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'The Simpsons'' 500th: Al Jean speaks

A scene from

A scene from "The Simpsons." Credit: Fox

Al Jean -- one of the fathers of the glorious institution, "The Simpsons" --- held a presser the other day, and had much to say about the past, present (500 episodes!) and future. Without further ado, some of his comments.

Talk about getting Assange for this episode (please)

He is in the episode. Obviously he’s a controversial figure and that was discussed before we agreed to let him do it. It’s a funny cameo and it makes no judgments about the larger case about him. So yes, he’s in it and we had to record him over the phone. It was a very kind of cloak and dagger thing, but we’ve been specializing in finding people who can’t be found so we thought it’d be especially unique for the 500th episode. I don’t think he was on the 500th episode of "Gun Smoke."

I had heard through Matt Groening, and I don’t know who told him, that Mr. Assange was interested in being on the show. So we had our casting director, Bonnie Pietila, who also tracked down Banksy and Thomas Pynchon, try to locate him and she did. If there’s a missing person you want to find, she’s the person to contact.

Did the cast really almost get fired last year?

I think it was less of a close call than people thought reading the coverage. What happens is the cast has two, three, four-year contracts and when they expire then they’re renegotiated. It’s not a holdout. It’s not a walkout. It’s the way business works.

This was actually a very early signing. The network had said that the cost of the show that we were doing was prohibitive, and as you can see shows like "House" did come to an end because of cost. They said if you can get it down to a certain number we’d love to keep going as long as you can, and we did. Going through the whole budget, including the cast, and everybody just loves it so much that they said, “To keep it going we’ll work with what we see as a genuine concern.”

Did Fox ever give any serious consideration to pulling the plug on the show?  

We had an episode which we just aired last Christmas called “Holidays of Future Past.” Had we ended the series that would’ve been the last episode. We were prepared to do that, but in my opinion, having been privy to it, I don’t think it ever really got close to that point. I personally wouldn’t want to do the show without the people that we have. I mean they’re obviously integral to it and we’ve done so many episodes I can’t conceive of it without them. Had they not signed, we would’ve stopped the show.

Will you go to 1,000?

We’re definitely going to do a total of 559. That’s what the new deal is for, but I honestly think— because again, it’s a show with a really rich universe, many characters. It centers on a family, which is extremely universal. I don’t know where the end is. I’ ve jokingly said, “Why not 1,000? Why not 2,000?” But that’s sounds a preposterous to me now as 500 did then so I really don’t know.

He is in the episode. Obviously he’s a controversial figure and that was discussed before we agreed to let him do it. It’s a funny cameo and it makes no judgments about the larger case about him. So yes, he’s in it and we had to record him over the phone. It was a very kind of cloak and dagger thing, but we’ve been specializing in finding people who can’t be found so we thought it’d be especially unique for the 500th episode. I don’t think he was on the 500th episode of Gun Smoke. A. Jean I had heard through Matt Groening, and I don’t know who told him, that Mr. Assange was interested in being on the show. So we had our casting director, Bonnie Pietila, who also tracked down Banksy and Thomas Pynchon, try to locate him and she did. If there’s a missing person you want to find, she’s the person to contact.

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