Is This The End?

D'oh!Well, the ‘net has certainly been abuzz this week with stories, rumors, quotes, and anonymous sources all speculating about the imminent demise of THE SIMPSONS. While the loyal fans of the show are taking this news quite hard, I’ve been trying to digest what this means for my family’s and my futures.

Over the years, I’ve always told anyone who asked, “How long do you think the show will run?” that I believed FOX would never cancel the show. By “cancel” I mean the traditional, your-ratings-are-too-low kind of cancellation that has already befallen THE PLAYBOY CLUB and (sorry, Hank) FREE AGENTS this season. I’m not a studio executive, nor do I have any inside info or insight into that world, but my gut and common sense told me that THE SIMPSONS was just too profitable for the network to ever cancel. I always believed the end would come when either a contract negotiation between studio and cast could not be resolved or when the writers finally decided that they had run out of stories to tell. If the news we are reading this week is to be believed, it took 23 years for it to happen, but I was wrong – FOX claims that the show is too expensive to continue to produce and that it is worth more to them dead than alive.

Of course the show will never truly be dead. It will live on in syndication around the world for generations to come. It will join the ranks of I LOVE LUCY, GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, LAW & ORDER and other shows that have never been off the air since the day they started. But, according to the reports I’m reading, FOX’s current syndication deal, struck at a time many years ago when cable TV wasn’t the growing, dominant force it is today, is limited to only local FOX affiliates around the country. This deal will remain in place until the show is canceled. At that time, FOX can make new deals with any stations, broadcast or cable, that want to bid for the show. Estimates are that the new syndication package could be worth north of $750 million. If producing new shows is losing FOX money, and canceling is worth $750 million, it’s not hard to understand why certain higher-ups at FOX would want to cancel.

According to published reports, the actors have offered to take a pay cut, the producers have offered to take a pay cut. I haven’t been asked to take one … yet … we’ll see.

Certainly I have no complaints about my time on THE SIMPSONS. I’ve loved working alongside Alf Clausen, Matt Groening, Al Jean and the other show-runners over the 23 years. I’ve gotten to meet and direct so many amazing guest stars like The Smothers Brothers, The Dixie Chicks, U2, Kelsey Grammer, Weird Al, and many, many more. I’ve had the blessing of being able to laugh and listen to fantastic music every day I go to work. The only tiny gray cloud in my otherwise brilliant blue sky is that I haven’t been able to branch out and really expand my music editing experience as much as if, say, the show had run 5-7 years, then I did another show with a different composer and different producers, then another, then possibly more feature film work, etc. Of course I have been able to do a lot of extra projects, but THE SIMPSONS always came first (rightfully so) and thus was a tad limiting in some ways. Now, in 2011, music editing in TV is a less valuable service than it was in 1989. So many composers work at home on Pro Tools and other hybrid composing/editing programs that when the music is finished, it’s ready to go to the dubbing stage. Probably the biggest contribution a  TV music editor makes these days is on the dubbing stage where he/she can still represent the composer, and edit alternate cues as needed. But this means only one or two days of work instead of one or two weeks. Feature films, however, still have a need for music editing in the traditional style.

From all that I’m gathering this week as I read, it seems that THE SIMPSONS will wrap up sometime between spring of 2012 and spring of 2014. I’m so lucky to have been a part of television history, to have laughed so much, and to have been paid in a manner that allowed me to support my family and send my two daughters and my wife to college. I’m forever grateful to all who had a hand in shaping the path that got me where I am today.

Now, all I can do is sit back and wait to see what everyone else wants to do next.

Happy Family

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16 thoughts on “Is This The End?

  1. it looks like Chris your job is safe for another 2 years! 🙂

    Congratulations. You guys all do amazing work and I love the insight into a side of The Simpsons production that fans never would think of.

    And Al Jean’s recent comments that he’d like to see the show go to 30 seasons or at least beat out Gunsmoke give fans like me even more hope!

    I too thought it would take a contact dispute with actors to bring the show down. Ratings don’t matter for The Simpsons (which btw got better ratings than Family Guy on premiere night). Television is different than it was 20 years ago. There are more options, and with the internet and netflix and hulu it’s pretty easy to watch TV streaming or on the internet. No network has the ratings that they had 20 years ago and I can’t stand it when fans try to compare a show in the 90’s to a show in the 2010’s. It’s a different atmosphere now and not a fair comparison. The fans change too over time, as does their sense of humor.

    One thing you never hear anyone complain about – Music and Music Editing on The Simpsons after 23 years. 🙂

    • Thanks for all your kind words.

      You are so right when you mention how fractured the audience is these days. Some college students attended the scoring session last Friday night and we discussed this very topic. I told them that when “ER” was the #1 show on TV, it would draw 30+ million viewers. Now, “Dancing With The Stars” or “American Idol” are the top-rated shows pulling in just over 20 million. The other 10 million are watching some of the more than 300 shows that weren’t available in the 80s and 90s or watching youtube and hulu and netflix (as you mentioned) and can’t be accurately counted. Lots of people are watching our show “on demand” whether on DVR, Hulu, FOX.com or “other” avenues.

      And yes, you’ll never hear me complain about music or music editing on THE SIMPSONS! I’m in for 30 years, how about you?

  2. I’ve been watching the show religiously since Tracey Ullman days, but never realized that there were real people behind the scenes. It took my friend’s 11 year old daughter, to whom you graciously responded, to realize what should have been obvious.

    Fairly sad to admit this, but the happiest day of my life was as a 50 year old, when my son and I won a Simpson’s Trivia Contest aboard a cruise.

    Here’s to the hope that The Simpsons continues as long as you all get joy in creating the wonderful stories, music and life lessons.

  3. Chris – You have the right perspective on things – what an amazing run this show has enjoyed and we have enjoyed it with you. Change, we can always count on it, but we certainly hope to see you working at least another 30 years or so! Thanks for everything so far! Bernie

  4. When The Simpsons is finally cancelled, I will be a little sad. I am 11 years old, and I am a big fan of Futurama and Life in Hell as well. My dad tells me that I will enjoy the show even more when I am older because there are so many jokes and references that I do not understand but still seem funny. I know that I will get to share this show with my children someday like my dad has shared it with me. Matt Groening is one of the reasons I want to be a comic artist when I am older. I am glad that you had the opportunity to be part of the show, and I hope that I can be part of something so exceptional in the future.

    • You express yourself beautifully for being only 11 years old. Be sure to thank your parents for taking the time to care and teach you so well. I will be sure to tell Matt that you’ve been inspired by him. I became a “serious” music student when I was 8 years old, then a huge fan of animation technique and history (Bugs Bunny and Disney features in particular) when I was about 16. I never dreamed I would be able to combine two of the things I loved so much into a career that I would love so much. Keep dreaming, keep working, don’t give up, and you will be an exceptional part of something exceptional some day.

      • I love music as well. I have been playing piano for 5 years, and my teacher has helped me develop an appreciation for music other than just listening. I think music and animation blend well. When I watch anything animated, I like to see how the music enhances the action, the ideas, and the mood. Lately, I have been leaning toward art because I am still learning music. With art, I can create whatever pops into my head. Thank you for replying to my comment and the nice compliment.

      • You’re welcome and thanks for subscribing to my blog! If you’re interested, click on the “Music Editing 101” tab at the top of any page and you can learn more about my job and how we put music to film. Keep practicing. I never took formal piano lessons (I was a trumpet player) but now wish I had.

  5. I hope they make a deal to get at least one more season so everyone knows the end is coming- The Simpsons deserve a grand finale.

  6. Thanks for writing this, Chris. I’ve been thinking about shooting you an email but I didn’t want you to think I was prying or trying to squeeze information out of you, but I did want to know how you felt and all of this. I’ve been thinking about you (and of course Alf, DS, the writers, animators, and scene planners we met on the tour) and hoping the best for you all.

    Selfishly, of course, I’m not ready to say goodbye to new episodes. If it happens, though, I guess we’ll just have to call it “Smell ya later.”

    • We (those of us who work on the show – not the royal “we”) “knew” the show would end after 3 years, then 5, then certainly 10. After renewals at 12 and 15 years our feelings shifted to “this could go on forever!” though we knew deep down, that wasn’t realistic. I’ve taught my daughters from a very young age that nothing lasts forever and that change is what keeps us moving forward, imagining and growing – Steve Jobs embodied that belief. Thanks for your good wishes and let’s just see what the next few days brings.

  7. I hope for the sake of yourself and your family, Chris, that things go the right way. It’s easy to forget about the hundreds of others whose livelihood depends on the production of the show.

    • Yes, but that’s the way of big business everywhere. Hundreds of smalls & mediums make all the money for the larges who have all the decision-making power. Thanks for the good thoughts.

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