Archive for the 'Irresponsible Not to Speculate' Category


The End of Zombie Simpsons Would Be Great; Still Probably Not Happening

Not Enough Information

“I don’t think they’re giving you enough information, Dad.” – Lisa Simpson
“I’ll figure it out.  I’m gonna use all the power of my brain.” – Homer Simpson

The NFL escaped from its lockout basically unscathed, the NBA is getting into serious crunch time with theirs, and now Zombie Simpsons has added its name to this year’s list of labor-management disputes between millionaires and billionaires.  This morning, gossip and media columnist Lloyd Grove published an anonymously sourced article on The Daily Beast reporting that contract negotiations between FOX and the voice cast aren’t going well (thanks to Gran2 in comments).  Let’s wade into the weeds of spin-tastic journalism:

Fox studio execs have occasionally threatened to replace uncooperative cast members with sound-alike actors. But for the first time in nearly a quarter century of haggling, the executives have insisted that if the cast doesn’t accept a draconian 45 percent pay cut, The Simpsons will die an abrupt death as a first-run series.

According to Grove’s anonymous “insider”, the threat here isn’t that they’ll continue the show with a new cast, it’s that they’ll just stop it at the end of the current production run.  The article goes on to relate details of the negotiation, of which there are two actual pieces of information:

Sticking Point #1 – FOX is asking for a 45% salary cut, actors are offering 30%.
Sticking Point #2 – In exchange, the actors want a back end percentage.  FOX doesn’t like that.

The rest of the article is mostly filler, including the widely reported but dubiously sourced claim that the six principle voice actors are currently making $8,000,000 per year (which is roughly $400,000 per episode).  Headlined “Money Dispute May End ‘Simpsons’”, the story has already been linked on Jebus knows how many other sites (Google has it on Vulture, USA Today, Huffington Post, and The A.V. Club already, none of which I’m going to link because all of them just point back to the original article) and is currently eating the #Simpsons tag on Twitter. 

So, what if anything does this new information mean?  Until something more concrete comes along, the answer is “not much”.  You will be seeing this story all over the place for the next week at least, but unless some more actual information bubbles to the surface it will be nothing but rehashed speculation, not unlike the recent “Simpsons channel” non-story.  So if you’re reading something and all it does is link back to The Daily Beast, you can safely ignore it. 

Whoever Grove’s source, they obviously have an interest in the negotiations, but we don’t even know if they’re labor or management so I wouldn’t put too much energy into analyzing either sticking point.  Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that FOX wants to end the show.  Their motives in keeping it on the air have been purely mercenary to this point, and nothing in Grove’s story indicates a change in attitude. 

The bottom line is that while it is possible for a money dispute to finally get Zombie Simpsons off the air, we are a very long way from that happening.  Especially considering that previous money disputes were all resolved to mutual financial benefit (if not quite always amicably), there is every reason to believe that this is a tempest in a teapot.  Based on what we actually know, I’d say this article raises the chances of there not being a Season 24 from “less than 1%” to “slightly higher but still less than 1%”. 

It is nice to see people talking about ending the show.  The comments at the original article contain gems like this:


15 Minutes Ago

FOX, by keeping this show on the air through more than 10 unnecessary, astonishingly unfunny seasons, has continued to brutalize the legacy of this once-brilliant show. Hopefully this final blow will allow The Simpsons to rest in peace.

And this:


49 Minutes Ago

About time. This used to be the funniest show on TV but it hasn’t been very amusing for a loooong time. I gave it a chance last week and immediately turned it off after they did a Breakfast Club flashback joke that could have been stolen directly out of Family Guy.

But until there is real confirmation of this – as opposed to articles just linking the original and adding speculation – there isn’t (yet) much to see here.


Zombie Simpsons Scenarios: Season 24 and Beyond

Selma's Choice7

“I want to get off.” – Bart Simpson
“You can’t get off, we have five more continents to visit.” – Selma Bouvier

Between Comic-Con and the fact that FOX opened up the animation department to a bunch of reporters a couple of weeks ago, there has been a flurry of news-ish reports in my inbox of late.  Most of these are fluff and contain nothing in the way of real news for the already plugged-in Simpsons fan.  However, a few interesting tidbits did slip out, and it’s worth taking a look at the available production, calendar and contract information to sketch out a few rough scenarios about where the show is vis-a-vis the end of its current deal and its continuation into the indefinite future.

Speculating about this is inherently inaccurate, so I’ve broken things down into four scenarios (the first two of which I consider unlikely but which I’ve included because they are possible based on currently available information):

  1. Season 23 is it, the show ends with an hour long finale consisting of back-to-back episodes on May 27th, 2012.
  2. The current contract is it, the show ends in November 2012 with a shortened Season 24.
  3. The current contract is extended to fill out Season 24 with an abbreviated production run.
  4. The current contract is extended to fill out a full production run, which will complete Season 24 and have episodes left over for a potential Season 25. 

First, a note on “production” versus “broadcast”.  To understand this, you need to differentiate between the broadcast seasons and the production runs.  Where the seasons are numbered, the production runs are alphabetical, followed by the letters “ABF”.  (I’ve added a hyphen (e.g. M-ABF) to make it a little easer to read.)  Since Zombie Simpsons settled into its current stupor at the turn of the millennium, it has followed a very predictable pattern.  The first third of a season (roughly seven or eight episodes) is from the previous year’s production run, and the rest is from that year’s production run.

Season 21, for example, had eight episodes from the L-ABF production run (L-ABF 13-20), the rest are from the M-ABF production run (M-ABF 1-15).  Season 22 had the remaining seven episodes from the M-ABF production run (M-ABF 16-22) plus fifteen from the N-ABF production run (N-ABF 1-15).  Season 23 will finish out the N-ABF run and then most of it will be from P-ABF.  [Ed note: see update at bottom.]

So when you read a report that says that the show is signed through Season 23, what that really means is that the current contract ends with the P-ABF production run.  The first episode of Season 23, scheduled for September 25th, will be the show’s 487th.  According to the often dubiously informed entertainment press, the current contract with FOX runs through episode #515, which should be episode P-ABF-22.  The possibilities:

Scenario #1 – Season 23 exhausts the current contract and contains twenty-nine episodes.  There are several problems with this, starting with the fact that there has never been a twenty-nine episode season.  The longest seasons were twenty-five episodes, but those ended with Season 9.  Zombie Simpsons tends to be right around twenty-one or twenty-two.

Furthermore, for reasons of sweeps and advertising rates, most big series finales happen in May.  But they’ve announced that the 500th episode is going to be broadcast on February 19th of next year and there are only fourteen Sundays between that date and the last Sunday in May (the 27th).  In order to cram them all in, they’d need to run a new episode every week from the 500th to the series finale, when they’d have to send things off with back-to-back episodes.  That seems unlikely.

It’s also worth mentioning that the current turnaround time on a typical episode is nine months.  If things were going to end in May, they would already be getting ready to shut down production (telling animators and the like that their contracts won’t be renewed), and something like that would presumably be hard to keep off the internet.

Finally, I’m not an expert on how sweeps months work, but it would also appear that the 27th is outside the sweeps period for 2012.  Put all of these together, and Season 23 seems very unlikely to be the end of things.

Scenario #2 – Season 23 ends normally in May of next year, followed by a brief Season 24 in Fall 2012.  If it’s a standard twenty-two episode season, then the season finale would be episode #508.  That would leave seven episodes left on the P-ABF production run at the conclusion of Season 23, but seven episodes does not a full season make.  A September start to a seven episode Season 24 would allow them to end things in the November 2012 sweeps period, but such a move would be highly unusual.  It would also leave a gaping hole in FOX’s Sunday animation lineup with most of the season still to go.  This too seems unlikely.

Scenarios #1 and #2 posit that the show ends with the P-ABF production run, but the calendar and the vicissitudes of network television argue against it.  The question then becomes how those seven episodes from P-ABF are complimented.

Scenario #3 – FOX orders a partial production run of Q-ABF (approximately fifteen episodes) to fill out Season 24 and end the series in May of 2013.  For the avid Simpsons fan, this is the best, realistic scenario.

Scenario #4 – FOX orders a full production run of Q-ABF (probably twenty-two episodes).  This will allow for a complete Season 24 and enough holdover episodes to get Season 25 started in the fall of 2013.  Essentially, this scenario just winds the clock ahead one year, with the dangling end of a production run still loose for 2013 and the door open for a full or partial order of R-ABF.

What all four of these scenarios take into account is the fact that the overhang from the end of one season to the end of a production run creates some odd broadcasting problems.  As long as FOX continues to order episodes in blocks of twenty-two, this overhang will persist.  When (if?) FOX orders an abbreviated production run, even if it is accompanied by a full order (e.g. they order a full Q-ABF and a partial R-ABF at the same time), then we may be getting close to the end of the show.  Until then, all we have is the nine month delay in production and the fickle whims of the television gods.

Given the nine month delay, we can expect some kind of information about the all but inevitable order for Q-ABF sometime in the next six months.  If it’s a full order and they take the show to episode 537 (or close to it), then the cycle starts over.  If it’s a partial order, then we might finally see the end of Zombie Simpsons.  Don’t hold your breath.

[2 August 2011: Edited letters of production runs because Zombie Simpsons is going to skip “O-ABF”.  See comments for details.]


Bad News

Homie the Clown3

“Stop, stop, he’s already dead.” – Adorable Child

The headline here tells you everything you didn’t want to know:

The Simpsons Renewed, Will Pass 500 Episodes

On one level, this is expected.  While the show was only officially renewed through Season 22, they’ve already talked publically about a Season 23 Christmas episode that was in production.  Contained within the article is both good news and bad news.  The good news:

Vulture has learned that Fox has renewed The Simpsons for a 23rd season of animated adventures, taking it through its landmark 500th episode (specifically, it takes the show up to episode 515).

It’s only for one more season, whereas the last renewal was for two.  But before dark hope lets you believe that our long nightmare will finally putter out with Season 23, here’s the bad news:

Jean expects the 500th episode to be broadcast in February 2012. “We’ll actually have enough episodes to go into a 24th season,” even if Fox doesn’t officially order that season.

Guh.  This Sunday’s episode will be number 469, which means there will be at least 46 more after it.  A February 2012 broadcast of #500 would mean they’d have fifteen left heading into the end of Season 23.  They have never broadcast fifteen episodes between February and the end of a season.  There will very likely be some leftovers at the end of Season 23.  Whether that guarantees a Season 24 or not, I have no idea.

Given the lead time, we can push back the date at which production would halt to roughly summer of next year.  If the show’s going to end with 515 episodes, that’s about when they’d stop writing new ones.  Assuming the stoppage would leak on-line, next summer is the earliest at which we can hope for good news.  But hey, maybe they’ll end with a half Season 24 and a 2012 Christmas special?  Yeah, probably not.

Oh well, until then I’ll just go back to living in denial that this show will someday collapse under the weight of its own accumulated suck.

Thanks to Al Jean (seriously, could be a prank but didn’t feel like one) for the tip!


Will There Be a Season 23?

Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy6

“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 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):

Bob's Burgers 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. 


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