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Fox Corp has cow over Toronto scribe’s Simpsons story

October 15, 2009

simpsonsReleased this week was The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History, Toronto-raised John Ortved’s oral history of The Simpsons franchise spun from his 2007 Vanity Fair story on the same topic. According to a piece Ortved wrote for the Daily Beast, a behind-the-scenes piece about the behind-the-scenes book (can I get a natch?), his poking through the Simpsons’ trash received a gag order of sorts from the Fox Corporation.

Ortved says the network refused to participate in the story and, confused about journalism, thought this would be sufficient enough to kill it. Ortved went ahead and interviewed many of the show’s writers, producers and vocal talent anyway, unearthing typical anecdotes of serendipity and elbow grease but also a bad blood tale of envy and acrimony between series creator Matt Groening (who like Fox did not particpate) and unsung hero of the writer’s room Sam Simon.

It turns out Matt Groening was not considered a great asset by many in The Simpsons writers room; he was not a sitcom writer and didn’t really didn’t know how to tell those kinds of stories, and Sam Simon let him know it. Once while discussing a script where Marge finally lets her hair down, Matt really wanted to reveal that underneath her beehive, Marge had Rabbit ears—Sam, of course, said no. One witness to the early days was particularly annoyed that Groening took so much credit for the show’s success, when “the fat fuck just sat up in his office all day, figuring out ways to make more money [with merchandising]” while Sam Simon and the writers churned out brilliant script after brilliant script.

Still, it seems as though all worked out for the best as The Simpsons is not only consistently gratuitous marketing porn, but also the longest-running sitcom of all time. For something so insanely successful on both fronts, a bit of backroom bird-flipping seems typical at worst. You’ve got to love how Ortved paints the journalistic ordeal though; executive producer James L. Brooks telling everyone who matters not to speak and Ortved “poring over court papers” in search of The Truth.

Regardless of which filthy rich bastard is responsible for what, The Simpsons’ real story is its cultural worth — it continues to air, continues to market, and has influenced everything from the way we speak to the way John Ortved writes his bio:

He has won no literary prizes or journalistic distinctions, but is considered an “Alien of Extraordinary Ability,” by the Department of Homeland Security—of which Barack Obama is ultimately the boss.

Aye carumba.

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