“We’re through the looking glass here people.” – Milhouse van Houten
A little more than a year ago, news broke that Zombie Simpsons had been renewed for two more years, through Season 22. It wasn’t news that there was going to be a Season 21. The old contract may have only run through Season 20 but, given the lag between production and broadcast, if Season 20 was going to be the end they’d have shut down production long before last year. Plus, sites like www.epgudies.com already had listings for Season 21. What made the renewal news so unfortunate was that it was for two years instead of one.
As the end of Season 21 approaches, we’re in a similar gray zone. Consider the following:
- Fact #1: Zombie Simpsons is signed through the end of Season 22 (roughly May of 2011).
- Fact #2: Episodes take from 6-10 months to produce.
Combine the above and you’re left with an inescapable conclusion: if Zombie Simpsons is going to end with Season 22, we’re going to find out in the next few months. Production on the series would gradually shut down in advance of the broadcast of any series finale, and in the era of instant internet rumors it’d be pretty hard to keep that a secret.
Back in January, Rubbercat Simpsons was thinking about the end of the show:
In November, the Animation Guild blog mentioned that the writers were working on "another thirteen episodes". Each production season, the last couple of episodes become the first episodes of the next season; these are called "holdovers." The current season (season 21) has eight holdovers – notice the production codes in this chart. Presumably, this means next season will also have eight holdovers, which when coupled with the aforementioned thirteen episodes will fulfill a complete season order of twenty-one episodes, with no holdovers for a 23rd season.
In February, the Animation Guild blog visited Film Roman and quoted a Zombie Simpsons animator (emphasis in original):
"Most people around here figure we go one more season and that’s it. I mean, next season has been greenlit, but it hasn’t been officially greenlit. Nobody knows much beyond that."
So at least some of the animators figure that Season 22 is going to be it. That’s the most hopeful piece of real information (as opposed to speculation) about the show finally ending that I’ve seen in a long time.
But before you get too giddy, here’s the Animation Guild again, this time from April. After noting that the animation staff has been rather sharply pared down since the writers strike ended, there’s this:
"We’ve got 22 new episodes to do, which is a lot of hours into the Pension and Health Plan. And I think, talking to people at Fox and around here, that we could do several more seasons beyond this one …"
So that’s two different opinions about whether or not the end is nigh coming from inside the production process. But wait, there’s still more space dust on here! One more time, the Animation Guild, visiting the production building on May 12:
Meanwhile, things are still relatively quiet up on The Simpsons floor, and construction on Hasbro/Discovery’s other floor continues apace.
Things are quiet on the Simpsons floor because of a planned hiatus between Seasons 21 and 22. However, given the known production time of Zombie Simpsons, such a hiatus opens up a window for FOX to try out a new animated program before deciding whether or not to go forward with Season 23. By an astonishing coincidence, FOX has already picked up a new animated show (I stole the image from TV Squad):
From the creator of Home Movies comes a new animated show on Fox. Bob’s Burgers will be about a guy (Bob) who runs a burger grill at an East Coast seaside town with his "tightly wound wife and three unhelpful kids".
If nothing else, that is a very Simpsons-esque set up. What’s more, The Wall Street Journal thinks it’s headed for Sundays:
Fox has already ordered episodes of "Bob’s Burgers," likely to air on Sundays with "Family Guy," "The Simpsons" and "The Cleveland Show."
Sunday is the only day FOX currently has any animated shows, and their Sunday animated bloc has been successful for them, so that stands to reason. But all three Seth MacFarlane Shows, as well as Zombie Simpsons, are renewed for 2010-2011. That’s already two hours of programming, “Bob’s Burgers” makes five half hour shows, something of a logjam.
Obviously FOX is free to broadcast shows at the 7:00 hour on Sunday, but it seems at least possible that they want to try out a new animated show before they make a decision on another season for Zombie Simpsons. If “Bob’s Burgers” has legs and can pull in the same ratings as Zombie Simpsons (and both Family Guy spinoffs are very close to Zombie Simpsons in the ratings now) then they’d have a ready made replacement for the 8:00pm slot, one that would doubtlessly cost far less to produce.
This is where that hiatus I mentioned above comes in. I’ve seen Zombie Simpsons production time listed as anywhere from 6-10 months. If we split the difference and call it eight months, that means they wouldn’t need to put the series finale into production until October. Which means that delaying the onset of production of Season 22 now would give them a window in which to decide if “Bob’s Burgers” (or something else) was viable in the ratings.
If “Bob’s Burgers” looks like it can pull in Zombie Simpsons like numbers (or not too far off), they could order that the last episode(s) of Season 22 be a series finale. If “Bob’s Burgers” dies in the ratings, they can keep producing Zombie Simpsons.
There is a certain conspiracy theory flavor to much of the above, especially the whole “Bob’s Burgers as Zombie Simpsons replacement” thing. And, obviously, I have no idea whether or not Zombie Simpsons is going to get cancelled or whether or not FOX has an alternative plan for 8:00pm Sundays. All I’m saying is that if FOX is contemplating ending the show at Season 22, this is what it would look like.