We’re happy to welcome journalist John Ortved to Central Library’s Dweck Center this Thursday evening at 7 PM. His new book, The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History, is the first-ever look at the creation and day-to-day running of The Simpsons, as told by the people who made it: writers, animators, producers and network executives.
And let me tell you, it’s not pretty. The book is full of betrayal, ambition, outsized egos and a whole lot of dysfunction. Sounds a lot like
a familiar cartoon family, doesn’t it?
I was lucky enough to talk to Mr. Ortved about his book and his thoughts on one of the most successful shows in television history.
You must have ruffled a few feathers writing the book. Any death threats?
Fat Tony came to my house and we had words, but we ended up settling our differences over a shared love of sweet Manhattans and stereotypes. Actually, the reaction has been quiet. Al Jean, the showrunner for the past 10 years (who, in the book, bears some of the responsibility for the show’s horrendous decline) called the book “shoddy,” which is a far nicer term than the words his own writers have used to describe his stewardship of the series.
What’s your earliest memory of The Simpsons?
I wasn’t allowed to watch TV as a kid, and I distinctly remember being huddled up in my parents’ bedroom (where the TV was), with my brother and his best friend, and them forcing me to watch Family Matters instead of The Simpsons, and only being allowed to catch glimpses of the series during Family Matters’ commercials. This would have been 1990 and I’m still furious about it.
Of all the behind-the-scenes clashes over the show, what was the ugliest?
Matt Groening and Sam Simon’s feuding over creative credit, and then money seems to be the pussiest sore in the show’s history. It literally got to a point where they would only speak through an intermediary. This poor editor named Brian Roberts used to have to sit between them during screenings and pass along their insults and bitchy comments to each other. The feeling from a lot of the early staff is that Matt Groening has either been given, or has taken, far more credit than he deserves. But the media (that's us!) likes to make heroes out of people. Groening was an alternative cartoonist whose drawings became the biggest thing in media, overnight. That’s a fairly irresistible story.
I’ve heard The Simpsons writers hate The Family Guy writers, even though both shows are on Fox. Is there any truth to that? In a family smackdown, who would win: the Simpsons or the Griffins?
I have to give it to the Griffins; Stewie would bring weapons. I think the notion of a rivalry between the two shows is more wishful thinking on the part of fans than anything else. The series take shots at each other the way they take shots at everything else, but I don't see it as mean-spirited. Family Guy is the embodiment of The Simpsons relative decline. Like, The Simpsons isn’t very funny any more, but only in comparison to those really fast, funny shows, like Family Guy, which is a direct spawn of The Simpsons. Compared to Two and a Half Men, and other crappy network fare, The Simpsons still looks pretty good.
Do you think you’ll ever be as big as The Simpsons?
There is a taco truck near my house where I eat about 70 percent of my meals. At this rate, I'll overtake Homer within a year.