Archive for the 'Rumor Control' Category



01
Aug
11

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.]

16
May
11

Even Their Apologies Suck

Via springfieldx2 on Twitter I see that Zombie Simpsons made a halfhearted stab at apologizing to Kristen Schaal for misspelling her name last week.  Schaal herself even posted a screen grab of it:

Schaal Apology

At first I thought that was nice of them but, as with everything Zombie Simpsons, they have to make it more complicated than it otherwise should be.  After thinking about it for a second, it dawned on me that I probably would remember seeing that, and I didn’t.  Indeed, the version I saw didn’t have that on the chalkboard at all.  As of this writing, neither does the copy on Hulu.com:

No Apology

I’m not sure where the other screen grab came from, though there’s a DirecTV logo in the watermark, but it wasn’t the one I saw, and it isn’t the one currently up on Hulu.  Zombie Simpsons: good intentions, wretched implementation.

12
Dec
10

Rehashing the “Bart Show” Myth

Homer the Heretic4

“Homer, I’d like you to remember Matthew 7:26, the foolish man who built his house on sand.” – Rev. Lovejoy
“And you remember . . . Matthew . . . 21:17.” – Homer Simpson
“‘And he left them and went out of the city into Bethany and he lodged there.’?” – Rev. Lovejoy
“Yeah, think about it.” – Homer Simpson

I greatly enjoyed Splitsider’s “Classic Simpsons Week” series.  On the whole, it was a nice look back that didn’t sugarcoat just how far the series has fallen from grace.  I didn’t agree with every opinion presented, but such is the nature of opinions.  One piece I read, however, is factually inaccurate and perpetuates a longstanding Simpsons myth, one that even very knowledgeable fans will repeat without thinking.

Under the headline “The Bart Show: When The Simpsons Were Almost Much Worse”, Mike Drucker falls for the old saw that there was a “Bart” era at the beginning of the show.  Briefly put, this is the idea that at the dawn of The Simpsons the show was mostly about Bart, and that it then transitioned into being a show about Homer.  It is completely false, albeit very understandable.  The article opens:

With all this jibber-jabber about The Simpsons not being as good as it was when the writer was 12 (see: The Saturday Night Live Effect), it’s easy to forget that there was an early period in the show’s popularity when it was ready to take a turn for the much worse. Catchphrase-filled bumper stickers, key chains, video games, and music albums all pointed in one direction: The Simpsons was becoming the “Bart Show.”

That’s as good a description of why this myth exists as any.  “Bartmania” was very real, for a while there you couldn’t get away from the Simpsons generally – and Bart specifically – in the form of everything from tchotchkes and t-shirts (official and less so) all the way up to hit songs and national commercials.  That alone would’ve been noteworthy enough, but it was made even more pervasive by the enormous backlash.  From local PTAs all the way up through the sitting President of the United States, hidebound guardians of America’s youth roared their opposition in every medium available.  When FOX announced that the second season of its subversive hit would go head to head against The Cosby Show, at the time America’s favorite wholesome family sitcom, all bets were off.  The Simpsons was a genuine phenomenon, politically, culturally, and economically, and Bart was literally the poster child for it.

The show itself, however, never got swept up in the hysteria.  As I’ve pointed out before, when you actually look at the first four seasons (1 & 2, 3 & 4) there’s no evidence of Bart dominating.  Bart and Homer were always very evenly matched in terms of how often each of them got the big storyline, and there were always plenty of episodes where neither of them was the main character.  The people writing all those magazine articles and television segments were obsessed with Bart, the people writing The Simpsons never were.

Since it’s operating on a badly flawed premise, the Splitsider article has nowhere to go but down:

But Bart Simpson the character and Bart Simpson the hit television show character are two different animals, and in the first few years of The Simpsons, the latter threatened to take over. The marketing focus of the show fell almost entirely on Bart (or, at least, Homer reacting to Bart). “Eat my shorts!” became a catchphrase on the level of “Yeah, baby!”

Right here we can see the article confusing the marketing of the show and the show itself.  Yes, the promotional focus fell on Bart, but so what?  Drucker is assuming that the marketing had an influence on how the writers wrote the scripts, but he doesn’t present any evidence that his assumption is accurate.  It’s an easy mistake to make, everybody “knows” that the show was all about Bart, but this particular axiom doesn’t hold up to even cursory scrutiny.

If this article was just about the way people remember the show’s debut or the way people felt about it at the time, then this wouldn’t be a problem.  It really did take a while for Homer and the others to reach the level of cultural fame that Bart achieved almost overnight.  But that isn’t where it goes from there, instead it talks about how the show itself took the focus off of Bart.  After a bit about Family Guy and South Park, it continues:

The danger in this pattern wasn’t just that America had more “Do the Bartman” cassettes than it needed. Rather, there was less space to consider the comedy merits of Marge or Homer or Lisa or anyone else on the show.

Here we can see the crack in the article’s fundamental premise widening into a grand chasm filled with confused premises, inaccurate statements and solid waste.  What does it mean to have “less space” to consider the comedy merits of Marge or Homer or Lisa?  If you’re talking about articles in Newsweek, yes.  If you’re talking about screen time on the show, no.  Continuing:

The audience had been told that Bart was the funny one. The jokes were coming from Bart. Bart would be saying the thing you’d talk about on the playground the next day. And with Bart taking the spotlight from the other main characters, the side characters such as Moe or Lenny had no space at all.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with the first and third sentences there, but the second and fourth ones are just flat out false.  The counterexamples are so numerous that trying to list even a quarter of them would take hours.  Even in Bart-centered episodes like “The Telltale Head” or “Bart Gets an F” the rest of the family and the town is always there ripping off punchline after punchline.  “The Telltale Head” has everything from Homer’s immortal mid-church field goal celebration to the first inkling we get that Smithers sees more than a boss in Mr. Burns.  “Bart Gets an F” shows us the whole range of dysfunction at Springfield elementary, from the gullibility of the nurse to the wild side of Martin Prince.  And then there’s this:

This is the antithesis of The Simpsons that fans came to know and love.

That doesn’t make a lick of sense.  If the early episodes aren’t what made the fans love the show, then what was?  How did all that Bart-centered publicity get started in the first place if not because people loved the show right from the start?  But that’s nothing compared to what’s coming:

At its heart, The Simpsons works so well because it’s a television show about a community. Much like South Park, many of the best episodes of The Simpsons deal with the town overcoming their differences to stop a ridiculous threat. Marge vs. The Monorail is much bigger than Marge herself: it’s about Springfield. Even the Treehouse of Horror episodes celebrate the diverse cast and the many comedic possibilities they provide, not just Bart or Homer putting on a mask.

That last sentence is a real doozy, particularly in an article that’s claiming to reveal hidden truths about the progression of the early years of The Simpsons.  Remember, he’s arguing that the early years of the show were somehow Bart-centric.  But the first Treehouse of Horror was in Season 2, and all three of its segments (the demonic house, the alien abduction, and the poem) revolve around the whole family.  Bear that in mind as we continue:

If the show had stayed exclusively focused on Bart, we might never have had episodes like “Homer Loves Flanders” or “Sideshow Bob Roberts.” The flavor of Springfield, and many of the non-family characters fans love would’ve stayed in the background for quick cut-a-aways and sight gags – just as they still do on Family Guy now.

Again, the counterexamples to this are so numerous that you could spend days listing them.  For the sake of brevity, I’ll confine myself to blatant, episode-scale counterexamples from Season 2 only: “Dead Putting Society”, “Principal Charming”, “Bart Gets Hit By a Car”, and “Three Men and a Comic Book”.  The first three are heavily focused on non-family characters, Flanders, Skinner, and Burns, respectively (“Bart Gets Hit By a Car” also gave us Lionel Hutz in his first star turn).  Besides the involvement of Milhouse and Martin, the last one introduces us to Comic Book Guy as a real character and driver of the plot, not someone in the background or used in “cut-a-aways”.  I could go on, but I’d like to finish this before dusk:

So what changed that saved The Simpsons?

Nothing?  Sorry, I’m interrupting.  Please, continue:

According to some accounts – and the NBC Page tour if you took it before 2009 – then-writer Conan O’Brien lead the charge to shift the focus of the show from Bart onto Homer and Marge.  And there is some merit to the claim.

It’s not a good sign if the only source you can cite is the NBC Page tour.  They aren’t exactly known for their rigorous academic standards and copious footnoting.  The next sentence is truly a wonder, and needs to be considered on its own:

If you look at the episode list of Season 4 (often considered the Golden Age of The Simpsons) and compare it to Season 3, there are far fewer Bart-themed episodes and infinitely more based on Marge, a previously-boring nag character.

Wait a minute, weren’t you just talking about Conan O’Brien?  Because he came aboard full-time in Season 3, not Season 4.  His name is on every every single episode in Season 3.  And while it’s true that there are more (though hardly “infinitely”) Marge episodes in Season 4 than in Season 3, there are just as many in Season 2, before O’Brien arrived, as there are in Season 4.

Season 2, after all, contains both “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge” and “Brush with Greatness”, not to mention episodes like “The Way We Was”, “The War of the Simpsons”, and “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”.  That last one, which was written and produced at the height of America’s obsession with everything Bart, hardly has Bart in it and lets Marge thwart Mr. Burns.  Season 4 certainly has more episodes with Marge’s name in the title, but you’d be hard pressed to argue that she was a bigger part of Season 4 than she was of Season 2.

I don’t mean to be unduly harsh or mean here, but when the central premise is little more than an urban legend, it isn’t going to be hard to poke holes in the supporting arguments.  Conan O’Brien did wonderful things on The Simpsons, but he didn’t personally reorient the show away from Bart.  Marge, Lisa, and all the many denizens of Springfield were never relegated to the background, they were always right there on center stage.  It’s easy to think otherwise, to remember the hype instead of the substance, but the show’s only use for all those catchphrase infused key chains and bumper stickers was as comedy targets.

11
Dec
10

Simpsons History: There Never Was a Shift to Homer

Last summer, I wrote a post demonstrating that the idea that The Simpsons had once been Bart centric and then became Homer centric was nothing more than a myth. I went through Seasons 1 and 2 and tallied the episodes as either Bart centered, Homer centered, or centered around neither or both of them. Obviously such categorizations reflect my opinion, but you’d be hard pressed to tilt more than an episode or two this way or that. Take “Principal Charming” for example. I counted it as Both/Neither because while Homer has to search for a man for Selma, Bart’s the one who takes advantage of the love struck Skinner, and neither of them is the subject of the main plot. Episodes like “Bart the General” and “Homer’s Odyssey” are also easy to classify. The results:

Season 1: 6 Bart – 4 Homer – 3 Both/Neither

Season 2: 6 Bart – 7 Homer – 9 Both/Neither

In total, that’s 12 for Bart, 11 for Homer, and 12 Both/Neither through the first two seasons. As I said above, you could quibble with some of these and produce a few more one way or the other, but it would be very hard to say that the early years of the show were heavily tilted towards Bart. Of course, just because the show was never Bart centric doesn’t mean that it didn’t become Homer centric after those first years. So let’s take a look at the next two seasons, when this transition is supposed to have occurred.

Episodes are labeled either Bart, Homer, or Both/Neither for ones where they’re relatively equally matched or episodes where other characters predominate. Here’s Season 3 (24 episodes):

  • Stark Raving Dad – Bart is the reason Homer’s in the institute, but it’s definitely a Homer episode.
  • Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington – This is obviously a Both/Neither.
  • When Flanders Failed – I’m tempted to call this a Homer one because he’s the one who keeps not telling people about the Leftorium, on the other hand, the rather major subplot (including the reason Homer is in the mall at all) is Bart’s non-karate lessons, so this one goes to Both/Neither.
  • Bart the Murderer – Yeah, this one is Bart.
  • Homer Defined – Just as this one is Homer.
  • Like Father, Like Clown – This one has far more Bart and it’s Bart (and Lisa) who work so hard to get Krusty back with his dad.
  • Treehouse of Horror II – Both/Neither, for obvious reasons.
  • Lisa’s Pony – This one could be placed under Both/Neither because it’s really more of a Lisa episode, but there’s just more Homer than Bart so Homer gets it.
  • Saturdays of Thunder – Both/Neither.
  • Flaming Moe’s – Definitely Homer.
  • Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk – Ditto. (Homer)
  • I Married Marge – Homer’s on a roll.
  • Radio Bart – But this one is Bart.
  • Lisa the Greek – Same basic deal as “Lisa’s Pony” so it goes to Homer.
  • Homer Alone – Despite Homer’s name in the title, this is more of a Marge episode; even once she heads for Rancho Relaxo we follow both Homer alone and the kids with her sisters, so it’s a Both/Neither.
  • Bart the Lover – This one is Bart all the way.
  • Homer at the Bat – I’m writing this one down just for the sake of completeness but, yeah, it’s Homer.
  • Separate Vocations – Bart.
  • Dog of Death – Again, Bart, Homer’s got a couple of great scenes, but Santa’s Little Helper is Bart’s dog and this is very much Bart’s episode.
  • Colonel Homer – That’s Colonel Homer to you.
  • Black Widower – Sideshow Bob = Bart.
  • The Otto Show – Otto is Bart’s friend, not Homer’s.
  • Bart’s Friend Falls in Love – Speaking of Bart’s friends.
  • Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes? – The First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstand Achievement in the Field of Excellence goes to Homer.

The tally for Season 3 is 9 for Bart, 10 for Homer, and 5 for Both/Neither. A little bit more Homer than Bart, but not much. Let’s go to Season 4 (22 episodes):

  • Kamp Krusty – This is Bart’s for sure.
  • A Streetcar Named Marge – A Both/Neither is tempting here just because this is a Marge episode, but there’s far more Homer than Bart, so Homer gets it.
  • Homer the Heretic – Once again only writing for the sake of completeness, Homer.
  • Lisa the Beauty Queen – Both/Neither, Homer gets her into the beauty pageant, but Bart helps her win (kinda).
  • Treehouse of Horror III – Both/Neither.
  • Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie – This is Bart for the simple reason that the whole story revolves around him.
  • Marge Gets a Job – More Both/Neither roll.
  • New Kid on the Block – This is Bart episode if ever there was one, though Homer’s strong work in the subplot deserves recognition.
  • Mr. Plow – Homer.
  • Lisa’s First Word – You could almost go Bart here, but it has to go to Both/Neither, it just wouldn’t be the ’84 Olympics without both of them.
  • Homer’s Triple Bypass – Homer’s for sure.
  • Marge vs. the Monorail – As close as “Lisa’s First Word” is to Bart, this one is to Homer, but in the end it just isn’t one of his episodes so I’m calling it Both/Neither.
  • Selma’s Choice – Both/Neither.
  • Brother From the Same Planet – This one is Both/Neither if ever there was one.
  • I Love Lisa – Both/Neither.
  • Duffless – This one is Homer’s all over.
  • Last Exit to Springfield – Homer, again.
  • So It’s Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show – Both/Neither.
  • The Front – Once again we’re confronted with a Bart heavy main plot and a Homer heavy sub plot and on this one I’m gonna call it a draw and say Both/Neither.
  • Whacking Day – This is a Bart episode, no question.
  • Marge in Chains – Both/Neither.
  • Krusty Gets Kancelled – This one goes to Bart for getting his pal back on the air.

The Season 4 tally reads 5 for Bart, 6 for Homer, and a whopping 11 for Both/Neither. Combined, Season 3 and 4 have 14 for Bart, 16 for Homer, and 16 for Both/Neither. Finally, the combined tally for Seasons 1-4 is 26 for Bart, 27 for Homer and 28 for Both/Neither. While the show was never really Bart centric, it did have a slight shift to Homer episodes, but it started happening in Season 2 the emphasis needs to be on the word “slight”. Neither Homer nor Bart was ever the exclusive center of the show.

Like the concept of the show once focusing on Bart, the widespread idea that it later did the same to Homer can probably be blamed on the fads of the time. As the initial mania over Bart t-shirts and the like faded, Homer became the natural face of the show in the public’s mind. After all, he’s the dad on a family comedy, and family comedies have long been defined by their dad characters. The show itself was always remarkably consistent; the only thing that really changed was the way people thought about it.

05
Nov
10

Reading Digest: “We’re All Gonna Die!” Edition

Homer the Great5

“You have joined the sacred order of the Stonecutters, who since ancient times have split the rocks of ignorance that obscure the light of knowledge and truth.  Now let’s all get drunk and play ping pong!” – Number One

The conspiracy loons are shitting themselves in their various dark corners of the internet this week because of that idiotic video I mentioned last night.  This week, we’ve got two more equally nutty links related to it, and it’s picking up steam.  As of this writing, the video has ninety thousand views on YouTube, it was at fifty-four thousand when I found it yesterday.  I’d say that there are going to be a lot of disappointed people when nothing happens tomorrow, but these are conspiracy nuts we’re talking about.  They’re just as adept at weaving non-events into their convoluted tapestries as they are things that actually happen.  In less crazy news, we’ve got lots of leftover Halloween links, a sweet hula hoop routine, and further proof of just how lifeless the Zombie Simpsons animation really is. 

Enjoy.

Has the Next False Flag Event Been Predicted by a TV Show Once Again? – Let’s get these out of the way quickly:

In the video are several shows and or movies that eerily predicted real events shortly before they happened.   These “predictions” happen a little too often to be called “coincidences”.  I mean really, what are the odds? It seems the “Simpsons” are an illuminati favorite.

The next time you see the Illuminati, do me a favor and tell them to cancel Zombie Simpsons, would you?

Obama Bailing with Checkbook on 11/5 with 3000 others…Something up?? – One question mark was clearly insufficient for this insightful scholar: 

Obama is on his way to Mumbai, India along with approximately 3000 others. As they leave, they will be taking a blank checkbook in hopes of writing $200 million a day, firing up 40 planes, armored cars, helicopters, security forces,  and 34 warships for the visit. Is something up? As rumors circulate of a false flag attack suspected on 11/6/2010 – is Obama bailing for a reason or just to blow some mega money? As rumors circulate all over the Internet over a Simpson cartoon aired, many people in America are paranoid their might be a “false flag attack” coming. As another episode of the Simpsons predicted 9/11, some are paying attention to what messages might be portrayed in Hollywood movies and episodes these days. As elections are over in America, Obama bails to India on the expense of the American people again using unbelievable amounts of money and resources – this time taking three thousand people with him.

It’s official, the record for most sentences beginning with the word “As” in a single paragraph has been set.  Somebody call Guinness, that is, if we haven’t all been incinerated by Sunday, but I’ll take my chances on that one. 

The Stiffsons – This is Smooth Charlie’s Click of the Week, courtesy of readers Sean and Robin who both sent it in.  It’s a devastating side by side comparison of The Simpsons opening and the HD Zombie Simpsons opening.  The commenters there are also on the side of the angles, with Tom Kurzanski’s being my favorite:

Cartoonbrew Comment

Pigs…In 10 Words – Major props to our friend at In 10 Words for using Sir Oinks-a-Lot and not Spider Pig.

The Simpsons on Facebook – Remember when the Zombie Simpsons writers were too lazy to put any jokes into Mark Zuckerberg’s fake Facebook page?  Well, Pleated Jeans did them one better.  I’m particularly fond of “Edna Krabappel is now friends with Gordie Howe”.

Futurama vs The Simpsons – I’m pretty sure I put the Simpsons version of this on Twitter last week, but who cares?  This is the main cast of both shows rendered in just three pixels each.  It’s phenomenal.  I wonder how many of the secondary characters could be done?

The Simpsons’ not-so-little helper – A one volume Simpsons encyclopedia just came out.  Unfortunately, it covers Seasons 1-20.  Can I get one that does half that for half the price?

Top Ten Tree house of Horror Segments – How about one more Treehouse of Horror top ten segment list?  This one has nary a trace of Zombie Simpsons. 

All I Learned About American Politics I Learned From The Simpsons – I too watched “Sideshow Bob Roberts” on Tuesday. 

Simpsons Sunday-Happy Halloween! – More cromulent YouTube from our friend Leah at Cromulent Words.  It’s hard for me to watch YouTube when you keep spilling meat tenderizer all over me.

Not a Treehouse of Horror – The finished product from that link from last week about making Homer and Marge Halloween costumes.  Excellent. 

Some Simpsons Halloween Highlights – Three Hulu YouTubes, zero Zombie Simpsons. 

Bart Simpson Never Ate Ginger Cranberry Sauce with Wild Blueberries – Just in time for Thanksgiving, it’s a cranberry sauce recipe complete with YouTube a la Bart. 

Homer and Marge Simpson – More awesome Homer and Marge Halloween costumes.  The Duff six pack is a nice touch. 

Humor Chic Fantasy Alert – Marge Simpson, A New Fashion Skeleton Victim – A fan drawing of skeleton-anorexia-Marge on a hypothetical cover of Harper’s Bazaar.  Neat.

How to draw Maggie Simpson from The Simpsons – This is another “how to” video with actual instructions. 

The Be Sharps – BustedTees now has a Be Sharps shirt. 

Marge Simpson Halloween Hoop Dance – And finally, I put this up on Twitter earlier in the week, but it’s too cool not to put on the front page:

The odd, elevator/reggae arrangement of the theme song actually works. 

04
Nov
10

Conspiracy Nuts Think Zombie Simpsons Predicts Nuclear Holocaust on Saturday

Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy9

“Scary, no?  And this guy’s head of the Spaceology Department at the Correspondence College of Tampa!” – Bart Simpson

Ladies and gentlemen, hold on to your tinfoil hats, because YouTube user “truthwillfindyoubru” is about to avert a nuclear holocaust this Saturday!  I found it on a blog called “2012 THE AWAKENING”, the url of which is “ascendingstarseed”, so you know this is completely legitimate and above board.  Feast your Stonecutter-Illuminati-Black Ops-Freemason-Cult of Darius-CIA/MI6/007 eyes on this:

Or, you know, don’t.  Really.  Don’t.  But I did, all ten minutes and forty-four idiotic seconds of it.

The basic premise here is that the Zombie Simpsons episode “To Surveil With Love”, which I had more or less completely forgotten, foretells a “black flag” nuclear bomb attack scheduled for this Saturday the 6th of November, 2010.  The “black flag” part means that this nuclear detonation will be carried out by nefarious forces and blamed on someone else as a way to further the agenda of said nefarious forces.  Everybody got all that?  Good, let’s get to the tape.

The video starts out by rehashing the old conspiracist saw that  “City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” predicted the 2001 terrorist attacks crap.  If you’re unfamiliar with that bit of brilliant logic, here’s the screen grab that sent thousands of misguided people to their keyboards:

The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson3

Definitive proof that Ian Maxtone-Graham is history’s greatest monster.

After that, the video mentions an episode of the X-Files spinoff “The Lone Gunman” where a plane doesn’t hit anything, a made for TV movie from 2005 about a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, and the bland and forgettable Nicholas Cage move “Knowing”.  Why?  Well, the first one obviously predicted the attack on the World Trade Center, because prior to that no one had ever thought of using a plane as a weapon.  The second one because hurricanes are so very rare in the Gulf of Mexico.  And the third one is obvious because that movie mentioned an oil rig fire and no offshore oil rigs have ever caught fire before Deepwater Horizon.  Once those not-at-all-insane connections have been made, we get a title card screen, “Now back to the point of this video”.  Very well, let us continue.

In case you, like me, don’t remember this particular piece of the haphazard scrawl that is Zombie Simpsons, here’s the FOX description:

A bomb squad mistakenly blows up Homer’s unattended gym bag, releasing radiation into the city and authorities react by suspending civil liberties.

Wiggum and his men install surveillance cameras around Springfield and round up suspected terrorists, including Groundskeeper Willie, but when monitoring the nonstop flow of video imagery proves to be too much, Wiggum enlists concerned citizens to help keep the city safe.

Meanwhile, Lisa becomes fed up with being blond, so she dyes her hair a dark color

Sadly, this video contains nothing about whether or not the world is ruled by a cabal of natural blondes who dye their hair.  Instead, it has things like this:

Idiotic Conspiracy1

The nuclear explosion seems self-evident, but the author felt the need to highlight it for us.  Why is the clock circled?  Because it tells us when the real nuclear bomb is going to go off.  I mean, duh:

Idiotic Conspiracy2

I’m not sure what a clock with a white face and black numbers has to do with freemasonry, but if their powers are so great as to control the level of contrast we perceive in the visible spectrum then we’re all doomed.  Just in case that lone, yellow arrow isn’t enough to make this subtle and perfectly logical message clear to you:

Idiotic Conspiracy3

See?  The fact that the clock is round clearly means that it’s a zero and the base a one and . . . holy shit we’re all gonna die!  Look:

Idiotic Conspiracy4

Almost certainly not?  I mean, it’s just a teevee show, and clocks are naturally round and . . . oh, you were looking for the answer “yes”?  Then “yes”:

Idiotic Conspiracy5

Touching your toes before you play sports is a stretch.  This is more of a baseless conjecture with no supporting evidence and a mountain of reasons why it’s stupid.  But please, go on:

Idiotic Conspiracy6

Wait, I thought it was the Freemasons.  Now it’s the Illuminati?  It must be, “apparently” they’ve infiltrated everything except the library board.  Or is Mrs. Glick’s stance on increasing the late fees part of something sinister?  And now, my favorite part:

Idiotic Conspiracy7

That is Grade A base covering.  If there is no nuclear detonation on Saturday (SPOILER ALERT: There won’t be.), it’s not because this whole thing is batshit crazy and dumber than a box of rocks.  It’s because enough people figured it out and the dark ones called it off.  The video concludes with a painfully sincere plea to share and copy this to “get this information out there!”, before recommending a bunch of other unhinged crap you can watch for further information.

I wouldn’t do that, nor would I ever want to watch “To Surveil With Love” ever again.  Besides, this episode had a far more terrifying component.  This was the one with the Kesha opening.  The horror.

01
Jul
10

Troy McClure’s Filmography (Sort Of)

This rather goofy image of many Troy McClure titles has been making the rounds the last couple of days.  It’s on Reddit, Huffington Post, College Humor, and I’ve seen others link to it as well:

Troy McClure Titles (and then some)

I know it’s a little small (click to embiggen), but you’ll notice right away that there are a lot of unfamiliar titles.  SNPP tells me that at least some of them are from Simpsons comics (with which I am unfamiliar), but others seem to have been pulled out of thin air.  “Saturnforce000” and “Pinch Me, I’m in Boise” don’t ring a bell, and didn’t produce squat on Google.  Also, “The Simpsons 38th Episode Spectacular” is just a wee bit off.  So, yeah, this is cute, just not quite what it advertises itself to be.

Though we did get this on a comment at the Reddit page:

People still watch the Simpsons?

21
May
10

So Much For That Theory

“Why are you guys jumping to such ridiculous conclusions?  Haven’t you ever heard of Occam’s razor?  The simplest explanation is probably the correct one.” – Lisa Simpson

Last week, I speculated that FOX might have a dual purpose in trying out their new animated show “Bob’s Burgers” in the fall, before they had to make a decision on whether or not to bring back Zombie Simpsons for 2011-2012.  Not so much:

Expect a new animated comedy titled “Bob’s Burgers” during the midseason (which won’t be a success, I can tell you that now).

“Bob’s Burgers” won’t be showing up until mid-season, so there will be no window between its premier and the production of the Season 22 finale.  My conspiracy theory about the saucer people and the RAND corporation was wrong.  Can’t say I’m that surprised. 

What does this mean for a Season 23?  Maybe a lot, probably nothing.  FOX is still going to have more shows than it can fit in a two hour bloc on Sunday, but who knows what that means?  Whether or not they’ve decided to finally put Zombie Simpsons out of its misery remains an open question.  Here’s hoping. 

13
May
10

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 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):

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. 

08
Apr
10

EXCLUSIVE: Zombie Simpsons Couch Gag Preview! (Updated)

“Marge, I have always carried myself with a certain quiet dignity, tonight you robbed me of it.” – Homer Simpson

Only at Dead Homer Society, you can see the exclusive, sneak peak, first look, WORLD PREMIER of the couch gag for the May 2 Zombie Simpsons episode “To Surveil, With Love”:

Presumably they will animate it before it airs.

I wish I were kidding, but this morning reader Alex wrote in and tipped us off to this latest Zombie Simpsons nadir.  Behold, the press release from hell:

Don’t miss a note of “FOX Rocks,” a week of music-themed episodes kicking off Thursday, April 29 and airing through Wednesday, May 5.  Throughout the rockin’ week, FOX’s primetime series – including BONES, FRINGE, HOUSE, GLEE, THE SIMPSONS, THE CLEVELAND SHOW, FAMILY GUY, THE WANDA SYKES SHOW and AMERICAN IDOL – will feature a variety of musical elements.

[…]

THE SIMPSONS (8:00-8:30 PM ET/PT) – “To Surveil, With Love”

During a special musical couch gag, SIMPSONS characters sing along to Ke$ha’s smash hit “TiK ToK.”

Zombie Simpsons is farming out the couch gag.  Apparently they thought someone else could come up with a humorless, over-animated montage just  as good as theirs.  Or they breathed a sigh of relief when they realized this would help kill a few more precious seconds of screen time.  Either way, less work for them!  By the way, as of this writing, “Tik Tok” is #9 on the Billboard pop chart, down from #5 last week.  So, once again, Zombie Simpsons has missed its chance to be topical. 

Taking a step back, what we have here is a couch gag used to promote a hit song that was put out by an artist who (as far as we know) isn’t a guest voice, and all timed to coincide with FOX’s little musical week.  Didn’t this show used to pride itself on its lack of network interference?  I have imaginary friends who have more integrity than Zombie Simpsons. 

By the way, I’m setting the over/under on length for this little program-linked-advertisement at 40.5 seconds. 

Update at 5:07pm EDT: And the hits just keep on coming.  Via Alex’s Twitter feed I see that “American Idol” will be gracing Zombie Simpsons on May 23rd for the season finale.  I guess that advertisement for “24” they passed off as an episode a few years ago is considered such a classic that they decided to do it again.  Though, given the relative ratings for “American Idol” and Zombie Simpsons, it seems like this is more of a favor to Zombie Simpsons than from them. 

12
Jan
10

Does Seth MacFarlane have feelings?

I’ll give the writers of Zombie Simpsons credit where credit is due: when they want to go out on a formulaic note, they don’t hold back. To say that Sunday’s ending was supremely schmaltzy is an understatement, as Krusty and Penelope lovingly floated away on the Seine under a starry sky to an acoustic version of “Moon River.” As if that weren’t enough, the writers took an additional opportunity to blanket the audience with warm fuzzies in the form of a passive aggressive “fuck you” to the haters (i.e., us.):

Right. Ignoring the self-delusion in the second line, it’s interesting to note that an alternate, almost funny ending was screened to journalists earlier. Whatever you think of the Family Guy/Simpsons rivalry/non-rivalry, you have to admit the snarkier text is worth a chuckle:

I suspect we’ll never know why one version aired over another, but Gawker and the New York Times have half-heartedly speculated the latter was axed to spare Seth MacFarlane’s feelings. Then again, does a wealthy man like Seth even care what others think about him? Highly unlikely.

16
Oct
09

A Very Minor Thing That’s Been Annoying Me

Arts Beat blog at nytimes.com:

If this is the 20th season of “The Simpsons,” then it must be time for “Treehouse of Horror XX” (Fox, 8 p.m. Sunday). Krusty and Mel are both responsible for deadly foodstuffs.

No, this is not the 20th season.  It is the 21st season.  All that promotional crap FOX has been spewing all over the place with that 20 logo of Homer chocking Bart (like on the DVD box) has confused the shit out of a lot of people who should know better.  I’ve seen this referred to as the 20th season in more places than I can recall.  If something has its 20th anniversary that means it’s starting (or in this case already in) its 21st year.  This isn’t even math, it’s just counting.

08
Oct
09

Previous Naked Money Grabs Considered Insufficient

I'm too tired to photoshop blood or fire onto this.  Use your imagination.

I'm too tired to photoshop blood or fire onto this. Use your imagination.

I held off on posting this yesterday because it’s a rumor I really didn’t want to be true, but Simpsons Channel says it’s happening (there’s already box art) so I guess it’s time to move on to Stage 2: Anger.  Season fucking 20 is heading to an optical drive near you this year, as in before Christmas.  And just a few months after I thought I was done with 20 for a long time.  Anyway, they’re using the fact that some of Season 20 was broadcast in HD as an excuse to release this simultaneously on both DVD and Blu-ray.

Hey, I think I just skipped Fear and went straight to Bargaining.  Check this out: FOX is passing over Seasons 13-19, right?  And they’ve got to know that getting a show out on home video before it goes off the air forever is a profitable move, right?  Strike while your iron is hot, and all that.  So maybe they’ve got an end date in mind for Zombie Simpsons (please!) and they’re speeding things up to try and get as many seasons out as possible before they pull the plug and start broadcasting Seth MacFarlane Reads the Phonebook at 8:00pm on Sundays.

Or they just want to start selling shit on Blu-ray.  Hmmm, maybe I’m still in Stage 1.

07
Oct
09

Spurlock Non-Update: No Sequel

Yesterday, at the Mipcom thing we mentioned a little while back, Groening himself said that there would be no sequel to the movie so long as the show was on the air.  AceShowbiz:

There won’t be a sequel to "The Simpsons Movie" until the TV series finally wraps. In an interview at the Mipcom sales mart for a creative keynote event, creator Matt Groening told director Morgan Spurlock that the second movie is far from happening because making the series and producing the movie was so exhausting.

That’s followed up by yet another ‘I dunno’ from Al Jean on the subject of when the series will end.  So in conclusion, there is no news here except that Jean was asked the same question he’s always asked, “When is your show ending?”. 

Setting aside the fact that I very much want to see the show end, I feel for Jean in these circumstances.  Every time I see an interview with him it follows the exact same formula:

  1. He states that the show is still funny even after all these years.
  2. He talks about upcoming episodes and/or celebrity voices.
  3. He says he doesn’t know when the show will end.

It’s like clockwork.  But despite the fact that they’re signed through Season 22, and even though they signed that extension earlier this year, it’s all they ever seem to get asked about. 

17
Jul
09

Still Careful About What I Wish For

Furutama Replacements

“You’ll be the captain; you’ll be the delivery boy; and you’ll be the alcoholic, foul mouthed-oh god, you’re alive!  I mean, thank god you’re alive!  Sorry, check back in three days, a week at the most.” – Prof. Farnsworth

This is fresh in from the Rockin’ Rumor Department, but it looks as if FOX is at least thinking about recasting Futurama.  Phil LaMarr’s Facebook page says this:

Phil LaMarr is happy for my friends at Family Guy (Emmy nomination!) and very unhappy for my friends at Futurama (replacing the cast!)

Forces of Geek has a full casting notice for Fry, Leela, Bender, Farnsworth, Zoidberg, Mom, Brannigan and Kif.  This is, obviously, not a final decision and speculation is already rampant that this is just a squeeze play for salary negotiations.  So it may be a tempest in an internet teacup, and let’s hope it is because if they replace the voices for the Futurama return it would suck balls.

This is pretty much exactly what I was talking about last month when the news came that Futurama was coming back.  A show like this is not something that can just be turned off and then turned back on again and the road back to production can be bumpy as hell.   Anyway, here’s hoping.

(Via Traveling With Jim’s Weblog)

18
Jun
09

The Simpsons Do Not Make People Smoke (Duh)

Lisa the Vegetarian2

“Just ask this scientician.” – Troy McClure

There was a brief media explosion a couple of weeks ago over a study out of Australia that purports to show a link between watching The Simpsons and taking up cigarette smoking.  It’s a terrific piece of media bait, it’s got name recognition and it seems newsworthy.  However, the survey is flimsy, even to an untrained eye.

Basically what they did was take this list of instances of smoking on the show and then rate them as “positive”, “negative” or “neutral”:

Just over a third of instances of smoking (275; 35%) reflected smoking in a negative way, compared with the majority, which reflected smoking in a neutral way (504; 63%) and the minority, which reflected smoking in a positive way (16; 2%).

My first reaction to this was something along the lines of, “How the hell did they find 16 positive mentions of smoking?”.  But then I got to thinking about it and I came up with a few.  How about:

  • When Troy McClure and Selma bond over smoking.
  • When Jack Larson goes on TV after Fat Tony hijacks the cigarette truck and describes Laramies and “their smooth, good taste”.
  • When Buddy Hodges, as Fallout Boy, says he wishes he was old enough to smoke Laramies and Dirk Richter, as Radioactive Man, replies, “Not until you’re sixteen.”
  • When Bart is holding the stolen Laramies for Fat Tony the pickup man tells Bart, “Hey kid, you look good with that cigarette, kinda sophisticated.”

So, clearly there are some positive mentions of smoking, even if to see them as positive you need to be blind and deaf to the satire, which, to be fair, little kids might be.  Not being sure, I e-mailed Dr. Guy Eslick, the author of the study.  He kindly wrote back with a couple of examples.

According to Eslick, Lisa being in the Little Miss Springfield pageant was filed under “negative” while Selma giving up smoking to adopt a baby (deep into Zombie Simpsons) was “positive”.  Animals smoking was considered “neutral”.

Then I went to the website (the only thing it shows for free now is the abstract, but the whole thing was there earlier) and actually read it in its entirety.  And though I’m not an expert it seems to me that there are a lot of things that make its conclusion questionable.  They note that the characters seen smoking most often (Patty, Selma, Krusty and Mrs. Krabappel) aren’t exactly the kind of figures children would want to emulate but quickly discount that.  Then there’s the concluding paragraph, laden with footnotes, which doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.  To show you what I’m talking about, I’m going to fisk it footnote-by-footnote:

Previous studies have highlighted the influence of onscreen use of tobacco by movie stars on adolescents, and the increased likelihood of these adolescents taking up smoking.6

#6 points you to this study publishing in 2001.  The data was based on “a voluntary, self administered survey in October 1996”.  First of all, “voluntary” and “self administered” are not words commonly associated with solid data.  So right off the bat we’ve got a pretty big red flag.  The survey was completed by 632 kids, aged 10-19 and it asked them about their personal smoking habits and then who their favorite movie star was.  The survey then charted those stars’ films from 1994-1996 and measured how many times they smoked on screen.  Kids who chose stars who smoked more often were more likely to have either smoked themselves or have a favorable attitude towards smoking.  In other words, there was a correlation between adolescents who smoked (or tried it or at least didn’t hate the idea of it) and liking movies where movie stars smoked.  It doesn’t address what caused kids to smoke or develop relatively pro-smoking attitudes.  Indeed, it seems almost axiomatic that kids attracted to more “adult” movies where characters are more likely to smoke would also have more “adult” ideas about cigarettes.

Moreover, other research has found that very young children (aged 3–6 years) see, understand and remember cigarette advertising,7

This one is a study from 1991 where kids aged 3-6 were able to match Joe Camel with with a picture of a cigarette.  That’s right, Joe Camel, who hasn’t been on any cigarette advertising since 1997 when The Simpsons was on Season 8.  I’m afraid I just don’t see how this is relevant.

and the use of cartoon characters like Joe Camel by RJR Nabisco has been reported to be more effective in marketing cigarettes to children than to adults.8

This one is also from 1991 and is almost complete bullshit.  Its stated purpose is to determine whether Joe Camel is aimed at “children”.  But the “children” used in this study were all in high school.  Moreover, the “children” were from all over the US, while the “adults” (described here as being over 21) were only from Massachusetts so there are a lot of uncontrolled variables at work here.  I’m not defending the use of Joe Camel, it was sleazy as hell.  But high school kids aren’t exactly “children” the same way 3-6 year olds are “children” and it’s disingenuous to conflate the two.

A more recent study has suggested that children who watch a lot of television are more likely to start smoking at a younger age.9

This one is a 2005 study of high school age kids in Belgium.  Basically it found that the more television a kid watches (and any television would do) the earlier they’re likely to at least try smoking.  It establishes a high correlation, but again makes no effort to study causation.  In fact, here is the final sentence of the abstract, “Further research should examine whether the relationship is causal and whether television acts as a provider of smoking role models or whether it influences smoking attitudes.”  Causation is explicitly not covered by this study.

Indeed, the consensus appears to indicate that there is a causal relationship between exposure to movie and television depictions of smoking and the initiation of smoking among children and adolescents.10

That footnote, supporting the contention that there is a consensus about causation, takes you to a PDF file that is a list of the titles of a number of smoking related research papers.  Going by the titles (I was unable to find the texts free on-line) few to none of them have anything to do with television watching as a motivator for smoking.  Obviously I could be wrong about that, I haven’t read the studies, but the titles (e.g. “Tobacco and the Clinician: Interventions for Medical and Dental Practice” and “Changes in Cigarette-Related Disease Risks and Their Implications for Prevention and Control”) aren’t promising.

If this is true, children and adolescents who watch The Simpsons and observe the characters who smoke cigarettes may be influenced to take up smoking, despite more instances of smoking being reflected in a negative way (35%) or neutral way (63%) than a positive way (2%). Just being exposed to The Simpsons characters smoking in so many episodes may prompt children to consider smoking at an early age.

There’s a lot of caveats and conditionals there: “If this”, “may be”, “despite”, etcetera.  I am not a scientist, nor am I an expert on smoking or child development.  But the evidence here is thin at the very least.

I am also not a smoker, I never have been a smoker, and taking up smoking strikes me as one of the dumber things people do.  But this type of study simply isn’t an effective way to combat it.  All it does is generate vapid media headlines like these:

‘The Simpsons’ ‘promotes smoking’The Telegraph in the UK.

Study lights into Simpsons for smoking scenes – CBC.ca in Canada.

D’oh! Simpsons ‘may encourage’ underage smoking – ABC in Australia.

Simpsons encourage youngsters to smoke – The Times of India.

Satire leads to smoking – The Charleston Daily Mail here in the States.

As we can see from the footnotes in the study the evidence that watching The Simpsons (or anything else for that matter) actually causes people to smoke is thin and bordering on non-existent.  But people like to tut-tut smoking and so, without doing any kind of diligence, it’s off to the races to condemn the show.  This is media masturbation, plain and simple.

I’m very sympathetic to public health officials who want to reduce rates of smoking.  Cigarette smoking, and the chemical dependency on nicotine that often accompanies it, imposes very real costs on smoker and non-smoker alike.  But studies like this one amount to little more than sensationalism that allows blowhards to get up on their high horse and decry things they don’t like.*  The Simpson family and the other characters on the show are globally recognizable symbols and so they make for an easy hook on which to hang an article or a diatribe.

The Simpsons shows characters smoking because in real life people smoke.  To pretend otherwise would be denialism.  It doesn’t glamorize smoking, it doesn’t hide the side effects.  If anything The Simpsons highlights the side effects and the negative costs of smoking.  What more can be expected of a media portrayal?

The conclusion here seems to be that every person who has ever smoked a cigarette had first seen someone else smoke, in real life or on screen.  Well, duh.  You’d need to grow up in a pretty isolated bubble to never see anyone smoke a cigarette.  It’s an exercise in circular logic: if no one smoked, then no one would ever see anyone smoking, and thus no one would smoke.  In the real world smoking is something some people choose to take up.  That many of them do so as teenagers, before they’re legally allowed to purchase a pack, is an unavoidable reality.  People pick up a lot of habits, good and bad, when they’re teenagers, always have, always will.

It’s not like smoking is some great mystery.  Anyone old enough to find the idea of it attractive has probably seen thousands of ads for products to help people quit, knows that it’s addictive, and chooses to do so anyway.  The reasons they make that choice (to impress someone, to rebel, just for fun, to experiment, and who knows what else) are probably as variable as the people who make them and the situations in which they live.

In this case we have a well intentioned study that serves as little more than an excuse for pointless demonization.  Smoking is a cultural tradition that was despicably exploited by amoral assholes, but that doesn’t make every effort to combat it noble or smart.

(Wow, this ended up a lot longer than I intended.  No more of this drivel, back to our regular programming.)

*Including, of course, me.

03
Jun
09

Simpsons History: The Bart Years Never Actually Happened

There is a general and widespread misperception out there that in the early days of The Simpsons the show focused mainly on Bart before becoming more Homer-centric.  It’s an idea one sees often on message boards and in general conversation about the show.  Here, for example, is the DVDfanatic.com review of Season 3:

I am not an ultra Simpsons fanatic, so forgive me if I am incorrect, but I remember Season Three being the season where the stories change focus from Bart as the main character to Homer. I feel this transition has made the show the mainstay that it has become.

The following sentence appears on the Wikipedia page for both The Simpsons and Bart Simpson:

While later seasons would focus on Homer, Bart was the lead character in most of the first three seasons.

These are pretty typical sentiments, even for hardcore Simpsons fans.  The problem is that if you look at the episodes there’s no real evidence to back it up.  Even way back in Season 1 the show was very balanced in terms of which characters it emphasized; Bart never dominated. 

But don’t take my word for it, let’s list the episodes and see what we find.  Episodes are labeled either Bart, Homer, or Both/Neither for ones where they’re relatively equally matched or episodes where other characters predominate. 

Season 1 (13 total episodes):   

  • Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire – This one goes to Homer.  While Bart is certainly in the episode the plot focuses on Homer’s attempts to save Christmas. 
  • Bart the Genius – This is a Bart one, no contest. 
  • Homer’s Odyssey – Again, no contest but this time in Homer’s favor.
  • There’s No Disgrace Like Home – This is another clear Homer episode. 
  • Bart the General – Bart.  Duh.
  • Moaning Lisa – This one goes under the Both/Neither category as they share the B plot.
  • The Call of the Simpsons – This one leans Homer, he’s the one who wants the RV after all, but as he and Bart then get lost together it goes to Both/Neither.
  • The Telltale Head – Definitely Bart
  • Life on the Fast Lane – Both/Neither, Homer’s got a little more to do with the story, but Bart and Lisa gradually freaking out is there too.
  • Homer’s Night Out – This one is kind of borderline between Both/Neither and being a Homer episode, but it goes to Homer on account of the fact that he’s more central to the plot.  Bart’s kinda along for the ride for much of it. 
  • The Crepes of Wrath – This one goes to Bart even though Homer dominates the B plot with Adil. 
  • Krusty Gets Busted – This is Bart for sure. 
  • Some Enchanted Evening – I think I have to give this one to Bart even though the beginning of the episode is all Homer. 

If you total those up that’s 6 for Bart, 4 for Homer and 3 for Both/Neither.  Obviously those decisions are subjective, and there’s a couple that could go either way, but unless you’re really pushing for one conclusion or another it’s pretty equal.  Let’s move on to Season 2 (22 episodes):

  • Bart Gets an F – Bart.  Again, duh. 
  • Simpson and Delilah – Homer, standing in for every bald guy in the country.
  • Treehouse of Horror – Both/Neither, all three parts are pretty evenly split. 
  • Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish – There’s more Homer than Bart, but you’d be hard pressed to call this a Homer episode so it goes to Both/Neither.
  • Dancin’ Homer – Homer in a landslide. 
  • Dead Putting Society – This one’s tricky because while it’s Bart who’s putting he’s doing so under constant pressure from Homer.  That said, I think on balance it goes to Bart
  • Bart vs. Thanksgiving – This one’s Bart in spades. 
  • Bart the Daredevil – Like “Dead Putting Society” there’s on balance more Bart so he gets this one, but there’s an awful lot of Homer here too. 
  • Itchy & Scratchy & Marge – Both/Neither
  • Bart Gets Hit by a Car – In spite of the fact that Bart’s name is in the title after he gets hit by the car it’s much more Homer-centric.  Still, Bart’s pretty crucial here so I think this one has to go under Both/Neither
  • One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish – This is a Homer one for sure. 
  • The Way We Was – Ditto, Homer for sure.  Bart isn’t even born for most of it. 
  • Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment – This is Homer all the way.   
  • Principal Charming – Both/Neither with a slight lean to Bart for all his mischief. 
  • Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? – The car designed for the average man?  The Homer
  • Bart’s Dog Gets an F – Bart for sure, as he spends a lot more time trying to keep the dog than Homer does trying to get rid of it.  There’s a lot of Lisa and Marge too, but this plot is ultimately about Bart. 
  • Old Money – Both/Neither, there’s a slight case to be made for Homer but not much of one. 
  • Brush with Greatness – Pretty much the same as “Old Money”, Homer’s here more than Bart but it’s not a Homer dominated episode so it goes Both/Neither
  • Lisa’s Substitute – This one has Bart running for class president, but with a lot of help from Homer, when you throw in Homer’s relationship with Lisa it goes Both/Neither
  • The War of the Simpsons – After Homer and Marge head up to Catfish Lake it’s pretty even, but before that it’s Homer all the way to this one goes to him. 
  • Three Men and a Comic Book – Bart in a walk. 
  • Blood Feud – This one goes to Both/Neither because they had to work together, first to save Mr. Burns and then to anger him. 

Tally these scores up and you get 7 for Homer, 6 for Bart and 9 for Both/Neither.  Through the first two seasons it’s neck and neck at 12 for Bart, 11 for Homer and 12 for Both/Neither.  Like I said above, you could push a few one way or the other if so inclined, but only a few.  On the whole things break very evenly. 

So what causes that longstanding misperception that once upon a time the show was Bart by the barrelful?  Quite simply I think it’s a marketing and merchandising hangover.  The show’s instant popularity filled the world with Bart t-shirts, not Homer t-shirts.  Bart was featured in more of the promotional spots and people talked about Bart more because he was America’s controversial bad boy in a way that Homer simply wasn’t.  The echo from that is still with us, but when you sit down and look at the show itself you’ll see that it was always balanced.  It was the merchandising, advertising and all the other crap swirling around the show that made it feel like it was Bart’s world and the rest of us were just living in it.

25
Mar
09

A Lesson in Internet Reading Comprehension

“After breakfast me and Milhouse are going down to the ravine.  We got a tip from a six year old that there’s a dead martian down there.” – Bart Simpson

I saw goofy little stories like this one and this one and this one on-line last week.  They amount to nothing that could be called news and I didn’t even include them in the Friday Link Dump.  Then I check in on Simpsons Channel this morning and what do I see?  

Sigh.  All of the above links can be traced to this post on the website of the British tabloid The Sun.  Here is the full quote from James L. Brooks:

“We’d love to have Barack on the show. No president has agreed to do it yet but we’ll keep asking.  We’re putting all the right signals out.”  

That’s it.  Brooks, speaking to a British newspaper, said they’d like to have Obama on the show.  Nothing more to it than that.  Of course The Sun, being a tabloid, has the headline read:

US President Barack Obama and British comic Russell Brand are being lined up for an appearance in The Simpsons

I’d say that’s overstating the case a bit, but it was enough and the internet took it from there.  

Would Obama want to do a guest voice on Zomibe Simpsons?  I have no idea, that’s up to him and the people around him.  For his sake I hope they’re either not thinking about it or decide not to do it.  There’s no sense tarnishing his image by associating him with a dying television show.  
But one thing’s for sure, having Brooks mention that they’d like to do it is a far, far cry from what these stories and headlines imply.  



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