How has “The Simpsons” affected creator Matt Groening’s life?
—Tim Oliver, Seattle, Washington
Matt Groening, 60, had little idea when he moved to Los Angeles and originated the cartoon series “Life in Hell” for a weekly, independent newspaper that it would lead him to create the longest running, primetime, animated series in TV history. “The Simpsons” has now aired well over 500 episodes.
It was Emmy Award-winning producer/director James L. Brooks, who was a fan of “Life in Hell,” who approached the Portland, Oregon-born cartoonist about creating animated shorts to use as interstitials between segments of FOX’s “The Tracey Ullman Show.” Groening ran with the idea, coming up with the now famous, goggle-eyed family — and naming the characters after members of his real-life family — all except Bart, which is an anagram for brat, which he substituted for his name.
“I love pop culture,” Groening says. “I love working in television… When the show was going to be turned into a TV series, some of the shorts were put on the beginnings of movies as little short subjects. And the second the title came on, the audience was applauding. It made me realize, everybody sees television.”
Groening credits Brooks as one of the reasons the show has been around long enough to set records, because it was Brooks, who told Groening — who agreed — that he was only interested in making the move from the 15-second shorts to a half-hour comedy if the series had real emotion.
“I think ‘The Simpsons’ is plenty goofy and wacky and has some great sight gags, but we try to return to some real emotion consistently,” Groening says.
“The Simpsons,” now in its 25th season, has added several young writers to its staff who grew up watching the series, many of whom remember the episodes better than the long-time staffers, so they help keep the show from repeating itself.
“Dan [Castellaneta, the voice of Homer] and Yeardley [Smith, the voice of Lisa] also keep us honest because they remember the lines that they’ve said,” Groening says.
And despite a list of such high-profile Hollywood names as Anne Hathaway, Dustin Hoffman, Glenn Close, Kirk Douglas and Tony Bennett, there are still those who have passed on voicing a character. But Groening, who has had the Matt Groening Chair in Animation at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television named after him, is ever the optimist, saying, “There are a few people we’ve tried to get on the show who we haven’ t gotten yet, but we’ll get them eventually.”