The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)
The Simpsons has been on TV forever. Over its long run, The Paley Center has done a number of Simpsons-centered events over the years (From the Archives looked back at one featuring Matt Groening and director David Silverman from 1992) and I attempted to pick one of the more recent ones, celebrating the show's 300th episode. It wasn't until I was about halfway through the seminar that I looked at the date and realized that this event was still 11 years ago, in 2003(!). Assembled here for the big panel are creator Matt Groening, past and present show runner Al Jean, and the voices of Homer, Lisa, and Mr. Burns, and thousands of others, respectively, Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, and Harry Shearer.
As I imagine is often the case, a number of questions are centered around the creation and process behind the show that seemed to be asked every time these figures are interviewed, whether together or separate. The Simpsons started out on The Tracey Ullman Show. Matt invented the characters outside of Jim Brooks' office so he didn't have to give up the rights to the characters in his "Life in Hell" comic strip. The family is named after the members of Matt's family. The process of creating an episode takes many months, many steps, and many, many rewrites at every stage. They are all surprised that the show has lasted this long. If you're a fan of the show, you already know all of this.
However, there was still a lot to be learned from this large pool of talent, once you get the basics out of the way. The casting for the show was mostly done during the Tracy Ullman Show era with the voice actors Dan Castelleneta and Julie Kavner being plucked out of the cast of the show. Nancy Cartwright, voice of Bart, and Yeardley Smith, Lisa, auditioned for the show separately, with Yeardley initially auditioning for Bart. When recording audio for the original shorts, often the cast would huddle under blankets behind the bleachers of the show and record the lines between the saw blades building the sets and Tracey rehearsing her music numbers. The early days of The Simpsons were rather ramshackle, but clearly they did something right. READ MORE