“Our Mickey Mouse Property” – The Moment a Fox Exec Told Me The Simpsons Were Doomed

By Bobak

When I was in undergrad in Los Angeles, I took classes in film/television at both my school (USC) and extension courses on the industry at UCLA.  (I’m now a lawyer in an unrelated field, so a lot of good that did.)  One of the UCLA courses I took was on marketing and always had a round table of execs from all the major Hollywood players, many from Fox which was just down the way in Century City.  A lot of times the execs would come in gushing about their latest productions–I remember the Disney people were all about Toy Story 2 and some really high up Fox exec was convinced Anna and the King was going to get a dozen nominations (lesson: movie execs are full of themselves and BS).

This was roughly 1999, and one day we had a Fox television marketing exec come in gushing about a major decision at Fox: she said the company had decided to take their embrace of The Simpsons to the next level and turn it into “our Mickey Mouse property” (her words, I will never forget how it was phrased). Fox wanted something as iconic as Mickey and went with the folks from Springfield. This was around the same time Fox began to seriously crack down on any unauthorized use of Simpsons clips or images on the web (I remember either the LA Times or Variety had an article about how they went after many fan sites).

At the time I heard this proclamation, I wasn’t sure what to think.  Mickey had been neutered by Disney in order to be their ultimate brand representative–how were The Simpsons going to fare?  As a fan since the Tracey Ullman days, I hoped the extra attention from the parent corp would help.  At the same time, that much additional investment could cause Fox to push forward with The Simpsons regardless of quality just to have their Mickey on the front line at all times.

Jump to 2000: I’m at a gathering with all my friends and someone says “hey, let’s watch the new Simpsons!”, so we do and no one laughed the entire episode. That was the moment I realized Fox’s commitment wasn’t for the better.

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10 Responses to ““Our Mickey Mouse Property” – The Moment a Fox Exec Told Me The Simpsons Were Doomed”

  1. 1 Cyberen
    3 July 2012 at 1:41 pm

    I only hope Animation Abomination takes the spotlight off the Simpsons enough to let the show end. For a fan of the original show seeing Homer’s face become a bland symbol like Mr. Sparkle is like killing someone and wearing their skin; the face is the same but everything about it is gone.

    • 2 Charlie Sweatpants
      3 July 2012 at 5:28 pm

      “like killing someone and wearing their skin; the face is the same but everything about it is gone.” T

      That’s a good way to put it.

  2. 3 Stan
    3 July 2012 at 2:30 pm

    I don’t think the execs are that stupid anyway. As soon as the show gets below 3 million viewers on TV, as soon as nobody else would care to buy their merch, and as soon as the actors start retiring (whomever hits 70 first), they’ll drop the ball. So the show is doomed anyway, it’s just to see it die so dramatically that’s become the issue.

  3. 3 July 2012 at 4:02 pm

    I wish our guest had elaborated a bit more on the neutering of Mickey Mouse. Sterilized Mickey has been around for so long that there probably aren’t many people aware that the character ever HAD an edge.

  4. 6 ilmozart
    3 July 2012 at 4:39 pm

    What an utterly depressing tale of the destruction of creativity of one of the greater shows to have been on TV. Though I must say, it does explain a lot. How you can possibly think applying the “Disney” anything to something that had a satirical and snarky voice is beyond me. And much like Disney seemingly did with its properties at one point, Fox has clearly let the Simpsons just go and go till it began to run on the mere fumes of ideas.

  5. 7 Kevin
    3 July 2012 at 4:48 pm

    Well, we all knew the Simpsons’ existence was based more on merchandise than on anything else, so it’s hardly surprising to hear a Fox executive saying so.

    • 8 Charlie Sweatpants
      3 July 2012 at 5:36 pm

      I suppose it isn’t surprising, but it is useful to know that it was a conscious decision on the part of FOX. The timing is also very suggestive that Family Guy was indeed green lighted as a Simpsons replacement, and that this decision may be why they backed off on cancelling the show even after they finally started paying the voice actors in 1998. They were concerned about cost and replacing the show, and then they decided to just let it run for as long as it could, quality be damned because it was now their “Mickey Mouse property”.

  6. 9 Orangutanagram
    11 July 2012 at 2:06 am

    That was not far from the time serious work started on the movie. One of the contracts with the actors from about 2000 included a deal for three movies. News of the start of writing was out by 2003. I think it would be fair to say that the main goal of the movie goes to that end. The endless promotion of a movie that hardly needed promoting served to increase exposure of the Mickey Mouse property. And the actual movie reflects that in its “hey, remember? it’s the Simpsons” tone. No wonder in the commentary the producers repeatedly say that they intended for the audience to cheer when they recognized a character.

  7. 10 Mr. Incognito
    11 July 2012 at 10:19 pm

    This is exactly what I was getting at a while back when I said that Fox has fashioned the Simpsons after the manner Disney and Warner Bros. has done with Mickey Mouse and Looney Tunes–it’s their flagship cartoon that they’ve put their stamp on. Representing Fox is the second thing that comes to mind concerning the Simpsons just below their being yellow.

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