When The Simpsons debuted 25 years ago as a series of shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show, it was hard to expect that it would become one of the most successful and longest-running franchises in movie and TV history. While The Simpsons spun off from (and quickly eclipsed) The Tracey Ullman Show, it seems a little odd that, given the show’s rampant popularity, we have yet to see a spin-off from The Simpsons, itself. The show has occasionally mocked the concept of TV spin-offs – most notably in the Troy McClure-hosted “Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase” – but that doesn’t mean Fox and the Simpsons creative team haven’t attempted to use the show as a springboard to launch another series. Let’s take a look now at some proposed spin-offs of The Simpsons, all of which sound infinitely better than The Cleveland Show.
A Krusty the Clown Series (1994)
One of the first side characters the Simpsons writers fleshed out was Krusty the Clown, so it makes perfect sense that he was the first one Matt Groening tried to develop a series around. With The Simpsons at its creative zenith as well as the peak of its cultural relevance in the 90s, it would have been the perfect time to launch a second series, but the plans for the Krusty show sound a little out there. Groening wanted it to be a live-action series starring Dan Castellaneta, who voices Krusty, Homer, and a solid 1/3 of Springfield’s male residents, as Krusty the Clown. Matt Groening, with King of Queens creator Michael Weithorn, wrote a pilot script about Krusty moving to L.A. to host a talk show. Several visual jokes that seemed a better fit for animation caused trouble with the network. Here’s Groening describing the difficulties:
“We had this running joke in the script that Krusty was living in a house on stilts and there were beavers gnawing their way through the stilts. But somebody at the network pointed out how expensive it was to hire trained beavers – and an equally prohibitive cost would be to get mechanical beavers – so I said, ‘If we animated this, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.’”
Matt Groening and Fox then began to work on an animated Krusty spin-off, but contract negotiations stalled, and Groening moved on to developing Futurama, a series that does not require the use of beavers – mechanical or trained.
Tales from Springfield (1996)
The greatest strength of The Simpsons has always been its deep bench of supporting characters. While many of these tertiary Springfieldians seem like broad cartoonish characters on the outside, they’re often revealed to be rich, three-dimensional figures underneath who are capable of carrying their own episodes of the show. After the success of the 1996 episode “22 Short Films About Springfield,” an episode composed of nearly two dozen vignettes centering on the show’s recurring characters, the writers began batting around the idea of developing a new series following these lesser-known Springfieldians. Tales from Springfield would have told three different short stories each week, focusing on secondary characters and occasionally telling stories about the Simpsons family members’ past and future.
Matt Groening concluded that the show didn’t have enough writers to script two simultaneous series, so the idea was shelved. The Simpsons has enough wonderful recurring characters to fill several additional series, and this seems like it would have been a logical and worthwhile spin-off at the time, but it wasn’t meant to be.
A live-action Troy McClure movie (mid-90s)
Prior to his tragic death, Phil Hartman, who voiced recurring Simpsons characters Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz, amongst others, expressed an interest in starring in a live-action film based on McClure. While Matt Groening has said that this was only an idea and no script was ever written, several of the writers were fond of Hartman’s idea. While the Krusty spin-off seems a little harder to pull off, Phil Hartman has proven he’s adept at playing smug, superficial guys like McClure in live-action roles, and it’s a shame we never got to see him play Troy McClure in non-animated form.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.