Al Jean Interview: ‘The Simpsons’ showrunner
We at Gold Derby weren’t the only ones who were caught very off-guard when “The Simpsons” claimed last year’s Emmy for Best Animated Program. Showrunner Al Jean had the exact same feeling. “No one was as shocked as I was. You could hear a gasp going up because last year, again, it was an incredible field.,” says Jean in our recent webchat (watch the video above). But winning is still a very special thing for Jean. “I feel that you are being judged as the best by the people that do it for a living. It was really meaningful.” Incidentally, after the win, Jean tweeted out our article saying the win was a shock and captioned it with, “Dewey defeats Truman.”
Jean has been with “The Simpsons” since the very beginning. He, along with writing partner Mike Reiss, served as showrunner for the show’s third and fourth seasons. In 2001 he returned to that position for the beginning of the show’s 13th season and has been there ever since. “The Simpsons” has a a lasting track record at the Emmys that few programs outside of the variety categories can claim. The show has claimed the prize for Best Animated Program a record-setting 11 times, which is more than double the number of wins achieved by the next closest program, “South Park.” The show won the category in 1990-91, 1995, 1997-98, 2000-01, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2019. The show has also collected 23 additional trophies including 16 for voice acting.
For this year’s race, Jean has submitted “Thanksgiving of Horror,” which consisted of three vignettes in the style of the show’s famous Treehouse of Horror series except these are Thanksgiving related. Jean explains, “Pretty early on it seemed like the one to submit, in my opinion.” While the episode’s rating on iMDB did factor into this thinking, Jean also held the episode in high regard because of how good the its animation is. “It’s an Animated Program Emmy and I thought that the animation in that episode particularly stands out and… I thought that gave the show its best shot.”
Jean also discussed some of the things he looks for in prospective writers for the show as he has seen many writers come in and out of the writer’s room. “I think the first thing is that they have to be very verbal. You really have to be able to put your ideas forward and be funny as well as pitching stories and characters.” He also really likes to see people who understand what it means to be a part of a team rather than just interested in getting their ideas into the script. “There are shows where there’s a more competitive and cut-throat atmosphere. We find that our product is the best when it’s people all just trying to work together for the common good.”