Top 10 Behind the Scenes Controversies in The Simpsons
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Top 10 Behind the Scenes Controversies in The Simpsons

VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild WRITTEN BY: Ty Richardson
For this list, we're taking a look at scathing scandals, arguments, power struggles, and more that have occurred behind closed doors throughout “Simpsons” history. Our countdown includes strike threats, problematic showrunners, lawsuits and more!
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Welcome to WatchMojo, and today, we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Behind-the-Scenes Controversies in “The Simpsons”. For this list, we’re taking a look at scathing scandals, arguments, power struggles, and more that have occurred behind closed doors throughout “Simpsons” history. Did any of these surprise you? Let us know in the comments.

#10: Sam Simon

When one colleague gets more recognition than another, there’s bound to be some harbored jealousy or even resentment. That’s what happened with Sam Simon. Along with Matt Groening and James L. Brooks, Simon was a co-developer for “The Simpsons”. More specifically, he was a writer, executive producer, and showrunner. Unfortunately, Simon would grow to resent both Groening and Brooks, believing their recognition was undeserved, and it lead to him having frequent arguments with them both. In 1993, Simon left Gracie Films, remarking he “wasn’t enjoying it anymore.” He would continue to earn a share of the show’s revenue (roughly ten million US dollars a year), and he was credited as an executive producer for decades.

#9: Competition With Cosby

“The Simpsons” wasn’t the only massive success FOX had seen in the late 80’s. Another family sitcom series had been dominating the television industry: “The Cosby Show”. After the first season's success, FOX decided to stick “The Simpsons” in a timeslot directly after “The Cosby Show”. This stressed out Groening and the crew as they believed such a decision would decimate “The Simpsons” in ratings. Sure enough, they were proven correct. “The Cosby Show” surpassed “The Simpsons” throughout the cartoon’s second and third seasons. It wasn’t until season six that Homer and his family finally went back to their original timeslot.

#8: The Big Wigs Don’t Know

Though this one is a little more tongue-in-cheek, it’s too funny to leave out. If you remember the episode “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show”, you’ll recall the cartoon-within-a-cartoon introducing a new character: a rapping dog named Poochie, voiced by Homer Simpson. According to former showrunner Josh Weinstein, Poochie was created after a FOX executive suggested “The Simpsons” introduce a new family member, specifically mentioning a teenaged character. And, so, Poochie was created as a means to mock the idea as well as criticize the prospect of networks meddling in entertainment.

#7: David Mirkin’s Reign

From 1993 to 1995, David Mirkin took over as The Simpsons' showrunner, and it's a popular era among fans due to its more fantastical and surreal nature. However, this was a point of contention among the writing staff. Whereas previous seasons were more grounded in reality, the writing staff felt these episodes were straying too far away from what made the show a hit. One prominent example of this was the episode "Deep Space Homer" where Homer is selected by NASA to take part in a spaceflight mission. Despite being one of the most popular episodes, staff took umbrage with it due to its "large" idea. Even Matt Groening stated that the episode gave the staff "nowhere to go".

#6: Threat of a Strike

In 1999, the voice cast butted heads with FOX over their pay rates, having only made $30k per episode over ten seasons. At first, FOX refused to increase their pay and even started making plans to recast. Eventually an agreement was reached and, while everyone was given a bump to $125k per episode, Maude Flanders' voice actor, Maggie Roswell, had only been making roughly $2000 per episode, and most of that went to covering travel costs for her to get to and from the studio. When she asked about a raise for $6000 per episode, FOX rejected the notion, prompting Roswell to quit. Thankfully, she and FOX would make amends three years later when the network asked her to return and allowed her to record lines from home.

#5: Sacrifices for Everyone

While the animation industry has, in some instances, seen ways to make shows and films at a lower budget without sacrificing quality, this wasn’t always the case. For a time, animation was significantly expensive to make, and “The Simpsons” was no exception. During production for its twenty-fifth season, costs were higher than ever, and it prompted FOX to give the staff an ultimatum: either they had to find a way to make costs lower or the show would be canceled. The love for the series was palpable all around because, in order to save it, everyone on staff - writers, animators, voice actors, directors, producers, everyone - wound up taking pay cuts.

#4: Calling FOX’s Bluff

Behind closed doors, the episode “Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington” is one of the most notorious in the show’s history. At least, if you’re in FOX’s shoes, it is. Criticizing FOX News’ network and marketing, the episode throws in a very familiar-looking news ticker that spurts out some absurd headlines. FOX News was furious, and went so far as to threaten a lawsuit against Matt Groening and the staff. In the end, their bluff was called given that FOX News suing “The Simpsons” would basically be the corporation suing themselves. The lawsuit was never filed, but the network did impose a rule forbidding fake news tickers, under the pretense that they would supposedly confuse audiences.

#3: Put It In Writing!

On the surface, it does seem rather odd that a show like “The Simpsons” can openly mock and criticize the very network that runs its products and signs its paychecks. How have the staff gotten away with ridiculing their bosses? Well, it’s all because of the contract. Back when the show was in talks with FOX, the producers entered the deal with the condition that FOX was to have ZERO creative control over the show. In other words, the network could not interfere with the show’s narrative writing or direction. FOX agreed to the terms, and they have probably regretted it ever since… at least, until they see the revenue coming in every month.

#2: Groening & “The Critic”

Whereas “Mr. Spritz” was notorious among FOX executives, “A Star is Burns” was contentious within the creative staff, particularly between Matt Groening and James Brooks. For those unfamiliar, this was the bizarre crossover episode between “The Simpsons” and the short-lived animated series, “The Critic”. Groening believed “The Critic” had no place in “The Simpsons” and called the episode “a thirty-minute advertisement” for an unsuccessful show. Groening even went so far as to remove his name entirely from the credits of this one episode, forever marking it as an uncomfortable blot in the show’s history.

#1: The Tracey Ullman Resentment

Before getting their own show, The Simpson family was seeing massive success on “The Tracey Ullman Show”. Their increasing popularity saw Ullman herself filing a lawsuit against FOX and “The Simpsons” back in 1992, claiming she was the reason for the show's success, and thus deserved royalties, merchandising profits, and a portion of FOX's revenue. FOX clarified to the court that they had already paid $58,000 in royalties to Ullman and as well as $3 million for the three-and-a-half season run of her show. FOX won the lawsuit in the end, thankfully.
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