21CF Chats: ‘The Simpsons’ exec producer Al Jean discusses animation’s first-ever live broadcast

The Simpsons live

21CF Chats: ‘The Simpsons’ exec producer Al Jean discusses animation’s first-ever live broadcast

TV

On Sunday, May 15, “The Simpsons” will treat audiences to a live, three-minute Q&A session with none other than Homer J. Simpson. Thanks to the advances in motion capture technology, Dan Castellaneta will answer questions from live callers in the form of Homer, the character to whom he lends his voice. The event, the first of its kind, will happen at the end of the new episode, which is titled “Simprovised” and aptly focuses on a storyline in which Homer turns to improv comedy to regain his confidence after a botched speech at work.

Viewers will be able to call (888) 726-6660 on Sunday from 8-8:30 p.m. EDT and  8-8:30 p.m. PDT for a chance to ask Homer a question, which he'll answer live on air. Homer will also answer one question from Twitter. During the segment, writers will also be typing answers as Homer on Twitter and Facebook.

I spoke with “The Simpsons” executive producer Al Jean about the live segment to air Sunday on FOX.

Homer taking live calls and interacting with fans via social media -- did you ever think this would truly be viable for primetime back when you first kicked the idea around and ultimately passed on it in 2007?
Yes, the way animation progresses I always assumed it would happen someday. Just glad we are still on the air when it did!

What, exactly, is involved in the practice or prep sessions for this kind of event? Do the writers come up with example questions to throw Dan's way?
Yes, we have; and we have had a successful rehearsal utilizing the animation and the phone lines courtesy of FOX Sports. And Dan has been preparing for this all his life.

Besides Dan, which members of the show have to make the biggest adjustments to make the live, three-minute segment happen?
It's been a challenge for our post-production people and animators, who prep the different character poses. All have responded magnificently (fingers crossed, fingers crossed).

What kinds of conversations has the anticipation of the episode sparked with folks inside FOX and beyond? Do you think it will set a new precedent for "The Simpsons" or other shows on the network?
I think other shows will definitely try it; I think we are a ways away from doing a 30- or even 15-minute show in this manner. But before “The Flintstones,” they said you couldn't even do animation on TV, so you never know...

You must have learned a lot from this process. If you could travel back in time to your past self during the initial preparation stages for this episode, what wisdom would you impart?
So far, so good. I hope I'm not looking back on something we did wrong after the fact.

Is this reminiscent of anything else audiences have seen on "The Simpsons"? And in your mind, where does this rank among the show's many achievements?
No, it really is a new thing for us. As to where it ranks -- as always, that's for the fans to decide, and decide they will.

Here’s a preview of Sunday’s episode:

Photo credit: FOX
THE SIMPSONS ™ and © 2016 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Photo credit: FOX
THE SIMPSONS ™ and © 2016 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Photo credit: FOX
THE SIMPSONS ™ and © 2016 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Photo credit: FOX
THE SIMPSONS ™ and © 2016 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Photo credit: FOX
THE SIMPSONS ™ and © 2016 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
 
Watch Homer’s live Q&A session during the last few minutes of the episode airing Sunday, May 15, at 8 p.m. EDT on FOX.