Thank Grog It’s Firday!!
I’m hoping you all had a wonderful 4th of July week…as it always feels like a week, instead of a day or a long weekend, when the 4th falls in the middle of the week. Unlike half of the country, who took off a couple of days before or after the actual holiday for an extended break, Deb and I stayed put, and just golfed, had a traditional meal (burgers and potato salad), and watched the rest of the world try to celebrate, while under heavy restrictions for the fireworks, due to the unseasonable hot weather. We went to a “hometown” celebration for a couple of hours in Harrisburg, a small town north of Eugene…and watched were planning to watch fireworks from a river bank. But, we both succumbed to a rash of “fair food” (elephant ears, ice cream, shave ice and a hot dog) which conspired to bring us home a full two hours before sunset. I was reminded that mixing spicy with dairy isn’t a great idea (I had a “firecracker burger, slathered with jalapenos for dinner). Nice. Woot. Woot. Boom! TMI?
With the regular TV season over…and being completely saturated in movies (we have the Movie Pass app, and have been seeing almost everything that comes out). I have actually been reading a BOOK! OK…so, not a real book, but a real book that has been digitized, so I can read it on my Kindle, my iPad, my cellphone, or any other padular or digital device at my disposal. Real books feel great in your hands…but take up loads of space in the landfill…or your shelves…or the landfill on your shelves. But I digress…
It’s a book that I HIGHLY recommend…even though it didn’t make “Oprah’s Book Club List,” (but should have). This is why we have not chosen to invite Oprah into our book club. You can only read so many books by Deepak Chopra and other self help gurus. I’m almost 65…my self help days are turning into self preservation. But, I digress again…
Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons – by Simpsons writer and former show runner, Mike Reiss
You can get it here…
They clearly saved a TON on the cover art design.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it…but, in the “Sample This Book” link, Mike started off by telling the truth about “Where’s The Real Springfield,” conundrum…which of course is, and has always been, Springfield, Oregon!
This fact was verified by Matt Groening, and then again when Yeardley Smith came to dedicate the huge mural on Main Street in Springfield…and where Yeardley met her current business partner (and personal partner), retired police detective, Dan Grice. More on that, and the podcast that came from her meeting Grice in Springfield (Small Town Dicks…it’s the real name of the podcast, not a commentary on her boyfriend). You can read about her meeting and the romance, and the podcast in this article.
Whether or not Yeardly and Detective Dan are still together is a mystery in itself (Google offered up no clues). But, it isn’t in the Reiss’s book anyway, so it is a HUGE digression from the topic at hand (unless your hand is currently clicking the links above to get the juice on Dan and Yeardly…in which case…I’ll wait for you to get back to the rest of this post).
I admit that I tried “Small Town Dicks” (I’ll wait for the laughter to die down…), and found it interesting, but exploitative. Springfield, Oregon is a little rough around the collar, for sure. But, the podcast makes it sound like it is full of sociopaths, killers and sexual predators. It’s not. The town has some very nice people in it, who are not murderers or pedophiles. Really.
The book is remarkably well-written (for a guy who graduated from Harvard) and interestingly personal. It offers up enough of Reiss’s personal history and self-deprecating humor to stay humble, while giving us some serious insider info on how the show is/was created, how different characters came about, and some of the details about the kind of intense labor that goes into every episode over a 9 month period. It is fascinating, and makes one feel a bit guilty for ever writing “meh” about any episode. They are all special…even the “meh” ones.
I’m not going to spoil the book for those of you who want to read it. However, there are some great lines/quotes/stories that any Simpsons fan would love, even the most ardent “know it all” (yes…I’m talking to you Safi, Joe and Ryan).
“TRUE FACT! There is a guy living in Macon, Georgia, whose name is Homer Simpson . . . and he works in a nuclear power plant! That poor guy. Having to live in Macon, Georgia.”
On Further Evidence that the Simpsons is an Oregon native: “”I used to be amazed by Matt Groening’s gift for coining names for characters. In the early days of The Simpsons, they seemed to pour out of him: The neighbor? Flanders The reverend? Lovejoy The mayor? Quimby The bully? Kearney Years later, I learned these were all street names in Matt’s native Portland, Oregon.”
Super Insider Facts that even Super Fans may not have caught… Now they have something new to obsess about:
- HOMER IS AN EXPERT ON THE SUPREME COURT: We’ve mentioned this a couple of times—for some reason, Homer knows the names of all our chief justices.
- SKINNER WEARS A TOUPEE: He does! We just never show it or mention it. We put the jokes in, but they always get cut. The lone vestige is one of Bart’s chalkboard gags: “THE PRINCIPAL’S TOUPEE IS NOT A FRISBEE.”
- MARGE’S FATHER’S DEATH: We thought that every time we mentioned Marge’s father’s death, there would be a different funny cause: he got drunk and fell off a roller coaster, he was eaten by a bear at the circus.
There are several references to how long the show takes to make, and how it is almost impossible to make it “topical” in nature. The result is that sometimes there are mishaps with Guest Stars that make the delay troublesome.
“In another episode, Mr. Burns had the line “Well, I’m no young matinee idol like Rex Harrison.” Two days before the show aired, Rex Harrison dropped dead. No one saw it coming—the man was only ninety-eight years old. We couldn’t get Harry Shearer to come in and replace the line, so we took scissors and tape—this was the analog era—and recut the audio, changing it from Rex Harrison to Redd Foxx, the star of Sanford and Son. The line now went, “Well, I’m no young matinee idol like Rrrreddddd Fooooxxxxx.” It didn’t look good, it didn’t make sense, but at least we were spared an embarrassing situation. The morning that show aired, Redd Foxx dropped dead. And it reminded me of something my grandfather told me as a little boy. He said, “Michael, God hates you.” (FULL DISCLOSURE: I’ve been telling that story for years—and believing it. But I recently watched that episode again, and saw that we never changed the Rex Harrison line. And Rex Harrison was only eighty-two when he died. And Redd Foxx died sixteen months after that episode aired. Otherwise, I stand by my story.)”
But, in an ironic twist... Reiss tells how long it takes to make and score the show (music). “SCORING: Our composer devises an original score for the show—a single Simpsons episode may have as many musical cues as a feature-length film. The composer then records his score with a full orchestra. MIXING: In a daylong process, dialogue, music, and sound effects are combined into the final version of the show. Matt Groening and the producers will spend hours adjusting sound levels, making sure everything is as clear and funny as it can be. AIR: Four days after the mix, the show is aired. Then we rerun the living crap out of it. It’s that simple! It’s taken nine months and eight full rewrites to bring a single episode to air. About 80 percent of the script has changed from the first draft—sometimes, not a single line remains from the original script. If a writer fights to preserve his original script, he’ll probably get fired; there’s no room in this process for ego. Oh, and we have to do all this twenty-two times a year.”
There’s only one problem with this recounting… Between the time Reiss wrote it…and the book was edited…and finally published in June 2018…long-time composer/arranger Alf Clausen was fired…and replaced by someone who indeed uses a lot of electronic/sampled music. Sorry, Mike…you can’t seem to escape the “editing/final” loop!
But, make no mistake about it…this is a GREAT book if you are a fan of the Simpsons, or just like bits and pieces of “insider juice” on guest stars, staff, and voice talent.
Did you know that George Takei was supposed to do the original “Monorail” episode instead of Leonard Nimoy? But “wouldn’t make fun of public transportation?”
Did you know that the staff had no idea that Michael Jackson was willing to voice the part of Leon Kompowski, but surprised staff, management, and sound crew when he brought in a voice actor to do his singing parts…as a joke on his brothers? (and because he wasn’t paid enough).
On getting real Presidents to play themselves...””The closest we ever came was Bill Clinton. After we wrote him a part and sent him the script, he notified us, “While I’d love to do The Simpsons, I’d never do anything to disgrace the office of the president.” Sometimes they write the jokes for you.” Oh, Bill. You are the king of irony.
Do the staff and producers read “fan sites?” Unfortunately…yes.
“Yes. And it kills us. We have a lot of very loyal fans who seem to hate the show. Their website is even called NoHomers.net. This is like calling a Christian website JesusSucks.gov. This website is the source of Comic Book Guy’s catchphrase “Worst [BLANK] ever.” Every Sunday, minutes after The Simpsons aired, some “fan” would post, “Worst episode ever.” After weeks of this, someone posted at 8: 15 P.M., “I’m halfway through tonight’s show, but I can already tell it’s the Worst Episode Ever!” Then, one Tuesday night, someone posted, “I just saw the promo for next Sunday’s Simpsons, and it clearly will be the Worst Episode Ever.” So why do these people keep watching the show? I stuck a fork in a light socket once and realized I should never do that again. These viewers keep sticking forks in the socket, week after week, year after year. And every time they’re shocked that they’re shocked (worst pun ever!)”
There are too many great bits, memories, and insider tales to go over in a single post. But, he also admits that even after almost 30 years…they still love awards, and appreciate it when great episodes are recognized by the world. Here are four episodes that Reiss says were “Seminal” and changed the landscape of the show forever…
Like Father Like Clown (revealing Krusty’s Jewish Heretige)
Homer at bat (with a huge list of baseball superstar-guests that resulted in being inducted into the actual Baseball Hall of Fame).
Moaning Lisa (the first time Lisa was more than Bart’s sidekick…and the introduction of Bleeding Gums Murphy).
The First Treehouse of Horrors (which created a tradition of self-deprecating, over-the-top adult humor, and homage to great horror films).
I’m sure there are more that you as readers and fans would add to this list.
Bottom line…buy the book. It is a great read…and actually reveals a bit about Reiss (he isn’t the perpetually happy, and nice guy that most people say he is…and isn’t afraid to call out jerks).
But, before we drift off…he does weigh in on “the trouble with Apu,” and the character’s future. This may be the single most difficult issue facing the Simpson’s crew in the show’s history.
“Is Apu Taboo? I always liked Apu. We all work very hard at The Simpsons, and Apu is the only person in Springfield who works hard at his job. Plus, he’s always in a good mood, and when you pitch lines for him, it puts you in a good mood. His voice always has an upbeat musical cadence (sing it)…”
“Still, there have been enough complaints to fill a nasty little documentary, called The Problem with Apu. And it has been a problem for us at The Simpsons. Hank Azaria, who takes the most heat for the character, is reluctant to play Apu anymore. Sure, Hank is not Indian. But almost no one on our show plays what they are: white guys play black men, straights play gays, and grown women play little boys. And Apu might be an unflattering stereotype, but that can be said about lots of our characters, from Grampa to Rich Texan. Groundskeeper Willie is pure cliché: a whiskey-swilling, haggis-eating, bagpipe-playing Scotsman—played by an Italian actor. And yet, as I mentioned before, the Scottish people love him. Maybe it’s because he’s the only Scotsman on television. We’d hate to lose a beloved character from the show. But times change, and maybe after three decades, time has run out for Apu. It’s not my call: as a white Jewish guy, I can’t tell Indians not to be offended by another white Jewish guy playing an Indian.”
We’ll leave this post on that note…a perplexing kind of “non-apology” that continues to haunt the new “PC” reality in which we find ourselves. Times change. Culture changes. Is it time to put Apu in the same box as “Amos and Andy?” Hard to say… but, it’s not a topic that is going away anytime soon, Mike.
Again…a great book for Simpsons fans. And if the ratings continue for the show (even if every episode is the “worst ever”) I suspect that this book will be very popular.
What shows would you add as “Seminal?” Are you interested in this book? And finally…how long do you see the show lasting? I’m sure Mike wants to know.