The Simpsons is known for taking jabs at its own network, but in its 22 seasons, few gags went as far as last night's couch gag, which envisioned a dystopic, soul-crushing Simpsons merchandising facility within the 20th Century Fox lot. The opening was brainstormed by British graffiti artist Banksy, and ArtsBeat called up Simpsons producer Al Jean to find out how Banksy got involved and whether Fox had any idea what was going on ("I think that we should always be able to say the holes in our DVDs are poked by unhappy unicorns," offers Jean).
How did you find Banksy to do this, and now that it’s done, how much trouble are you in?
Well, I haven’t been fired yet, so that’s a good sign. I saw the film Banksy directed, Exit Through the Gift Shop, and I thought, oh, we should see if he would do a main title for the show, a couch gag. So I asked Bonnie Pietila, our casting director, if she could locate him, because she had previously located people like Thomas Pynchon. And she did it through the producers of that film. We didn’t have any agenda. We said, “We’d like to see if you would do a couch gag.” So he sent back boards for pretty much what you saw.
Were you concerned that what he sent you could get the show into hot water?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it for a little bit. Certainly, Fox has been very gracious about us biting the hand that feeds us, but I showed it to Matt Groening, and he said, no, we should go for it and try to do it pretty much as close as we can to his original intention. So we did. Like we always do, every show is submitted to broadcast standards, and they had a couple of [changes] which I agreed with, for taste. But 95 percent of it is just the way he wanted.
Can you say what got cut out?
I’ll just say, it was even a little sadder. But I would have to say almost all of it stayed in. We were thrilled. It was funny, I watched Mad Men last night and I wondered if this was my Don Draper letter to The New York Times. I knew just how he felt. But it was great to have a secret.
‘The Simpsons’ Explains Its Button-Pushing Banksy Opening [ArtsBeat/NYT]