The First Family of Springfield, U.S.A. set an American TV record when they kick off their new season this Sunday, September 27. The start of the venerable animated series' 21st season marks their surpassing of the legendary Western series “Gunsmoke” for the longest running scripted Network primetime series in American television history.
A radio drama that ran from 1953 to 1961, the "Gunsmoke" TV series starring James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon ran from September 10, 1955 to September 1, 1975, all on CBS.
“In terms of seasons, we pass them this Sunday,” says showrunner and executive producer Al Jean, who has worked on "The Simpson" since it debuted on December 17, 1989. “This Sunday we break the record. They have more episodes because in those days they used to do nearly forty shows a season. Now we’re just behind ‘Lassie’ and ‘Gunsmoke’ for the most episodes of any series. Still, seasons, nobody’s gone to 21, and we are.”
Jean, who can also take credit for naming the family dog Santa’s Little Helper, sounds like he’s as amazed at the accomplishment as much as anyone else. The writer originally took on the job without the slightest consideration of setting an all-time TV record.
“You know, considering I was just coming off ‘ALF,’ which was a big, big hit yet only lasted four years, if someone had told me this could have happened, I would have said no,” he admits. “I mean the kids who first watched the show are thirty now.”
As for the show’s continued popularity, he says that "The Simpsons" being animated has a lot to do with it. He sees recent milestones such as "Scooby Doo" turning 40 and "Spongebob Squarepants" celebrating its tenth anniversary this year as similar examples.
“Animation is evergreen,” says Jean. “We don’t play like a 20 year-old show. If you had never seen it before, you would think it’s a fresh show.
As for the rest of the season, Jean is equally excited about things to come.
“Obviously it’s my job to be upbeat,” Jean admits, “but I am extremely thrilled with the way these shows are coming out. The hi def shows we are getting back, like the Halloween show, is terrific. It’s well directed, beautiful. It’s a lot of work, but worth it.
“This season will have some of the best guest voice actors I ever heard. We just recorded Sasha Cohen, where he plays an Israeli tour guide. Sarah Silverman was great. We have a show with Anne Hathaway where her acting is unbelievable. She sings, too.
“I think fans are really, really going to enjoy the show, too. I think that because we aren’t doing a movie and we don’t have the writers’ strike, it’s been the first year we’ve been able to really, really focus on the show in the last several years. It’s just come out great.”(for the full interview with Jean, click here)
The debut episode, entitled “Homer the Whopper,” is a new paean to one of the crew’s greatest obsessions, comic books. It was co-written and guest-stars actor-writer Seth Rogen and will air at 8:00 p.m. eastern.
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