By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Al Jean is one of the original members of the writing staff on Fox’s long-running animated comedy series “The Simpsons.” So he has plenty of insight into the Emmy-winning TV show, and will be Tweeting about it periodically during the 12-day “Simpsons” marathon, starting at 10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT, Thursday, August 21 on FXX. The cable network is airing all 552 episodes (that have aired on the Fox network to date) as well as 2007’s “The Simpsons Movie,” which will air before episode 400, coinciding with when the movie was theatrically released.
The Detroit-born, Harvard-educated father of two now serves as the half-hour weekly series’ executive producer and showrunner. He recently spoke by phone about the upcoming marathon, working on “The Simpsons” for more than a quarter-century and what’s ahead for the internationally popular series.
Q: How does it feel to you, having been involved with this for so many years, to see “The Simpsons” as a 12-day marathon?
Jean: Everything that happens with the show at this point is sort of beyond my comprehension. Driving around (in L.A.), I see the marathon advertisements on the sides of buses, and the fact that it’s longer than a week of all the same show has been fantastic to me. The interest seems to be there, and it’s not just in the marathon, but in the little details of the show and the (October launch of the) “Simpsons World” app is fantastic.
Q: It’s reported that you’re going to be live Tweeting during the show.
Jean: At points, not every minute. That would be the end of me. (He laughs.)
Q: Will the voice cast like Dan Castellaneta, Nancy Cartwright or Yeardley Smith or any of the other writers or producers planning to Tweet during the marathon as well?
Jean: The other writers are. We’ve invited former writers and we’ve invited many of the guest stars. We’ll see what happens. I’m hoping that Patton Oswalt or Sarah Silverman would like to come on and say something. We’re totally encouraging it. It’s @BestSimpson, the Twitter site reserved for the marathon. I’ll be tweeting when it starts.
Q: Do you think some viewers will watch the entire thing?
Jean: I’m not sure it’s physically possible for any human being to stay up and watch the entire marathon. Actually, medically, I think I would strongly urge you get some sleep. (He chuckles.)
Q: I’m sure there are going to be people who try to stay up for at least the first two or three days and watch the early seasons. What advice would you give for people who make such an attempt?
Jean: I would say medical doctors have said you can’t go more than two days without sleeping. We at “The Simpsons,” do not want anyone killing themselves over watching the show. I think you should definitely record them and watch for later. But I do think you might see a lot of different things and be surprised by what you see if you watch at different points during the marathon.
Q: Do you personally have a period of the show that you’re really looking forward to revisit or maybe an episode that you’re not looking forward to revisit?
Jean: Anytime I see an episode, I always look at it and go, “Oh, we screwed that up” or “That could be better.” I never look at them as perfectly finished. My 9-year-old daughter actually watches “The Simpsons” today, not because I make her but because she wants to. So I’ve been seeing a lot of them from different eras, and I have a particular love for when we started with digital coloring, around season 14. Those shows were really great, like we did one with (musician) George Clinton. I just saw that recently, and it was really cool. He was a great guy. I also like the ones that may not be as well known as the earlier ones that people might want to look at.
Q: Do you think the series could go on for another 25 years?
Jean: Saying another 25 years is a little bit humorous but, to be realistic, our ratings are really good. If I was looking at it from a network point of view, I would say, “Gee, let’s get a deal for two years with an option for two more.” Just look at the demos, which are very young so you’d say this looks like it has a lot of room to run.
Q: How important do you think “The Simpsons” is in historical view of television as a whole?
Jean: I look at shows that I thought were great like “30 Rock.” Their pasting and intercutting was influenced by us, the way that we were influenced in that by “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” so I think we’re part of a great tradition. There are a lot of things that made us what we are and I think there are a lot of things that we helped influence.
Q: Are the episodes airing during the marathon the syndicated version, the shorter ones, or are they the longer, original episodes?
Jean: They’re the original versions, but they’re expanded to (high definition TV). On the app, you can get the original 4×3 (dimensions) for people that would want to see it. But the ones that they’re broadcasting, as I understand it, are the originals with the HD expansion for the ones that weren’t shot in HD.
Q: The couch gags have become increasingly elaborate over the years and you’ve had guest artists like Banksy and Bill Plympton do them. Where did that idea come from? Did somebody approach you and say I’d really love to do a couch gag? Will there be more this season?
Jean: The first guest star actually occurred because my wife and I had gone to see (the Banksy documentary) “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” and I thought it would be great if he graffitied “The Simpsons” couch gag, where we pretended that he had come in and sprayed paint all over our couch gag and did his own thing. Through our casting director, Bonnie Pietila, we located him through the producers of that movie and said, “We want to keep this secret, but could you do a couch gag?” That was the first (one) and it really caught people by surprise. Once that happened, we would hear from people like (director) Guillermo del Toro that we admired who said, “I’d love to do a couch gag.” We take it really seriously. It’s an honor for us absolutely, but also it’s an honor for the people we ask. We really want to have our animation heroes doing these couch gags. I couldn’t believe it when we asked (artist) Sylvain Chomet and he said yes. So the answer to your question is yes, there will be more.
Q: Can you discuss any of the upcoming couch gags for the new 26th season?
Jean: The first episode of the season (premiering September 28) is the one where we reveal the character that passes away. I would just give you a hint: watch the opening because it’s going to blow you away.
Q: Are there plans for a “Simpsons” movie sequel?
Jean: No, it’s just sort of swamped right now between this marathon, doing three live shows (“The Simpsons Take the Bowl”) at the Hollywood Bowl in September and just doing the new season of the show. So, to be quite honest, there is no movie in the works at the moment, but we would definitely be interested in doing one if we could come up with something we really believed in. We wouldn’t just do a sequel for the sake of doing a sequel.