“The only thing that can make bacon more delicious,” Homer Simpson once memorably opined, “is seeing how it’s made!” Perhaps that same basic philosophy can be applied to his show. The Simpsons surpassed The Flintstones almost 20 years ago to become the longest-running prime time animated show in television history and is still at it. As an informative new article by Chris Plante in The Verge reveals, however, the basic creative process that brings an episode of The Simpsons into existence has not fundamentally changed from the heyday of Walt Disney and Hanna-Barbera. And it does all this while younger shows, from South Park to the fare on Adult Swim, have found faster, cheaper ways of getting the job done.
As the article demonstrates, each half-hour episode of The Simpsons goes through a complicated, expensive, stressful, months-long process involving a staggering amount of employees. Producer Al Jean, who was among the show’s original writers and is still its showrunner today, guides Plante through the ordeal, which starts with a “fleshed-out,” minute-long pitch from a writer to the show’s brain trust, including cartoonist Matt Groening and executive producer James L. Brooks. If a pitch is successful, the idea starts making its way through The Simpsons’ assembly line, a gauntlet that includes an initial script, a table read, voice recording, storyboards, and layout, before being shipped off to Akom, a South Korean studio, for final animation. And even then, it’s not quite done, as each episode goes through further fine-tuning once it returns from overseas. If all this sounds stressful, it is, though not in the places one might expect. Which stage of the game is actually the worst? “The table read,” says Jean, “is my number one unpleasant experience.”