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Writing For "The Simpsons"

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In January 1992, during a campaign stop at a gathering of the National Religious Broadcasters, George H. W. Bush made a commitment to strengthen traditional values, promising to help American families become "a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons." A few days later, before the opening credits rolled on the animated sitcom's weekly episode, "The Simpsons" issued its response. Seated in front of the television, the family watched Bush make his remarks. "Hey! We're just like the Waltons," remarked Bart. "We're praying for an end to the Depression, too."

Unlike most fictional TV programs, "The Simpsons" has enjoyed a long history of run-ins with the "outside" world, be they presidents, movie stars, or even the network that broadcasts the show. To assess the show's impact on popular culture, UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television recently hosted a panel discussion with writers from the show.

Since its debut, "The Simpsons" has distinguished itself by a lack of sentimentalism. The show lampooned contemporary society by showing a TV family that actually spends it time watching TV. Not since "All In The Family" has a series provided such a biting and timely critique of American society. And with the limitless potential of animated characters, the writers could take it places where no other show had gone before.

Though the writers had differing perspectives on the ultimate meaning of "The Simpsons," they all agreed that Homer was the center of whatever it all was. The wide-eyed clownish figure that is Homer Simpson transcends everybody who works on the show. Despite bouts of bad behavior, the Simpsons are a devoted family. When asked what they won’t do on the show, the writers unequivocally assured us that marital infidelity was verboten nor would there be an episode where Homer sells Bart to organ harvesters.

UCLA concluded the discussion by asking the writing team if comedy had changed in the age of Twitter and Facebook. The writers seemed unfazed by new media. It was just one more topic to ridicule on a future episode. The irreverent spirit of "The Simpsons" may be the secret of its longevity. As long as society craves self-examination, the show will get renewed.

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