It's The Hottest Ticket In Town
by LYNN ELBER
Bart Simpson is acting like himself, which is to say naughty. He also sounds like the Bart we know, with that familiar mischievous lilt. But Bart's voice is coming out of a petite blonde wearing a fluffy, bright-pink wrap.

Homer has morphed into a lanky fellow and Marge's towering blue hair is brown and tastefully cropped. The event is a "table read," when the cast of The Simpsons gathers with a roomful of writers, producers, and guests and use their imaginations to conjure the animated family with the distinctive mustard hue.

It is just one of the steps towards crafting an episode of this television phenomenon, now in its 16th season. Irreverent, witty, and willing to take on anything from politics to religion to family values, The Simpsons has provided a rare bit of spice for the oatmeal-bland bowl that is TV broadcasting.

The table read is held in a trailer at the 20th Century Fox studio in Los Angeles, where the series is produced. Actors, producers and writers sit at a huge table littered with water bottles and note pads.

Invitation-only visitors ring the table. Noticably absent are the network executives who often haunt rehearsals for shows, but The Simpsons has a rare stipulation, won by executive producer James L. Brooks, limiting Fox ececutive meddling.

"It's sort of the hottest ticket on the lot," says Yeardley Smith, who voices Lisa Simpson.

This is the first time this script has been performed after months of writing and revision. The assembled performers include Smith, Dan Castellaneta, who voices Homer, Krusty the clown, and Grandpa Simpson.

Also seated at the table is blonde Nancy Cartwright (Bart) in her pink wrap, Julie Kavner (Marge) and Harry Shearer, who does an array of voices including Ned Flanders and Mr. Burns.

Each 21 minute episode takes about nine months to create, including the animation work done in the US and South Korea. The actors move through their lines and most of the jokes draw guffaws from the room.

One person seated at the table rarely smiles. This shaggy-haired figure is a tough customer to win over. It's the series creator and executive producer, Matt Groening. "He's not an easy laugh, so when you get a laugh out of him you feel like 'Yes!' It's a big deal," Smith says of Groening, who follows the script carefully, taking notes for the show's writers.

Among his suggestions: omit a giggle from baby Maggie in one scene and beef up another in which Marge finds herself without a partner for her new bike built for two.

"It's a fairly well-oiled machine," Smith says. No matter what else changes, though, the characters stay the same. Says Smith: "It's about a bratty boy and a sensitive, intellectual girl, a dumb but well-meaning husband and a wife who's sweet and knows a little better than him."


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Disclaimer: This article is from the June 5, 2005 edition of Sunday Mail TVguide 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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