The Lost Jokes and Story Arcs of "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song"

Bill Oakley was a writer at The Simpsons from seasons 4-6 and an executive producer/showrunner with his writing partner Josh Weinstein from seasons 7-8. They wrote such episodes as "Who Shot Mr. Burns?," "$pringfield," “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy,” and "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song." This last one was the 100th episode of the show, and it went through some pretty serious revisions from pitch to final draft. This is a transcription of a conversation about that specific episode, edited for length and clarity. Also included are the original Story Pitch, Final Outline and First Draft from the writing process (which you can find explained in detail here).

During seasons five and six, when David Mirkin was running the show, Josh and I wrote five episodes each year, so we spent most of our time in our office, writing. Because we were the most senior writers on the show at that point (after Conan left), our scripts usually didn’t get re-written that much; most of the episodes we wrote went on the air very close to the first draft, except with fifteen pages of cuts that often made them very different. I believe "Bart vs. Australia" went on the air very close to what we turned in, for example.

But this episode, from Season Five, had more changes than our normal episode. It changed a lot because there are some story problems which I think are still in the final episode. And you see through the different incarnations of the script, from the pitch, to the outline, to the script, to what aired — the story changes somewhat in each version. And I don't necessarily think it ever quite got there. I think the story really should have been a 45 minute story, and cutting it to 22 minutes caused it to suffer a little bit.

In retrospect, I think we should have tried to figure out some way to prune out some of the complicated things in the story to make it cleaner. Because what the story really was, in this pitch, was a funny and very clean first act and two subsequent acts that never quite approached the level of the first one. I think the jokes in every version of this are pretty solid, but what happens with Skinner and what he does when he's gone changes in each draft. And what the repercussions of that are, was that the Flanders and Homer B story got cut entirely in the broadcast version. READ MORE


How We Wrote Classic Simpsons Episodes

Bill Oakley was a writer at The Simpsons from seasons 4-6 and an executive producer/showrunner with his writing partner Josh Weinstein from seasons 7-8. I talked to him at length about his experiences in that famous writer's room. This is a transcription of part of that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Twice a year, from at least season three 'til season eight, there'd be these story retreats where everybody would come and present their ideas for episodes. We'd get a big conference room in a hotel about a hundred yards from the office, and we'd go around and everybody would tell their ideas, one by one. It was sort of like opening Christmas presents on Christmas morning; we’d go around in a circle and everybody would have a turn or two.

It was always a huge treat to see. You had no idea what George Meyer (for instance) was going to say, and suddenly it was like this fantastic Simpsons episode pouring out of his mouth that you never dreamed of. And it was like, wow, this is where this stuff comes from.

A lot of times people worked collaboratively, too. We would work with Conan, back and forth, and we'd exchange ideas and help polish them up. And so everybody would usually come with two, sometimes three ideas. You'd take fifteen minutes and you'd say your idea in front of everybody — all the writers, Jim Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon when he was still there, and also the writers assistants who would be there taking notes on all this stuff. READ MORE