The Simpsons

The Great Licensed Apparel Question

Licensed apparel (or clothing) has gained prominence in the merchandising puzzle as of late thanks to its simplicity, low cost/high margins and its customizability. Long gone are the days when clothing bearing your favourite cartoon character was only availably in a few, all-round safe choices. Today, thanks to on-demand production and the internet as a sales channel, it’s possible to create clothing with just about anything on it and in just about any batch size. So here’s the deal, given a choice, would consumers rather wear clothes that feature a character or rather replicas of the clothes the character wears?

Week Links 24-2013

Multiple engaging week links today!

Homer Simpson isn’t a positive role model for kids? Eat my shorts…

David Mitchell over at the Guardian has this thoughtful piece about whether or not one of the greatest character ever to grace the TV screen is a bad role model for kids. Well worth a read for the infractions from certain quarters.

The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead: Q&A with Elliot Cowan


Elliot Cowan is in the process of making a feature film almost single-handedly. He discusses the much-anticipated project over on Zippy Frames in a very insightful interview.

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls trailer – on the hoof? More like on the hooch

"And so the ponies get on with living life to its fullest, by getting hammered on generic-brand alcohol and inhaling strange gasses from balloons."
“And so the ponies get on with living life to its fullest, by getting hammered on generic-brand alcohol and inhaling strange gasses from balloons.”

Another one from the Guardian (this time by Stuart Heritage) but which occupies a much higher position on the sarcasm scale.

Equestria Girls has been covered on the blog here before, but this is an actual review that is more brutally honest than they tend to be:

Next, in a scene that definitely wasn’t added because Hasbro knows that a lot of the My Little Ponies: Equestria Girls revenue will come from adult male brony fetishists, Twilight Sparkle gets down on her hands and knees and lets her dog mount her. Silly Twilight Sparkle! On this planet we put string around our dogs’ necks and … no, wait, that’s playing into the bronies’ hands too. Disregard.

You should definitely read the whole thing, which does a great job of illustrating the marketing/executive farce that is Equestria Girls.

Mike Boon Animation Alphabets

Via Animated Review are a series of alphabets featuring animated characters. Here’s the Simpsons one, but there are many more.

Via: Animated Review
Via: Animated Review
Via: Random Curiosity
Via: Random Curiosity

This announcement may be the one that finally gets me around to buying a Blu-Ray player; something I’ve resisted so far for no particular reason.

However, there’s more to this than a simple home media release:

The anime will come in a collector’s edition on Blu-ray Disc with an original soundtrack disc and a 112-page art book with storyboards, sketches, character art, and illustrations. Video extras include a 66-minute making-of video that chronicles fledgling studio Trigger‘s journey to create Little Witch Academia for the Anime Mirai 2013 program. The disc will have the Japanese soundtrack with English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Chinese subtitles.

Is anyone in any doubt about the ability to sell this given a.) the quality of the film itself and b.) the sheer breadth of material thrown in for the fans and nothing more?

This is what we talk about when we mean catering to fans. The price is currently unknown, but even at $50 it will be worth it.

Coming Soon On Tumblr

Zodiac Starforce

Nope, I don’t know either. But I am intrigued from a business model standpoint as well as a story one.

UPDATE: Thanks Ryan!

Tweets of the Week


FOX and Universal Sued Over Simpsons Theme Park Ride

Via: The Simpsons Wikia


I’ll admit that legal matters tend to make my ears prick up for reasons that are still not entirely clear but I couldn’t help but be slightly amused when I read this story. A few years ago, both FOX and Universal were full on beating the drum about the opening of a Simpsons themed ride at one of the latter’s theme parks. Fast forward to 2012 and both are being sued over the same ride, but from a rather amusing source; a musician’s union.

Why even blog about this? Well a case like this would barely register on most people’s radar but is just another sign that you can never take anything in entertainment for granted.

Now on the surface, this is simply interesting from the point of view that it’s the musicians as opposed to anyone else trying to make a grab for some dough however thanks to the Simpsons’ music editor Chris Ledesma and his blog explaining everything in plain English, I know that even the music in the entertainment industry is far from simple.

Yup, thanks to Chris’ Music Editing 101 series and in particular his posts on music clearing and re-use, I (and now you) know that acquiring music for an animated TV show is a far from straightforward procedure. There are all sorts of clearances, rights and so forth to request, acquire and process before anything can make it to air. After that you can’t simply use a piece of music you already have; there are all kinds of rules about that.

It’s all dreadfully complicated and perhaps proof that no-one in Hollywood really trusts each other, but it does make for entertaining reading when the musician’s union goes after the hand that feeds them when it comes to a roller coaster.

The crux of the issue is that FOX apparently used music from the series in the ride but that violates a clause in the current contract that was signed in 2010. Seeing as how the ride was already in operation before that, I can’t see how it can be infringing. That said, I also can’t see how it took 2 years to get around to filing a lawsuit but then again I’m an engineer and prone to crippling logicality and common sense.

So consider this yet another aspect to modern animation production that could come back to bite you in the end, and remember, you don’t have to have roller coaster to get sued.

A Review of Zombie Simpsons by The Dead Homer Society

Image (naturally) yoinked from The Dead Homer Society

A couple of years ago (and the exact circumstances escape me), I stumbled across the Dead Homer Society and have bee a loyal reader ever since. It’s not uncommon for websites and blogs to sprout up to save a beloved series, but it’s quite rare to see one dedicated to completely and totally ending a current, beloved, popular and iconic TV show. That however, is the stated purpose of the DHS, whose manifesto proclaims:

Dead Homer Society was formed for two reasons:

1) To create an on-line home for Simpsons fans who outright despise most, if not all, of the double-digit seasons but revere the old ones the way religious types do their stupid books.

2) To create a central place for people who want to see the show finally taken off the air.

So no beating about the bush there. Although the site continues to dissect episodes both old and new, it has also been a great source of analysis as to how and why the show went downhill. Cue the latest piece of literature from the DHS: Zombie Simpsons: How the Best Show Ever Became the Broadcasting Undead.

Although it’s not of biblical length, Charlie Sweatpants has managed to squeeze in a ton of information and analysis into this pseudo post series/ebook. Personally, I always laid the blame for the show’s decline on their move into more outlandish and cartoonish plots without regard for the characters. After reading Zombie Simpsons though, I can safely say that there was much, much more to the decline than that.

Broken down into chapters for your convenience, Zombie Simpsons begins with a look at why it’s a topic that needs to be discussed and why the fall from grace is so gut-wrenching to behold. From the deathly bland nature of the three major networks in the 1980s that gave the upstart FOX network an excuse to be different to the frustration of the viewing audience, we see that The Simpsons was not so much a product of insane brilliance as it was in the right place at the right time.

Moving on, we delve into the inner forces at work behind the TV screen. Deaths, writer changes and ultimately the shift within the FOX network itself from scrappy young fighter to established player have all played a part in how The Simpsons have changed over the years. Zombie Simpsons does a fine job of spelling out how the slide was gradual and ultimately, inevitable.

On top of that, there’s a comprehensive appendix that deals with such trivial things like production and broadcast numbers and some not-so-trivial things such as the often misplaced blame on Mike Scully.

A fine text in itself, it is well worth taking the time to read and ruminate on. It is highly likely that we will never see something the likes of the Simpsons again so as horrible as it is to read about the fall of an icon, it is essential if we are to appreciate the golden years even more.

Why I’m Sorry The Simpsons Don’t Age

The blog We Professional Liars has a great post on how The Simpsons and South Park deal with the progression of time within the respective universe of each show. The point is that The Simpsons remains stuck in 1990 whereas South Park ignores years and simply has the show take place ‘now’.

The post raises a good question that is often ignored in western animated TV shows; should the universe show the progression of time? Futurama is the only example that I can readily recall that actually progresses the year of the show (starting in 3000) but the characters and universe do not. Fry will always be a delivery boy, etc.

Should TV shows progress their universes? I think they should.

To explain myself: progressing shows creates an easy comparison for the viewer. We are aging and it is weird to see something that does not age. Live-action TV shows cannot avoid this and simply try to avert attention to it as much as possible; hence the kids in Saved by the Bell seemed to be in high school forever. In contrast, animated TV shows don’t have that problem. Bart and Lisa Simpson were 10 and 8 when the show debuted twenty three years ago and they still are today.

As to why I think character should age, it is simply a matter of story and content. By allowing characters to age. you can continually progress the kinds of plots that you can tackle. Think of Saved by the Bell; the themes gradually became more mature as the characters and actors aged. The doesn’t really happen in animated shows beyond the odd “crystal ball” episode.

In the case of the Simpsons, Bart and Lisa could have aged well into their teens by now, which could have allowed the show to progress plots into uncharted and more complex territory than it has had to contend with over the last 13 seasons or so. For example having Bart kicked out of school over and over again is one thing, but it’s always been the same school with the same principal. Imagine how things would have worked had it been a different school each time? Getting kicked out of secondary or high school presents a rather different set of challenges than the elementary school would.

Or how about love? Yes that old chestnut. The show has dealt with it a number of times (key examples include Bart and Laura Powers and Lisa and Nelson) but there isone episode that had a peek inside Lisa’s brain that shows her libido locked up, where it is informed that it wouldn’t get out until her teenage years. Just imagine what fun could have been had with that!

I don’t advocate the show advancing year for year just like us, but it would be nice to say that over 20+ years, the show has moved from being a relatively young family to being a relatively mature one. A nice series send-off could have been a college graduation or similar.

Would such practices have made the series better? That is uncertain, but they could have helped the series stay fresher than it currently is. If the audience is growing up and gradually losing interest, then that is a problem. OK, the Simpsons isn’t a kids show; it appeals to all ages, but that does not mean that the teenagers watching in the 90s are watching now. However kids in the 90s that saw the characters age roughly alongside them might be more inclined to retain interest.

The key point of all this is that the show’s rating would not be harmed provided it avoided descending into cliche territory and appealing only to that demographic. With the broad appeal of the golden era episodes, it’s safe to say that that would probably have not been a problem.

In addition, every show has a finite lifespan, no scripted show can go on forever. You can make them last, but eventually they will lose favour and be put out to pasture. The question is: do you ride the wave, or do you try to make a really great show all the way to the end. Most shows do the former, the latter is the road less travelled.


Mr Burns, A Post-Electric Play

Sometimes life offers up pleasant little surprises, as was the case yesterday evening as I checked the postbox wherein I found the above postcard. And in fairness to the Wooly Mammoth Theater, they actually realised that after almost 4 years of not buying tickets, I might actually be interested in something Simpsons related.

You see back in 2008, I attennded a performance of the extremely funny one-man tragi-comedy that is MacHomer; a re-telling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth through characters from the Simpsons. For the interested, I posted a review at the time; the tl;dr version is that it was very funny and you should see it if given the chance.

So what is this new play about? Well it certainly isn’t MacHomer, instead:

Armageddon has struck and the grid is down: no TV, no radio, no internet—how will life go on? For one group of tenacious survivors, sitting around a fire and reminiscing about The Simpsons proves to be the greatest escape from despair. Miraculously, from their collective memories, a new industry struggles to be born: a crude theatrical re-creation of the digital culture we can’t possibly live without.

From The Simpsons to the pop hits of the last ten years, Mr. Burns, a post-electric play is a rocking, rollicking, scary good time that leaves you questioning how you’d make sense of the world if all your gizmos were gone.

It looks interesting if only in that English major kind of way, but I was pleasantly surprised by MacHomer so I’ll reserve anby judgement for now. Performances run from May 28th through to July 1st and you can be sure I’ll be attending one somewhere along the way.

Five Reasons Why The End of The Simpsons Will Be The Deathknell For Animation on FOX

This is a repost from February 2011 that is even more relevant now as FOX continues to desperately searches for a successor to their cash cow. 

Via: Hulu

Over the last 20-odd years, The Simpsons has come to be the most successful TV show ever created. In an industry where plenty of shows don’t even make it to the end of their first season, and the numbers that make it beyond the single digits is extremely rare, the fact that one can make it into its third decade is exceedingly rare.

As a result, the longer the Simpsons remain on our TV screens, the more likely it’s ultimate demise will contribute to the collapse of the dominance of animation on FOX.

Below are the five reasons why this is so.

1. Brand Recognition:

Over the last 20 years, the Simpsons has become a brand in their own right. There are Simpsons toys, clothes, sweets, figurines, records, you name it, it has been Simpsonised at some point. What is sometimes overlooked is that it is the success of the TV show that has driven the demand for these products. Millions saw the show in TV and then bought the merchandise they saw in the shop.

Without the weekly reminder that market is sure to suffer a bit. Now keep in mind that I am referring to new episodes. Re-runs remind viewers of the show’s existence, but they tend not to remind them of good times, not encourage them to buy new products.

2. Brand loyalty

The Simpsons as a brand has phenomenal loyalty, so much so that it was able to transgress a brief period at the beginning where it reached proportions normally reserved for ‘fads’. Simpsons fans are famous for their devotion to their favourite show. Of course, it helped that the show was very well written, and more often than not outshone everything else being broadcast at the time.

Once the series ends, however, that loyalty will begin to (slowly) disappear. It will start off imperceptibly, but gradually, we’ll start to see less and less merchandise, more websites and fansites that are update less frequently. People will remain loyal and devoted, but the majority of fans will move on to other shows, or their tastes will change as they get older. Before you know it, all that will be left is a smattering of hardcore fans who hold on to the glory days and maintain that nothing will ever top their faith in a show from the 90s.

Convincing those many fans of the Simpsons that another show is of equal or better quality is a goal that is akin to convincing people that a tax raise really is a good thing. It can be done, but it’s an uphill struggle if ever there was one.Which leads us nicely into…..

3. Inability to replace it

FOX has known for quite a while that no show lives forever and eventually a replacement will have to be found. This is a perfectly reasonable assumption except for one thing: they haven’t found one yet.

It’s not for lack of trying though. Plenty of attempts have been made over the years to try and at least find something that can come close to attracting viewers of the Simpsons and slowly weaning them onto a different show. Pilots, season fillers, live-action, they’ve all been tried without success and still the problem remains.

Family Guy is perhaps the closest the network has come but since it returned from hiatus a few years ago, it is nowhere near what it used to be and currently attracts a far more narrow demographic than the Simpsons did at its height. The same goes for the other McFarlane children, they all share similar traits that prohibit them from ever reaching the largest audience possible.

4. It’s Still Good

Although I tend to agree with plenty of what the loyal Stonecutters over at the Dead Homer Society have to say, in the grand scheme of things, The Simpsons remains a very well written show. Especially in light of all the other “sitcoms” and “comedies” that the various networks put out during the week.

5. Changes in management structure

Last but most certainly not least, the Simpsons could never be repeated because FOX as a network has changed. When the Simpsons were first broadcast, the creators were given a wide berth when it came to content and biting the hand that feeds them. The simple reason for this was that the network needed ratings and ad revenue, and allowing the producers a bit of leeway went a long way in letting the show find it’s place in the TV world.

Since then, FOX has become successful, and much more mainstream as a result. I can’t foresee a show being given similar leeway (and a share of the merchandising) ever again. It just won’t happen. As a result, we’re unlikely to ever see a show like the Simpsons grace our screen again.


When the Simpsons eventually does get sent to the great big TV in the sky, it’s highly unlikely that a show such as Family Guy will manage to retain many of the Simpsons loyal fanbase and as a result, is more likely to falter when left to carry the network by itself. Once that happens, it seems probable that animation, as a driving force on the FOX network is doomed.