Groening Is Toast of the Town in Cannes

Forget about all the content sale hustle and global TV business deals. Matt Groening’s appearance at the 2009 MIPCOM market in Cannes was the biggest news in town this past week. Sure, Jerry Seinfeld, Lisa Kudrow and Joan Rivers were also here promoting their latest reality/game shows, but it was Groening who outshone all the stars at the confab.

The father of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie was joined by longtime Simpsons show runner Al Jean in a laughter-filled Creative Content session. The duo was interviewed by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), the producer/director of an upcoming documentary about the show, in a packed auditorium at the Palais de Festival on Tuesday evening (Oct. 6).

Spurlock opened the session by reminiscing about the early days of the show when people like George Bush Sr. and Bill Cosby were warning audiences that the show would corrupt the minds of American kids. ‘But after 450 episodes and becoming the longest-running primetime show in history, the Oxford English dictionary includes a definition for D’oh!’

(L-R) actor/director Morgan Spurlock (keynote moderator) Matt Groening (The Simpsons series creator and executive producer) and Al Jean (The Simpsons executive producer).

Groening and Jean talked about the many hours they spend on each show and how the writing staff of 20 aren’t afraid to touch any subject’and pretty much tackle all kinds of material, even having fun with FOX uber-boss, Rupert Murdoch. ‘The root of the enduring success is that we continue to work very hard and we work all year around and don’t take any breaks, which is why we look so tired,’ said Jean.

Groening said he believes that the show’s longevity owes a lot to the show’s ability to focus on so many different characters. ‘Perverts can relate to Mo, clever kids like Lisa’there’ something for everyone,’ said Jean. When asked by an audience member who he relates to today, Groening said it was Homer, although he has also mentioned that he also sees himself in Bart and Lisa!

On the subject of their favorite guest voices on the show, the duo said it was pretty amazing to have some of their music heroes–people like Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and The White Stripes doing voices for the show. ‘We have a list of people that haven’t been on the show,’ said Groening. ‘If we say it publicly, they always say no.’ It was also revealed that pop star Prince (who has a reputation for being difficult) came to them with an actual storyline for himself, which pretty much made him look like the most wonderful human being on the planet. Thankfully, he turned them down when he was told that the writing staff decides on the plot!

Jean also noted that Fox gave them total creative control when the show started, because animation in primetime was a new thing back then. He noted, ‘We still have it, something that wouldn’t happen now but at the time there was no animated show in primetime so they were happy to let us get on with it!’

As far as the future of the show is concerned, Groening and Jean said things look pretty good, because the ratings for the new season have actually been better than last year’s numbers. The voice cast has committed to doing the show for two more seasons after the current one.

Groening said he first realized that the show was a big success when he was building a house and one day some Bart graffiti appear on one of the walls. ‘I’m not sure they knew whose house it was, but for me, it was a sign!’ Groening also shared that he actually collects cool hand-made Simpsons merchandising items sent to him from fans all around the world. When an audience member asked him what his favorite item was, he laughed and said it was a Simpsons bong!

(L-R) Marion Edwards (President, International Television, Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution), Mark Kaner (President, Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution), Matt Groening (The Simpsons series creator and executive producer), Al Jean (The Simpsons executive producer) and Gary Newman (Twentieth Century Fox TV Chairman).

On Wednesday (Oct. 7), Groening was awarded a yellow key to the city of Cannes by the mayor. He also received the inaugural MIPCOM Creative Icon Award at a special dinner held at the Carlton hotel tonight.

For more, visit: http://www.mipworld.com/en/Industry-insight/videos/Talking-MIPCOM-The-Simpsons-Matt-Groening-and-Al-Jean-with-Morgan-Spurlock/

Top Photo: (L-R) Matt Groening (The Simpsons series creator and executive producer) and Bernard Brochard, mayor of Cannes.