It’s been three years since Alf Clausen, the long-time composer for animated mainstay/greatest TV show of all time contender The Simpsons, was fired from the series. Clausen, now 79, announced last year (around the time, apparently, that his credits and payments as the show’s “emeritus composer” were dropped) that he was suing the show over discrimination against him for “perceived disability and age.” (The composer was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease several years ago.) Now, court filings from the lawsuit have emerged, painting the production side of why Clausen was fired—and giving a peek into some of the show’s higher-level inner workings in the process.
Previous conversations about Clausen’s firing had largely centered on cost; per THR, he was reportedly receiving roughly $12,000 per episode, in addition to the costs associated with paying a 35-piece live orchestra to record all the show’s music. (Bleeding Fingers, the Hans Zimmer co-founded composing collective hired to replace Clausen, works primarily from synths.) But when asked, in a legal sense, to defend the decision to fire their long-time collaborator, the show’s writers and producers, including Richard Sakai, Matt Selman, and James L. Brooks, all asserted that their concerns went well past cost.
“Our creative possibilities were limited by Clausen’s abilities,” showrunner Selman said in a legal declaration, claiming that any time the show wanted music that wasn’t big band, orchestral, or jazz, they typically had to hire an outside composer to handle those duties. Much focus in the argument is placed on the show’s rap musical episode “The Great Phatsby,” which saw the show’s staff, concerned about Clausen’s abilities, bring on Empire’s Jim Beanz to write alongside the long-time composer. Here’s Variety’s description:
But when Brooks heard Clausen’s orchestral cues, he was “not pleased,” Selman said. “As showrunner, I also thought we could do better because the episode did not seem as musically rich or vibrant as I had hoped.”
Meanwhile, Sakai is quoted in the declaration saying that, “Brooks questioned whether Clausen was the right person to prepare rap music and questioned his work more generally.” Sakai and the other producers were also reportedly unhappy at the revelation that Clausen was contracting out some of his composing work, including to his son, composer Scott Clausen.
It is, of course, worth remembering that all these things are being said in the context of a legal process built around proving that these guys were justified in firing Clausen, so it’s possible that much of it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. For his part, Clausen says everyone involved was perfectly satisfied with his work, and dubbed the show’s new music “inferior in quality, depth, range and sound, yet stylistically similar in substance” to his own.