all TV records


Executive producer Al Jean of The Simpsons is asked one question more than any other -- but after all these years, he still doesnt know the answer.

How much longer can The Simpsons continue churning out firstrun episodes?

It was a good question in season two, worth asking after the show hit syndie gold in season four, and an obvious talking point after 200 episodes or at the 10- and 15- year marks.

But now, 400 episodes and 18 seasons in, theres still no way to definitively toss out an end date. And maybe at this point, its moot anyway.

The Simpsons, it seems, could very well live forever. At a minimum, it seems likely the show will beat out Gunsmokes 20 seasons to become the longest-running primetime scripted series of all time.

The story we always tell is how at the table read for the 200th episode, (producer) David Mirkin said ‘halfway done in a mock weary voice -- and got a huge laugh, Jean says. Could we get to 800 episodes? I guess thats not so funny, either. The truth of the matter is, we love doing it, and we still have stories that we love telling.

The one wild card, notes Jean: the shows voice actors. The thesps have conducted several tense renegotiations with 20th Century Fox TV through the years -- in 1998, the studio went as far as to hold casting calls for potential replacements.

Jean notes that the casts latest deal ends at the end of this year -- but given the job security (and the increased notoriety the companion movie will offer this summer), theres no sign yet that the stars are interested in ending their run.

I think it would be a wonderful thing for this to become the longest-running scripted series ever, says 20th Century Fox TV prexy Gary Newman. That requires a lot of people signing on for new deals, and thats always challenging. But Im hopeful that everyone will want to stick around.

Springfield forever

From the corporate side, theres even less of an incentive to shut The Simpsons down. Most agree that News Corp.s appetite for the show possibly wont ever wane, given the kind of money it generates.

The Simpsons reps a multibillion dollar industry for News Corp.; the licensing and merchandising alone has been worth at least $5 billion for the company. Thats a great incentive to continue, even if its no longer technically necessary to produce more episodes.

Weve already reached the level where we dont need to make any more, Newman says. But theres always going to be a financial value in making shows the audience embraces the way they embrace ‘The Simpsons.

Even in its 18th year, The Simpsons is the No. 3 comedy on all of TV among adults 18-49, and is easily Foxs top-rated laffer. Fox Entertainment prexy Peter Liguori believes The Simpsons will all but outlast everyone at the network.

There will be many more network presidents who will have the honor of being associated with ‘The Simpsons, he says. Its every bit as sharp as it was in episode two. It remains a great anchor for our Sunday-night lineup and is one less reason to have gray hair.

And with new distribution channels emerging almost over- night in this new-media age, Newman points out that no one knows where and how people will be watching The Simpsons 10 years down the road.

None of us fully understands what distribution is going to look like several years from now, Newman says. Thats especially true if you believe that traditional syndication markets are not what the future looks like, but rather the future is electronic distribution of shows to the consumer through sell-through.

It feels like you cant have enough episodes of a series to be able to rotate them through those distribution avenues and make them feel fresh.

Only the beginning

But thats in the future. Right now, The Simpsons remains an off-net syndie powerhouse, printing money for Twentieth TV prexy-COO Bob Cook.

When asked how much money The Simpsons has brought in from syndication all these years, Cook quips, Kazillions. At 400 episodes, Cook has more than enough segs to air in off-net every day for more than a year. And, he admits he licks his lips at the prospect of selling the second cycle of The Simpsons in off-net -- something that can only happen after the show goes off the air.

I hope I will be around when that kicks in -- that would be nice, Cook says.

But Cook isnt anxious to see that second cycle just yet. By keeping The Simpsons in firstrun, the show has remained relevant -- and that has kept the off-net episodes on top of every syndie chart.

The more we can develop new episodes, the more this show stays at the forefront of syndication, as well as the forefront of network TV, and the (more) relevancy that it has with respect to pop culture and everything else, Cook says. It continues to increase its value.

Keeping The Simpsons alive and in firstrun also benefits Fox licensing and marketing, says division topper Elie Dekel.

It continues to be the most significant part of our licensing business, says Dekel, who pegs it at 50% or more of Foxs licensing and merchandising. As the TV show has succeeded so well in worldwide territory, so has licensing and consumer product.

Dekel is less concerned than most of his counterparts with whether The Simpsons will remain in firstrun for years to come. Even if The Simpsons retires from producing new episodes, the franchise will be viable as a license for decades.

It certainly has ‘evergreen written all over it, Dekel says. We often refer to the brand as a living classic. Very few properties have been in the marketplace for 18 years and continue to be renewed each week.

As an international property, any decision to pull the plug on The Simpsons wouldnt have an immediate effect overseas, where most territories are still several seasons behind. Globally, The Simpsons averages 40 million viewers and regularly airs in 75 countries.

Its the most successful show in TV history, says Mark Kaner, president of 20th Century Fox Intl. TV. It seems to defy all traditional barriers. Its remarkable in so many ways; its bulletproof.

All sides expect The Simpsons Movie will only help revive even more interest in the show -- bringing back fans who may have strayed, and introducing yet another generation to Homer and Co.

This is a great way to revitalize the show and become the coolest thing in the world again, Jean says. After 18 years, its hard to be the freshest thing around. But the movie lets us be.

As for the show, we just want to continue for a long time to come.

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Wow, that was pretty sad there with the ending montage. Just the right mix of comedy and drama. Pretty touching episode IMO. I swear, even though "The Simpsons" is a cartoon, it still is able to elevate into something more. That is why "Family Guy" will never reach its level, because although its highly funny, it is pretty much crude and tasteless. I remember the episode "Mother Simpson, (Home fakes his death with the dummy, and his mother returns)" which should have been submitted for the Emmy's and won, because that was brilliant.

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<p><span style="font-size:19.5pt;"><font face="Verdana">The 10 best Simpsons episodes ever</font></span>

<span style="font-size:10.5pt;"><b><font face="Verdana">Today 20 years ago, The Simpsons series launched. We have trawled the archives to come up with the best shows</font></b></span>

<span style="font-size:7.5pt;"><b><font face="Tahoma">Michael Moran</font></b></span>

<span style="font-size:9pt;"><font face="Verdana">Few television shows remain continuously in production for 20 years. A couple of soaps perhaps, The Sky At Night, and the news and weather. That’s about it. The Simpsons, however, has grown from a few filler animations on The Tracy Ullman Show to an entertainment behemoth – with a feature film, hit records and innumerable lunchboxes bearing the Simpsons brand. What has sustained The Simpsons over two decades of television success has been the strength of its much-imitated characters, the multilayered sassiness of its scripts and the cracking songs.

Also, it's one of the few adult-skewed animations that can be safely watched by a family audience.

To mark the show's 20th birthday, we have selected the most memorable Simpsons episodes ever.

10. King-Size Homer

Although much of the early publicity around the world’s favourite cartoon family centered around the perennially 10-year-old anarchist Bart Simpson, it’s his father that has become the most versatile character. Slothful, shallow and suffering from poor impulse control he’s the most realistic TV role model for the modern man. In King-Size Homer the yellow patriarch makes his sinecure at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant even easier by piling on the pounds and obtaiing permission to work from home.

Resplendent in his Pavarotti-inspired ‘fat guy dress’ and ‘fat guy hat’ he thinks he has the perfect life. Until he tries to make it better. Cue an insane race against time in an ice cream van and a comically neat conclusion. Incidentally, it’s another episode about Homer’s problem weight that features the single best line in any Simpsons episode ever. Disappointed with the results of his self-hypnosis weightloss tape (which has been switched for a build your vocabulary course by lazy dispatchers), Homer belows, “Disingenuous mountebanks with their subliminal chicanery!”

9. Marge vs The Monorail

With a cracking song from one-off character Lyle Lanley, "Marge vs The Monorail" is packed with the brilliant little details and ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ sight gags that make The Simpsons such a pleasure for all ages. Homer achieves yet another of his lifelong dreams by becoming the conductor of a defective monorail sold to the townspeople by smooth-talking huckster Lanley. The solar-powered death trap almost immediately goes out of control (with a brief interruption from a handy eclipse) and is only saved by the neat use of an improvised anchor which prompts yet another splendid Homer one-liner: "Donuts. Is there anything they can't do?"

8. Lisa The Iconoclast

Delving into the origins of Springfield, this episode introduces us to Jebediah Springfield (aka nefarious pirate Hans Sprungfeld), whose state stands in the town centre. When Lisa discovers the town founder’s secret history she is tempted to expose the ugly truth, depite entreaties from museum curator Hollis (Donald Sutherland). The episode features two quotes that have enriched the English language (or at least internet English): "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man" and "I don’t know why; it’s a perfectly cromulent word". It’s a legacy which few other half-hour episodes of cartoon comedy shows are likely to equal.

7. A Streetcar Named Marge

If this episode only consisted of baby Maggie’s ingenious attempt to reclaim her confiscated dummy, it would rank as one of the funniest episodes of the show. That her wordless struggle is just a subplot to punctuate the story of Springfield’s attempt to stage a musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire is a measure of just how rich and detailed the best Simpsons episodes can be. It’s one of a handful of episodes that hint at a raw masculine physique beneath mild-mannered Christian Ned Flanders’s homespun clothing. Add in throwaway references to Hitchcock’s The Birds, Citizen Kane and Ayn Rand and you have a half hour cartoon that will reward repeated viewings.

6. Last Exit To Springfield

Hapless Homer inadvertently becomes a firebrand shop steward for the International Brotherhood of Jazz Dancers, Pastry Chefs and Nuclear Technicians in an industrial dispute at the power plant. In a classic ‘wrong man’ plot Homer pulls off a negotiating master stroke through sheer incompetence. The cultural references squeezed into this half hour include The Beatles, The Godfather, Batman, Moby Dick and (again) Citizen Kane.

5. Homer The Great

When Homer discovers that his colleagues Carl and Lenny are members of the quasi-Masonic Stonecutters he resolves to join. Once in the lodge he proceeds to antagonise the strictly ritualistic secret society by using a sacred parchment as a towelette. Just as he’s being drummed out of the lodge, it’s discovered that he has a birthmark identifying him as the Chosen One of the Stonecutters and he becomes their new leader. Unfortunately he takes advice from his terminally worthy daughter Lisa about a new direction for the society. When every member of the society secedes to a new, Homer-free sect, Homer replaces them all with monkeys. With an unforgettable song, a magisterial cameo from Patrick Stewart and the single best Raiders Of The Lost Ark gag ever, it’s a worthy No 5 in our countdown.

4. Cape Feare

The singular incompetence of Springfield police chief Clancy Wiggum is at the fore of this parody of the twice-filmed Cape Fear. Clown turned criminal Sideshow Bob (unforgettably voiced by Kelsey Grammer) returns to Springfield, swearing revenge on Bart, whose testimony sent him to jail. The extended ‘rake gag’ that was inserted to fill space in a too-short script has become one of the best-loved slapstick sequences ever. The episode also features Sideshow Bob’s phonetically correct finger tattoos and shows off Grammer’s fine talent for comic opera. Best moment: When Bob explains away his “Die Bart, Die” tattoo by asserting that it’s a perfectly harmless German phrase and the judge replies, "Nobody who speaks German could be an evil man."

3. Bart The Daredevil

Simpsons creator Matt Groening’s personal favourite episode betrays the deep love that Homer harbours for the son he strangles at least once a week. Inspired by Evel Knievel type Lance Murdock after a visit to a monster truck show, Bart wins the admiration of his peers with a series of increasingly dangerous skateboard stunts. His crowning achievment, though, a leap across Springfield Gorge is prevented by Homer. In an extended slapstick sequence Homers accidentally jumps the gorge himself resulting in a seemingly endless series of injuries. It’s the broadest posible comedy, but when it’s done this well it hits that universal funny bone that made Chaplin and Keaton revered the world over.

2. Mr Plow

Homer, against all the odds, comes up with a winning business idea. A snoplough business. Naturally his dysfunctional drinking buddy Barney Gumble comes up with the same idea and the two become bitter rivals. Barney wins out, in part because of a cracking TV jingle sung in English and in Spanish by country star Linda Ronstadt. There’s hubris, there’s divine intervention and there’s another cavalcade of cultural references including Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Godfather, various pretentious perfume ads and (of course) Raiders Of The Lost Ark. What lingers in the memory though is the story of Homer, Barney, and a can of Duff lager.

1. A Fish Called Selma

The townsfolk of Springfield stage another unlikely musical: this time it's Planet Of The Apes. The show features an extended appearance from washed-up actor Troy McLure, who normally only appears in educational films that Bart is forced to watch. Through a series of improbable events, Troy marries Selma, the slightly more marriageable of Marge Simpson's abrasive sisters. When Selma discovers that Troy only married her to deflect adverse press gossip about a mysterious sexual escapade involving a fish, he placates her with the promise that he will make her "the envy of every other sham wife in town". The dialogue fairly crackles with oddball one-liners like that, but the highlights are the musical numbers, which represent the most inspired of Simpsons composer Alf Clausen's always fertile imagination.</font></span>

<span style="font-size:7.5pt;"><b><font face="Tahoma">http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/tv_and_radio/article6988097.ece?print=yes&randnum=1263488928318</font></b></span></p>

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<p><span style="font-size:19.5pt;"><font face="Verdana">The Simpsons celebrates 20th anniversary with no sign yet of a last 'D'oh!'</font></span>

<span style="font-size:7.5pt;"><b><font face="Tahoma"> Chris Ayres in Los Angeles

December 19, 2009</font></b></span>

<span style="font-size:9pt;"><font face="Verdana">He has survived everything from a botched Nasa space mission to the sale of his soul to Satan in exchange for a frosted doughnut.

But as Homer Simpson and his yellow-skinned offspring celebrate their 20th year on air this week — the first full-length episode of The Simpsons was broadcast on December 17, 1989 — fans and critics alike are beginning to wonder when, or if, the world's most unlikely cartoon hero will ever utter his last "D'oh!".

Originally devised as nothing more than a short, animated sketch to fill a gap in The Tracy Ullman Show, The Simpsons has outlasted every other scripted series in US television history, recently beating the 20-season record set by Gunsmoke, the 1950s Western series.

Yet even the harshest critics of the franchise — who contend that the show should have ended during its supposed creative and ratings peak in the early 1990s — concede that the demise of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie might take a few more years, if not decades.

"Unlike in Gunsmoke or Law & Order, where the cast age on screen, everyone in The Simpsons stays the same," Jacob Burch, the co-founder of the Simpsons fansite NoHomers.net, said.

"Personally, I think the only chance of The Simpsons being cancelled is if a fundamental creative resource like Matt Groening, the creator, bows out. That might have a domino effect with the other cast members."

Fortunately for the millions who still enjoy The Simpsons' combination of childish graphics, slapstick humour and multilayered scriptwriting (one episode, Easy-Bake Coven, is a parody of Arthur Miller's The Crucible), Mr Groening, now 55, has shown no willingness to kill the mega-franchise that he created.

In another positive sign for the cartoon's long-term survival contract negotiations with the show's voice actors, including Nancy Cartwright, the 52-year-old Scientologist who plays Bart, appear to have become less contentious than they were in the late-1990s, when US network executives threatened to hold casting calls to find replacements.

Mr Groening, who named the characters after his own family and set the show in a fictionalised version of his hometown, Portland, Oregon, claims that he never anticipated such longevity.

"You know, it's weird," he said at a press event. "I thought the show would be successful. But the fact that we're still standing here some 20 years later and talking about it is very peculiar."

There is another reason why many believe that The Simpsons will last far beyond the 448 episodes that have been broadcast: the franchise is immensely lucrative.

The trade magazine Variety estimates that Simpsons-themed licensing and merchandising alone have generated $5 billion (£3 billion) in revenues. The airing of repeats via syndication is also thought to bring in billions, and Simpsons: The Movie in 2007 took $527 million at the box office.

On top of all that there's the Simpsons ride at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, the Simpsons stamps issued by the US Postal Service, and the inevitable new Simpsons game application for the iPhone.

The show also continues to break new cultural ground: Marge Simpson recently became the first non-human to pose for the cover of Playboy magazine.

Although this week is the official two-decade mark, the cartoon family actually made its first appearance on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. It took another two years before it launched as a fully fledged series, with a 30-minute Christmas special on the Fox network, which is owned by News Corporation, the parent company of The Times.

At the time, Fox had also just been launched and The Simpsons was the first of its shows to reach the top 30 in the best-of-season ratings. A year later the show had become such a phenomenon that Michael Jackson had helped to write a hit single for it: Do the Bartman.

Nevertheless, many Americans were initially horrified by a children's format being used to make adult jokes about an obese father's drunkenness and his son's anti-social behaviour — especially given that children enjoyed watching it for the bright colours and Tom and Jerry-ish violence.

Conservatives, in particular, saw Bart Simpson's loser mentality (motto: "Underachiever and proud of it") as a symptom of a terrifying modern malaise. Outspoken critics of the show included none other than President George Bush senior, who declared that "America needs to be a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons".

The show's makers — who can work for six months on a single episode — reacted by upping the ante. "If you don't like your job, you don't strike," Homer told his daughter, Lisa. "You just go in every day and do it really half-assed. That's the American way."

Today's critics are rather different. They operate Facebook pages with titles such as "The Simpsons: A Once Great Empire, Now On the Decline" and "Cancel The Simpsons Please". They argue that the brilliance and originality of the early episodes can never be replicated. They also bemoan the exit of the veteran Simpsons writer George Meyer and note that the show has become more about Homer than Bart. They say that Homer gets fatter and stupider with every season, to the point where he is now unlikeable.

Still, many of these critics continue to tune in every week. As one message-board user put it this week: "I agree with the folks who say that it isn't as good as it was in its heyday. But I also agree with those who say it's a fair sight better than a lot of the crap on TV these days.</font></span>

<span style="font-size:7.5pt;"><b><font face="Tahoma">http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/tv_and_radio/article6962197.ece?print=yes&randnum=1263488951251</font></b></span></p>

Edited by Sylph

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<span style="font-size:9pt;">Simpsons did it, again. Fox has officially ordered a 23rd season of The Simpsons, ensuring that the animation hit will reach -- and go beyond -- its 500th episode.

Fox previously renewed the series in 2009, which gave the network and producer Gracie Films the chance to opt in for a 23rd season. Both sides have indeed opted in.

“Like many 22-year-olds, The Simpsons is extremely happy remaining at home, on Fox, and hopes it doesn't have to go out into the real world for many years to come,” said exec producer Al Jean.

The latest pickup will keep The Simpsons on the air through at least spring 2012.

Lassie and Gunsmoke are the only series that produced more episodes in primetime - with 588 and 635, respectively.</span>

<span style="font-size:7.5pt;">http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/blogs/live-feed/simpsons-renewed-23rd-season-44533</span>

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It's starting tonight!

I hope people are interested in talking about it so it's not me, myself and I here :P

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