The Family That Never Grew Up
WHEN Harvard graduate Al Jean took a job to help turn a tonight show animated skit into a half-hour series, little did he know it was the start of a 14-year-long journey, reports MICHELLE COLLINS.

Despite rumours The Simpsons' days on air are numbered, executive producer Al Jean says there are no plans to say good-bye to Springfield and its famous family. Three-time Emmy Award winner Jean should know. He was there at the start and is credited on more than 200 episodes.

"I was hired as one of the first staff writers when they were turning The Simpsons shorts from The Tracey Ullman Show into a half-hour series," he says. "At that point I would have been insane to think that it would still be on the air 14 years later." Probably Jean was considered insane by colleagues for accepting the job. After all, there wasn't any animated series on prime-time television.

However, as he has found, in addition to the regular pay cheque, working with cartoon characters has its advantages. "It is more liberating than doing a live series," he says. "You can go anywhere and do anything and it doesn't cost a fortune to build a new set." The other obvious advantage is that these characters don't age. After more than a decade, Bart, Lisa, Homer, Maggie and Marge and their friends don't look a day older. "It is, I think, one of the secrets of our longevity," says Jean, who also has worked on TV shows Alf, Teen Angel and It's Garry Shandling's Show. "For The Simpsons, an episode from season two that was really good could air now and no one would know the difference."

Animation, however, does have its downside. While writers, producers and actors on real-life sitcoms enjoy a three-month break from filming each year, work on The Simpsons is a year-long job. That is how long it takes for one episode to make it to air after the initial idea is hatched. In that time, about 20 writers will have worked on the episode which will have gone through several re-writes. "Coming back to it is a really good way to keep up the quality," Jean says. "You see something that seemed realty funny two or three months ago and you go, 'Wait, that is not so great'."

Another reason for the show's success is that it has a character for everyone. "If you are an intellectual you like Lisa. If you are cool you like Bart. If you are perverted you kind of like Moe," he says.

• The Simpsons screens on Ten at 6pm Monday to Saturday and at 6:30pm on Sundays.

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Disclaimer: This article is from the June 23rd edition of TV Plus from the Sunday Mail newspaper in Adelaide, South Australia. It has been posted here for general information purposes and no profit is being made from this article. Visit The Advertiser/Sunday Mail website here.


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