Interview mit Matt Groneing anllich der 10 Jahre Feier der Simpsons.

Meet the man behind The Simpsons, and see what the Futurama holds by Ivor Davis

It's a big year for Bart, Lisa, Homer, Marge and the rest of the Springfield set.

The Simpsons--television's funniest, hippest, most irreverent and relevant show--celebrates its 10th anniversary this season.

That means it's also a big year for Matt Groening. The creator and executive producer of everybody's favorite four-fingered cartoon stars, Groening is the guy who shaped The Simpsons into an Emmy-winning cultural landmark.

Although he occasionally keeps company with power players like Rupert Murdoch these days, Groening is still basically the same self-effacing, slightly nerdy cartoonist who began his career in 1977 with the comic strip Life in Hell (currently syndicated in 250 newspapers).

The only real change for the 44-year-old Groening is that he has a lot more money in his pocket--and enough clout to get a green light for another animated show.

Groening's intergalactic cartoon comedy Futurama is set to debut on Fox in early 1999. He hopes the show will do for conventional sci-fi what the dysfunctional Simpsons did for the family sitcom.

Don't worry, though. The arrival of Futurama doesn't mean the departure of The Simpsons--at least not anytime soon. Groening's still got plenty of good ideas in store for Homer and the gang.

Like the new episode where...

So, what's in store for season number 10?
We have our obligatory Jerry Springer appearance. And we finally find out Homer's middle name. All these years it's been Homer J. Simpson. And there's an  episode called "Homer Raises a Lobster." He goes to the store to get a lobster, and it's too expensive. So, he gets a baby lobster to raise it. I don't want to reveal too much...

Then there's this one that I'm really happy with: Ned Flanders has a midlife crisis, so Homer takes him to Las Vegas, where they take a walk on the wild side and wake up having married two cocktail waitresses the night before.

Speaking of wild guys, word is Rupert Murdoch will do a guest spot.
Yes. We're in negotiations with Rupert Murdoch to play himself. It will be the smallest paycheck he'll ever receive.

Do you know him?
I sat with him when he took The Simpsons writers out to lunch once. We talked politics. My dealings with him have been extremely friendly and cordial. I speak my mind, and he speaks his.

After all this time, why does The Simpsons still work?
It really delivers the goods. It's a funny show. The characters are surprisingly likable, given how ugly they are. We've got this huge cast of characters that we can move around. And over the last few seasons, we've explored some of the secondary characters' personal lives a bit more.

The series has become such a TV staple it's easy to forget how groundbreaking it was in the early days.
 When The Simpsons came around, there really was nothing else like it on TV. It's hard to imagine, but when Fox first took the plunge with it, it was considered controversial to put animation on prime time.

It's also different because it never aims for the lowest common denominator.
Everybody doesn't have to get every joke. People really appreciate not being condescended to. The history of TV has traditionally been not to do anything that would scandalize grandma or upset junior. Our solution on The Simpsons is to do jokes that people who have an education and some frame of reference can get. And the ones who don't, it doesn't matter, because we have Homer banging his head and saying, "D'oh!"

I love the idea that we put in jokes the kids don't get. And that later, when they grow up and read a few books and go to college and watch the show again, they can get it on a completely different level.

You've also managed to create a series that makes the VCR an almost mandatory viewing aid.
Most TV shows don't reward you for paying attention. But on The Simpsons, if you really do that, there's stuff hidden in the backgrounds. We have what we call freeze-frame gags, which you can't get unless you videotape the show, go back and freeze frame it.

Do you still keep close tabs on every episode?
Yes. Since I was there in the very beginning, I know the history of the characters. So, I make comments about the tone and sometimes remind the writers that we've done that before. And we change things up till the last minute. It's amazing how many times we've changed a joke even though it was funny the first 50 times we heard it. The 51st time, somebody says, "Oh, we can do that better..."

A lot of our writers, like Conan O'Brien, moved on to other things. In fact, some of them have gone on to do shows on other networks, and they've tried things they've done on The Simpsons, and the people at the other networks say, "No, you can't do that." And they say, "We did it on The Simpsons." And they're told, "We would never have The Simpsons on our network."

We've got a bunch of new writers now who tell me they grew up watching The Simpsons. It's bizarre, and they're writing some very funny stuff.

How much longer can it go on?
It has surprised me that it's gone on this long. I love the show and the coming season is as good as any we've ever done--or better. The writers led by Mike Scully are fantastic. And they're creating original stories that not only don't repeat what we've already done, they also don't repeat anything I've seen on television. I want it to go on, but I want us to go out on top.

What's the story with Futurama?
I love Star Trek and Star Wars and all the variations on them. But, I wanted to do a show in which the problems of the universe are not solved by militarism guided by New Age spirituality.

It's not a knock on the optimism of those shows. I just have a slightly more subversive take. I thought it would be really neat to take some of the conventions of science-fiction and have fun with them in a Simpsons way.

Will there be a Marge and a Homer...?
Well, the characters have big eyeballs and overbites, la the Simpsons. But it's not a spin-off. Their skin is not yellow.

There's Fry, a guy from our time who has a tragic mishap on New Year's Eve 1999. He gets frozen and wakes up a thousand years in the future on New Year's Eve 2999.

He meets this alien woman, Leela, with one eye in the middle of her forehead. I thought it would be really cool if we could design this sexy woman who had one eye. Of course, she wears her hair down a little, sort of to disguise that

And then there's Bender. He's our standout character right now, our robotic Homer. He's just totally, lovably corrupt, la Homer. Loves his vices. I think he's the first robot in science-fiction who shoplifts. He's got a little door in his abdomen that he puts things into and also takes out whatever props we need. And like The Simpsons, Futurama will have dozens and dozens of other characters in every episode.

Any famous voices lined up yet?
We're in the middle of negotiations with somebody who's really big. But I can't give my big announcement today. Tress MacNeille, who does voices on The Simpsons is in it, but nobody else from The Simpsons. I'm in the first episode, but it's just my head--in a bottle. Other faces will also show up as heads in a bottle!

Will there be merchandising on Futurama, too?
Let's see, a show that has ray guns and robots and spaceships...yeah, I think there'll be some merchandising. We draw the line, though: no Pogs. I can't imagine doing a cartoon show without thinking about the merchandising. And not for crass reasons. I mean, I like the money, but to me it's fun. I like the toys.

You probably don't have much spare time between Futurama and The Simpsons. When you do get a chance to channel surf, what do you watch?
I'm really partial to a Japanese cooking show called Iron Chef. Are you familiar with that? It's a cross between American Gladiators and Julia Child. It's fantastic. I also like King of the Hill. I like Ally McBeal and Dr. Katz.

How about South Park?
You know, I haven't seen South Park that much. I've got two little kids, so I switch the channel.

Now that you've got money, fame and success, how have things changed for you?
The stacks of comic books, CDs and toasters are a lot deeper.

Anything else?
My life changed when I was able to not only get seated in nice restaurants, I was given free appetizers. That was like, "Oh, my God, I've arrived."