EXCLUSIVE: Al Jean Talks The Simpsons on TV and DVD
You have the loveable Ralph Wiggum on the cover of this upcoming DVD set and there's a new special feature about Ralph as well. Is it fun for you guys to showcase these secondary characters on these DVD sets? Are you kicking around ideas on who you'd feature on the cover of Season 14 as well?
Al Jean: It is a lot of fun trying to figure out which Simpsons character will be the most frustrating to DVD makers attempting to mold his head out of plastic. With that in mind, my pick for Season 14 would be Sideshow Bob.
It's almost par for the course for you guys to have a number of notable guest stars on the show and this 13th season was no different, with appearances from Ben Stiller, Reese Witherspoon, Richard Gere, Pierce Brosnan, Matthew Perry and the late great Paul Newman. Can you talk about working with such fantastic guest stars each year, and how often does it happen where there is a guest star you really want and it just doesn't work out? And, if so, can you give us any specifics of guest stars that you couldn't get? And have you ever been tempted to repurpose and use vocals from an icon who may have passed away?
Al Jean: It is a constant thrill, akin to a waking dream, to meet and work with the guest stars on The Simpsons. There are many times where we ask someone to do the show and they say no, but we often get someone just as terrific as our second choice--for the monorail show, for example, George Takei passed so we got Leonard Nimoy. We have never repurposed a celebrity's vocals without permission, although David Mirkin once joked with Paul McCartney that he would mix Paul, George and Ringo's performances and sell it as a new Beatles album.
Speaking of guest stars, Fox recently announced the plethora of guest stars you have for Season 22. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about the season premiere, Elementary School Musical, with Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords and some Glee cast members as well. It sounds like a great way to get the season started. What more can you tell us about this season premiere?
Al Jean:Elementary School Musical, written by Tim Long, has Lisa spending a week at arts camp, where Jemaine and Bret are the counselors, featuring original songs by the Conchords. When Lisa returns to real life, she is very unhappy, until she visits Jemaine and Bret at home and discovers the life of an artist isn't all it's cracked up to be. In the b-story, Krusty goes to Europe to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, but it turns out to be a Roman Polanski-style sting.
Another Simpsons tradition is the annual Treehouse of Horror episode and this year you have some more high-profile guest stars in Daniel Radcliffe and Hugh Laurie. Will that episode see them spoofing their own Harry Potter and House characters? Is there anything else you can say about any of the spooky sketches in this episode?
Al Jean:Daniel Radcliffe stars in a segment satirizing the current epidemic of vampires in TV and film. Hugh Laurie plays a handsome stranger who comes between Marge and Homer like Billy Zane in the movie Dead Calm. We also have a fantastic segment where all the old board games in the Simpson attic come to life and terrorize the town.
My math could be incorrect, but I believe your 500th episode will be airing this season. Are there plans for an extended special to celebrate this milestone?
Al Jean: I'm afraid your math is incorrect. Our current record schedule will take us to episode 493, so if Fox wants 500, then I'm afraid they will have to pick up season 23, hint, hint.
How much are you and the other producers discussing an endgame for The Simpsons? Are you planning a big blowout finale for when the time does come and how many more seasons are you planning on running for?
Al Jean: To be totally honest, we have not discussed plans for ending The Simpsons. The show is still doing great in the ratings, was nominated for four emmys (plus a fifth for Morgan Spurlock's documentary), and as of now, we are not looking to take it down.
You were one of the writers on the star-studded short film Presidential Reunion with Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, Chevy Chase, Dana Carvey, Dan Aykroyd and the "current President" Fred Armisen. Has there ever been any talk of expanding that into a feature-length film?
Al Jean: The SNL Presidential reunion which I co-wrote was a one shot for Funny or Die, done for free by all involved to prod Congress to create the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Like everyone else (except maybe Adam McKay, who is one of the most confident people I have ever met), I was amazed that they all showed up. We were even more pleased when the President signed the CFPA into law earlier this summer, and I hope he appoints the only logical choice, Elizabeth Warren, to be its head.
Finally, what would you like to say to The Simpsons fans out there about why they should pick up this Thirteenth Season DVD set and also why they should tune into the Season 22 premiere on September 26?
Al Jean:The Thirteenth Season DVD comes with all the cool extras (including full commentaries on every episode--like one where we grill Stan Lee what's really under Dr. Doom's mask) that fans have justifiably come to expect from The Simpsons, and I think it is definitely a great buy. The premiere on Sept. 26 was one of the most exciting episodes I have ever worked on--I have long been a huge fan of Flight of the Conchords, and the cast of Glee sings as well! I'm really looking forward to it.