'The Simpsons' EP Al Jean on a Record-Breaking 636 Episodes and What's Next
To quote Homer Simpson, “Woo-hoo!” The Simpsons is besting Gunsmoke for the second time.
Fox’s animated comedy already surpassed the 1955–1975 Western in 2009 as the longest-running American scripted primetime series, and April 29th's 636th episode marks the most installments ever aired by a scripted primetime show.
“It’s the home-run record of TV,” says executive producer Al Jean, who estimates the writers have churned out about 50,000 pages of script. “I really try to be modest, but I think it’s amazing.”
He should know. Jean has been on staff since the beginning, when creator Matt Groening’s dysfunctional family from fictional Springfield made the leap from animated shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show to a half-hour comedy in 1989.
For nearly three decades, millions have continued to tune in week after week for the exploits of lovable oaf Homer (voiced by Dan Castellaneta), stressed-out wife Marge (Julie Kavner), mischievous son Bart (Nancy Cartwright), overachieving daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith) and baby Maggie (her first word was uttered by Elizabeth Taylor!).
“The magic of the show is that the basic characters don’t change that much,” Jean says. “I think the Lisa or the Marge or the Homer of Season 2 would be very recognizable in Season 29.”
Homer is at the heart of this particular episode, chosen because of its classic mix of comedy and pathos. In “Forgive and Regret”, Grampa Simpson makes a hospital-bed confession that reveals a poignant detail about his son’s childhood. “It offers special insight into Homer’s character,” hints Jean.
As for the future of this influential toon — which has enticed guest voices from Meryl Streep to Mark Zuckerberg, been name-checked by politicians such as George H.W. Bush and introduced “D’oh” to the lexicon — Jean says he can see the series continuing indefinitely as long as the core cast is still on board. And when he considers the current trend of shorter seasons on both network and streaming TV, he’s skeptical any show will ever exceed The Simpsons’ episode count, saying, “It very well may not happen.” In Bart-speak: Eat his shorts.
The Simpsons, Sunday, April 29, 8/7c, Fox
This article also appeared in the Apr. 16 - Apr. 29 issue of TV Guide Magazine.