Archive for the 'Rumor Control' Category

17
Oct
14

Renewal Announcement Overdue [Updated]

Homer vs Patty & Selma14

“Sweet, trusting Marge, I can’t let you down.  I’ll get some money somehow. . . . Hello, Vegas?  Gimme a hundred bucks on red. . . . D’oh!  Alright, I’ll send you a check.” – Homer Simpson

It’s now officially mid-October and there has been no announcement from FOX or anyone else about next season.  For most shows, that wouldn’t be an issue, but for Zombie Simpsons, which is wildly asynchronous with the rest of network television’s renew/cancel announcements, it’s very odd.  Thanks to the show’s ancient pedigree and very long production schedule, the last couple of renewal announcements have come in early or mid-October.  Well . . . it’s that time of year and we haven’t heard anything.

Complicating matters is the general laziness of the entertainment press.  Last year we got the renewal announcement for Season 26 on October 4th.  But that’s all we got.  Unlike previous renewals, which bragged about the new episode total, all the press release said was that the show would be around for Season 26.  And while plenty of sites reported “Simpsons renewed” none that I was able to find (then or now) contained an episode total.  (Even The New York Times just wrote up the press release and didn’t ask any questions.)

The episode total is more important than the season number because, as I’ve said before, how the show ends is determined by the production runs, not the broadcast runs.  For several years now, FOX has been ordering 22-episode production runs.  The “SABF” run comprised most of Season 25, and its first few episodes have spilled into Season 26.  Sometime soon, the “TABF” run will start being broadcast and will make up most of Season 26.  This is all entirely normal.

However, since the copy and paste brigade that passes for entertainment journalism didn’t give us an episode total, it’s at least possible that instead of ordering a full 22-episode production run last year, FOX only ordered a shortened run that will end this spring instead of spilling over into next fall.  If that’s the case, then we could see the end of the show in 2015.

Now, I don’t think that is the case and I don’t want to start any rumors that the show is finally going to end.  Quite frankly, the opposite is more likely.  Odds are that last year they ordered a full 22-episode TABF run, no reporters bothered to ask them for a total, and that the show is already de-facto renewed for at least a partial Season 27.

But the reason this time of year is important is because of the extraordinarily long lead time needed to create an episode.  The show can’t wrap the finale the week before it’s broadcast and just send everyone home.  Instead, the production will gradually shut down months ahead of time as new scripts stop being ordered and the final episodes wind their way through the animation process.  In the age of Twitter and friends, there’s no way you could keep that secret, even for a little while.

So, we have a couple of interesting pieces of information:

1.  It’s mid-October and there’s been no renewal announcement.
2.  There was no confirmation that the TABF production run is a full 22-episodes.  (At least that Google and I could find, anyway.)
3.  The long production time of the show means that it’ll shut down months before the last broadcast.

Where does that leave us?  It means that sometime in the next month or so we’ll either get a renewal announcement, a cancellation announcement, or another rumor heavy cluster fuck (a la 2011) about whether or not the show will stagger forward for another year or more.  My money is on a renewal announcement (best predictor of future behavior being past behavior, and all that), but we are in a situation where it’s at least possible that we might hear otherwise in the near future.

Keep watching the skis.

[Update 2:08pm Eastern: Word from Caesar himself in comments: "TABF = full 22 order".  Still looking for a renewal notice, but there will definitely be at least a partial Season 27.]

03
Oct
13

Renewal Season: Watching the Wall

Krusty Gets Kancelled16

“Hey, Red Hot Chili Peppers, would you guys like to appear on a Krusty the Klown special?” – Bart Simpson
“Sure, if you can get us out of this gig.” – Flea
“No problemo.  Hey, Moe, look over there!” – Bart Simpson
“What?  What am I looking at?  I don’t see nothing.  I’m gonna stop looking soon.  What?  What, is that it?” – Moe
“Hey, Moe, can I look too?” – Homer Simpson
“Sure, but it’ll cost you.” – Moe
“My wallet’s in the car.” – Homer Simpson
“He is so stupid.  And now back to the wall.” – Moe

[Note: Apologies for speculating about the end of your jobs, people on the staff.  You’ve been nothing but courteous and wonderful when contacting us; please understand it’s not personal.]

Back in October of 2011 there were widespread rumors that the show was at last on the verge of cancellation.  FOX and the principle voice actors were deadlocked over the renewal of the contract.  But after a very busy week of anonymously sourced leaks to the press, rampant speculation, and confusion about whether or not there had already been a decision to finally let the show die, it all came to nothing.  In the end, the negotiations were less cordial than usual, but the very wealthy people on both sides of the table unsurprisingly agreed to continue making each other slightly wealthier. 

For all the smoke in the media and on-line, there was very little fire.  All those articles, blog posts, comments, Tweets and general what have you stemmed from just three or four anonymous quotes all week.  The only person directly involved who was willing to stick his name by anything in the media was the ever admirable Harry Shearer, and all he was doing was dumping on FOX. 

Well, it’s now October 2013, which means we’re in the same part of the contract cycle as they were two years ago when “Simpsons cancelled?” was one of the big stories of the week.  That deal runs through episode 559.  “Homerland” was 531; and given the extremely long production time of each episode, it’s likely that episode #559, which will probably be broadcast next Fall, is even now in its earliest stages. 

Contract negotiations can be easily kept private, especially if they’re going well or both sides just want a simple renewal.  But any disruption in the production of the show, or even the ordering of a series finale, would be very difficult to keep off the internet.  It was never confirmed or anything, but supposedly one of the reasons the negotiation problems became public last time around was that they were up against a deadline as to whether or not they’d be able to produce a series finale.  (Jean later said that had the talks failed, they would’ve held over that future Christmas episode until late 2012 and made it the finale.) 

If that’s true, then the extension of the show past the current 559 episode contract will become a forgone conclusion sometime in the next few weeks or months, because if anyone in charge seriously thought #559 was going to be the end they’d stop the production of #560.  So, in this case, no news would itself be news. 

If last time is anything to go by, then we can be at least somewhat confident that the show will be getting a full Season 26 and Season 27 if nothing about renewal or death becomes public by, say, the end of October.  (The current contract provides for enough episodes for a shortened Season 26.)  If nothing is said until after New Year’s, then things just become that much more likely.  Obviously this is all much too speculative to put any numbers on, and we could get news tomorrow that they’ve decided to end things or that negotiations are at a potentially fatal impasse.  But if Zombie Simpsons is going to come to an end before the Rio Olympics do, we should find out sometime very soon.  It probably won’t, but this is the time to pay attention. 

21
May
13

Hey, Everybody, Season 24 Is Over

Itchy and Scratchy and Marge13

“Hi, kids! . . . What the . . . is this Saturday?” – Krusty the Klown

I’m still going to do Behind Us Forever for this week’s episodes, but the last two days have not been kind in terms of free time.  In the interim, how about a little ratings schadenfreude?

Sunday’s episodes both scored dismal ratings, with the first one (“The Saga of Carl”) coming in at just 4.01 million viewers, and “Dangers on a Train” bumping up a bit to 4.52 million.  The former is good for #2 on the all time least watched list, with even the higher rated second episode coming in at #10.  Here is the current bottom twenty in terms of viewers:

#

S-Ep

Airdate

Viewers
(millions)

Episode Title

1 23-21 13-May-12 4.00 Ned ‘N Edna’s Blend
2 24-21 19-May-13 4.01 The Saga of Carl
3 24-20 12-May-13 4.05 Fabulous Faker Boy
4 24-17 14-Apr-13 4.07 What Animated Women Want
5 24-12 10-Feb-13 4.19 Love Is a Many-Splintered Thing
6 23-13 12-Feb-12 4.33 The Daughter Also Rises
7 24-8 16-Dec-12 4.41 To Cur With Love
8 24-19 6-May-13 4.43 Whiskey Business
9 24-18 28-Apr-13 4.48 Pulpit Friction
10 24-22 19-May-13 4.52 Dangers on a Train
11 24-13 17-Feb-13 4.57 Hardly Kirk-Ing
12 24-14 3-Mar-13 4.66 Gorgeous Grampa
13 23-20 6-May-12 4.75 The Spy Who Learned Me
14 23-22 20-May-12 4.79 Lisa Goes Gaga
15 24-15 10-Mar-13 4.85 Black-Eyed Please
16 23-18 15-Apr-12 4.86 Beware My Cheating Bart
17 24-16 17-Mar-13 4.89 Dark Knight Court
18 23-16 11-Mar-12 4.96 How I Wet Your Mother
19 22-18 10-Apr-11 5.00 The Great Simpsina
20 23-19 29-Apr-12 5.00 A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again

Of those twenty, nineteen are from Seasons 23 or 24, with the lone exception being from Season 22.  Every single episode broadcast since February of this year has made the list.  And not a single episode in all of Season 24 was viewed by more than 10 million people, the first time that’s ever happened.  (The only one even close came after an NFL playoff game.)

In terms of average viewership, Season 24 ran away with the title of least viewed ever.  After bumping along in the low seven million range from Season 20 through 22, last season fell down to just 6.13 million viewers on average.  Season 24 sunk even further, averaging just 5.47 million viewers over its twenty-two episodes.

Now, the usual caveat about these ratings: these are just the overnight numbers.  When there are significant changes to them (usually because a sporting event runs long), I make those updates, but these are not the fancy pants final numbers that take into account demographics, DVR viewers, and whatever else advertisers complain about.  Nielsen only makes very limited data available to the public (at least, as far as I can tell), so these are the numbers I use, but don’t try reading anything into these in terms of “Will the show get cancelled?”.

The thousand monkeys at a thousand Blackberries who run FOX will be looking at those more detailed ratings as well as factoring in all kinds of things like whether or not a replacement would provide the same lead-in numbers for the rest of the Sunday lineup, how expensive said replacement would be, and how much Jean and company react when feces are thrown at them during meetings.  (MacFarlane doesn’t even flinch.)  Given the production lead time, we should be hearing something about a renewal beyond the current contract (on which there are 29 episodes left) sometime in calendar 2013, but that’s about all that can be said right now.

[Update 6:45pm EDT: Just saw this: CBS Takes Key Ratings Crown for First Time in 21 Years.  FOX lost the battle for the nuts and gum people to CBS this year and their overall viewers were third at 7.0 million.  No idea what the monkeys will think of losing to the old people network and having Zombie Simpsons dragging down their overall number, but it seemed worth mentioning.]

29
May
12

Silence Is Golden

Bart vs Thanksgiving10

“It’s your fault I can’t talk.” – Maggie Simpson

Perhaps the only really interesting thing to come out of “Lisa Goes Gaga” was the surprise announcement at the end of “The Longest Daycare”, a 3D short that will be shown before Ice Age 4, starting on July 13th.  (FOX has helpfully put the announcement on YouTube, should you wish to relive all ten seconds of it.)  At present, everything the internet knows about this thing comes from the brief announcement itself and from a quickie interview Al Jean gave to ew.com.  Literally every other story I saw about “The Longest Daycare”, and I saw a lot of them, was originally sourced to this article.  Even the Wikipedia page is basically nothing but information from this one piece. 

So, what’s in it?  Mostly it’s just basic plot and background:

  • It will be set back at the Ayn Rand School for Tots.  (Though no word on whether or not The Longest Day will be used as rough source material the same way The Great Escape was in “A Streetcar Named Marge”.) 
  • Jean teased an appearance from Baby Gerald.
  • It’s four-and-a-half minutes long with no spoken dialogue.
  • David Silverman directed it.
  • It is indeed in 3D (though a 2D "animatic" will be shown at Comic-Con).

What’s most interesting here isn’t the 3D or any of the story information.  It’s the fact that it’s dialogue free, which means they didn’t have to involve their expensive voice actors at all. 

It’s more than a little reminiscent of the Coke/Super Bowl ad from two years ago.  In the ad, even though they had a newscaster telling us that Burns was broke, it wasn’t Kent Brockman.  The only other lines in the sixty-second commercial came from Milhouse, who is, of course, not voiced by one of the six main voice actors.  That ad is doubly resonant because the generic news anchor guy was Maurice LaMarche, whom I’m 99% sure was the guy narrating the trailer for “The Longest Daycare”. 

Without claiming any kind of predictive powers, this short is exactly what I was talking about in Chapter 12 of the book when I compared the future of the Simpsons to what’s happened to Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse.  Whether or not Homer, Marge or any of the rest of the family appears for a silent cameo, the short represents a new stage in the decoupling of the Simpsons as cartoon characters from their current home on FOX’s Sunday night lineup (and the people who do voice work there).  It’s an animated story set in the Simpsons universe and populated with Simpsons characters, but the only things it has in common with the original show are things FOX owns. 

Obviously this isn’t the first time FOX has leveraged the existing popularity of the Simpsons outside the realm of the show.  They’ve been making video games and t-shirts forever, after all.  But this is the first time they’ve done so in the form of animated entertainment, and that makes it noteworthy.  Whether or not this is the first of many theatrical shorts or a one off deal, it’s a Simpsons cartoon that has even less to do with the original show than Zombie Simpsons does (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).  It won’t be the last.

(And please note, I make no claims to whether or not “The Longest Daycare” will be good or not on its own merits.  We haven’t even gotten a clip to view, so there’s no telling what it’ll look like, much less whether or not it’ll actually be funny.  I doubt it’ll be worth sitting through Ice Age 4, which looks terrible, but there’s no reason to hold that against the short.)

25
Apr
12

Duff McKagan and Duff Beer: An Internet Investigation

Pygmoelian1

“You said if I slept with you, I wouldn’t have to touch the drunk.” – Titania
“Duffman says a lot of things!  Oh, yeah!” – Duffman

In a Reading Digest last spring, I noted that Duff McKagan, bass player for (among others) Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver, and Loaded, had claimed that Duff beer was named after him.  It came up again last summer, and has been bubbling up on-line ever since.  In addition to it being noted in articles and the like about him, McKagan himself has mentioned it several times.  In an ESPN.com column he wrote:

My name is Duff McKagan, and I play rock and roll music. The beer on "The Simpsons" show was named after me, and not the other way around. (I suppose it is a testament to how much alcohol I used to drink. Yeah, not too sexy really.)

In addition to that, one of those generically crappy radio station “blogs” quotes him in an (unlinked) interview:

”Our management for GN’R got a fax but it was from like an adult cartoon.  Now there wasn’t any adult cartoons in 1988.  There just wasn’t and like, ‘an adult cartoon?’  They want to use your name as the name of the beer on the thing and they just want your blessing.  It’s not like I own the name Duff, I should’ve trademarked that thing on up if I would’ve known but yeah, that think took off, that Simpsons deal.”

And here’s how he put it in his autobiography:

When Guns N’ Roses began to break into the public consciousness, I was known as a big drinker.  In 1988, MTV aired a concert in which Axl introduced me – as usual – as Duff “the King of Beets” McKagan.  Soon after this, a production company working on a new animated series called me to ask if the could use the name “Duff” for a brand of beer in the show.  I laughed and said of course, no problem.  The whole thing sounded like a low-rent art project or something – I mean, who made cartoons for adults?  Little did I know that the show would become The Simpsons and that within a few years I would start to see Duff beer glasses and gear everywhere we toured. 

That last quote caused a brief stir on-line last fall when the book was released.  The first eighty pages were put on-line for free, and that quote appears on page 9.  Just about any time a celebrity puts out a book (or someone puts out a book about a celebrity), one fact/revelation will inevitably be used as the hook to describe it so that people can talk about it without actually having read it.  In this case, that one thing was the Duff Beer-Duff McKagan connection, which was mentioned in articles about the book by everything from little blogs to The Los Angeles Times and The Huffington Post

Now, I don’t particularly care about this.  Whether or not McKagan’s drinking (at one point, he had a championship belt that had Budweiser caps instead of jewels on it) was a factor in naming Homer’s beer “Duff” doesn’t change Duff Gardens, Tartar Control Duff, or Duffman one bit.  However, the internet has a way of mistaking repetition for confirmation, and in the last year this idea has become truthy enough that it gets included as a throwaway fact in semi-respectable publications like Business Week:

How he drank so much beer at one point that Guns N’ Roses lead singer Axl Rose introduced him as “The King of Beers” and a producer from The Simpsons called to ask if he could name the show’s beer, Duff, after him, which they did.

As well as independent blogs:

The name Duff comes from Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, known for drinking lots of alcoholics.

And the world’s largest source of information, Wikipedia:

In an excerpt from his autobiography, former Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan said that the beer was named after him as the writers were fans of the band and he was known for his extreme alcohol consumption.[3]

That citation, by the way, goes to Maxim’s website, where there’s an excerpt from the book that includes the paragraph I cited above.  The sentence in Wikipedia is carefully worded, but that kind of caution has a way of washing out over time, and experience says that as more people read, write and rewrite the same claim, it’ll become more and more difficult for someone to trace it all the way back to its actual origin. 

As near as I can tell, no one else from Guns N’ Roses has mentioned this story, nor has anyone from The Simpsons ever said anything similar.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t true, but right now “Duff Beer inspired by Duff McKagan” is a completely unsubstantiated claim by a single guy who freely admits he was drunk out of his mind during the period in question, put the word “Lies” in the title of his book, and wrote this in his Author’s Note:

My friends and old band members may remember some of the stories I recount differently than I do, but I have found that all stories have many sides.

In other words, it’s as far from confirmed as it is possible for something to be.  Again, it could be true, but with the currently available information, there’s plenty of room for doubt.  Maybe someone from The Simpsons did call (or fax) them, but was it one of the guys who came up with it, or was it some paranoid junior lawyer in the bowels of FOX?  Maybe someone not from the show called him and told him about it, and over the years his memory changed that to someone from the show.  Who knows?

McKagan is an extremely accomplished, financially secure guy; he has no reason to lie about this.  However, and by his own admission, he does have a lot of reasons to be confused about it.  Therefore, simple prudence says that it needs to be confirmed by one or more other sources before it’s generally accepted.  Unfortunately, right now acceptance is running well ahead of confirmation.  This post likely won’t slow that down, but it’s here if anyone cares to look. 

[Note: I’m only about halfway done with the book (through the time period when this call/fax would’ve happened), but this post is already two days late and Google Book Search tells me that the Simpsons doesn’t get mentioned again for the rest of the text.  If I come across something that changes any of the above, I’ll update this post.]

12
Apr
12

Who Gives a Shit “Where” Springfield Is?

Much Apu About Nothing7

“Now, they may ask you to locate your town on a map of the US.  So, let’s do that . . . uh, Springfield, Springfield . . . um, right here.” – Homer Simpson
“Dad, you’re not pointing anywhere near Springfield.” – Lisa Simpson

When I saw my Twitter and inbox begin to go bonkers because Groening apparently said the “real” Springfield is the one in Oregon, I thought “huh” and made a note of it for Reading Digest.  Then it kept going, literally every item in my Google Alert for “The Simpsons” was related to it, and I even saw this story on the home page of BBC news:

Matt Groening told Smithsonian magazine he based the town on Springfield, Oregon, but since it is such a common US place name he knew many would think it was their own Springfield.

The Springfield question is one of the best-kept secrets in TV history.

First of all, it’s not a secret.  It’s a joke.  It doesn’t have a location – that’s the whole point – which is why I’ve always been a little puzzled about how worked up people get over this transparently silly topic. 

On one level, this is just another example of the internet acting as the world’s most exponential game of telephone.  Groening says something relatively innocuous and, five removes later, “Springfield is in Oregon, purple monkey dishwasher” is rocketing around the globe while strangers get into flame wars and Twitter fights that boil down to little more than cycles of “nuh-uh” and “yea-huh”. 

But beyond that artifact of modern communications, what causes this much excitement and interest in something that amounts to nothing?  And I don’t mean that rhetorically, I genuinely don’t get it.  I understand the fun in having irresolvable arguments about unanswerable things like, say, who was the best soccer player ever, or what the greatest movie in history is.  It’s the reason the internet is lousy with lists that rank everything from books and rock stars to cooking shows and lists themselves.  The human brain is wired to categorize and prioritize things, and we take to it the way ducks take to water.  But why all the excitement over the obviously nonsense location of a fictional town? 

The best I can come up with is that beyond just something to talk about, it’s a need to know everything about a topic, to have a resolution, as though not knowing for sure is some kind of mental canker sore that you just can’t keep your brain from fooling around with.  But even that doesn’t make sense because they’ve said, on multiple occasions, that Springfield is nowhere.  You already have an answer, one that is far more logically consistent than any specific location. 

So, yeah, I don’t get it.  Does anyone here either care about this, or understand why other people care?  Because, in the immortal words of Dr. Hibbert, this thing has be buffaloed. 

(Oh, in case anyone is interested, here’s a nice debunking of this whole thing, via our old friends Denise and Karma.)

08
Oct
11

The End of Zombie Simpsons: The Reset Button Has Been Pushed

The Curse of the Flying Hellfish3

“Hey, listen!  Now, my story begins in nineteen-dickety-two.  We had to say ‘dickety’ ’cause the Kaiser had stolen our word ‘twenty’.  I chased that rascal to get it back, but gave up after dickety-six miles.” – Abe “Grampa” Simpson

After all of this week’s twisting and ill sourced hoopla, the end came during the media dead time of Friday evening.  Zombie Simpsons may only occasionally be capable of a decent joke, but there is an undeniable humor to that. 

As for the deal itself, the true numbers haven’t been released, and in all likelihood they never will be.  The last deal resulted in the $400,000 per episode/$8,000,000 per season salary that has been in almost every story about the negotiations this week, but that number was never really confirmed.  As far as I know, the six voice actors themselves were forbidden as part of the contract from discussing the actual total, which means their salary number was only ever leaked, never verifiably reported.  We can expect something similar here.  Some number about this extension will eventually be repeated enough to seem credible, but all dollar signs should be regarded as questionable when it comes to FOX. 

What we do know about the deal (thanks – again – to @rubbrcatsimp) is that it will bring the episode total to 559, which is a smooth 44 more than the 515 of the previous deal.  That means it’s not just two more “seasons”, it’s two more full, 22 episode production runs, presumably designated Q-ABF and R-ABF. 

This is essentially Scenario #4 from my post about the future of the show back in August.  FOX has ordered two complete sets of episodes, which means that the overhang between the production runs and the broadcast seasons will persist.  A full Season 25 is now guaranteed to happen, but they will also have enough episodes to get Season 26 started in the fall of 2014. 

So the reset button has been pushed and the timer starts again.  Under the current deal, the deadline is roughly October 2013 for when they have to decide if they want to produce a series finale.  Despite what you may read elsewhere, there is absolutely nothing in this deal to indicate that Season 25 will be the last season.  I’m going to repeat that with bold and italics because, given the “one more season only” horseshit that flew around all week, it is certain to be the most overlooked aspect of this story.  There is nothing in this deal to indicate that Season 25 will be the last one.  As a number, “25” is mathematically nice and psychologically pleasing, but those concerns don’t matter in the least during contract negotiations that involve seven or eight digits.  Season 26 is all but assured by this contract. 




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