11 Things Al Jean Told Us About Homer Simpson Live

Sunday, May 15, 2016 will go down in Simpsons history as the day Homer Simpson spoke to his fans live on the air. It is not only groundbreaking that a fictional character will respond to questions from fans, but that an animated character will be broadcast live. The week before the episode airs, The Simpsons executive producer and showrunner Al Jean gave a conference call with the media to explain the show. On May 15, fans on the east coast and west coast can call 1-888-726-6660 between 8-8:30 p.m. to submit questions, or tweet with the hashtag #HomerLive. Homer will answer questions in the last three minutes of the show, for both east and west coast airings. Simpsons fans can then relive the experience for the rest of eternity in Simpsons reruns. Here are 11 behind the scenes secrets Al Jean told us about Homer Live.

01
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It’s Not Quite Live Animation

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In the classic episode “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochy Show” there’s a joke that they stopped doing live animation because it was too much strain on the animators’ wrists. Well, Homer Live doesn’t require artists cranking out animation live because there is now technology to handle animation digitally. “It’s motion capture, which has been in existence actually as long ago as the year 2000,” Jean said. “We considered doing live appearance in The Tonight Show by Homer to promote The Simpsons movie in 2007 but what we saw the time didn’t seem to have a smooth enough animation so we didn’t use it. Now, it’s advanced to the point where we think we can do three minutes of the show.” 

02
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The Voice And Animation Are Separate

 Dan Castellaneta’s job is solely the voice of Homer Simpson. A motion capture professional will provide the animation and Castellaneta will speak to the audience. “Homer is animated live and Dan Castellaneta will be in a booth where he speaks into a mic and obviously what he says goes out live,” Jean said. “He’s not hooked up by electrodes or anything. His motions are captured and translated into Homer’s moves, which will then appear in the animation. It will look like the normal show. We have background animation that’s been pre-animated with several jokes but everything Homer does, the center of it, is live.”

03
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The Rules

For people excited to ask Homer a question, and for those watching the episode for years after, they should know it wasn’t just a free for all. “I should say there’s like a few rules,” Jean said. “You have to be over 18 to ask a question. We want your permission to use your question in reruns. The question should not be like what’s Dan Castellaneta like. They’re questions to Homer, Homer the person and funny.”

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The Best Session Wins Reruns

Since Homer is doing a live feed for both east and west coast, the producers will choose the better segment to air in repeats. Eventually, both will be shared with the world. “What’ll happen is we’ll pick the best one and use that for the immediate reruns of the show,” Jean said. “Then I would say we’ll release the second version in some form whether we put it online or make it a part of FX but definitely you’ll be able to see both.”

05
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This Is The Simpsons’ Answer To Grease: Live

Live TV has made a comeback, particularly with musicals. So The Simpsons thought of a way to Simpsonize live TV too.  “I really love the Sound of Music Live and Grease Live and I thought this is exciting,” Jean said. “Let’s not be comfortable. Let’s do something that could blow up in our faces but at least we’ll be trying. The Simpsons is such a great place, you don’t have to convince people that The Simpsons is a success,” Jean said. “You get to work not just on the show but on a movie or a short or a ride or a theme park.  When something like this comes up we can make it happen.”

06
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Why It’s Homer

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It could have just as easily been Bart Live, and I personally would have loved to see Comic Book Live or Disco Stu Live, but The Simpsons chose Homer for several reasons. “To many, but not entirely, Homer is the central character of the show,” Jean said. “Secondly, Dan Castellaneta, who voices Homer, does improv all the time.  He’s terrific at improv and it was just a natural fit. Dan is the natural guy. It’s limited. You could possibly have a second person in a second booth doing this, which we choose not to, but it’s limited the amount of characters you can have continuously animated at the same time, animated simultaneously.” 

07
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The First 27 Minutes Of The Episode

There is a reason for Homer to go live at the end of the episode. The plot of the show involves Homer taking improv lessons. “The writer of the episode, John Frink, who had the idea to do the live segment, built an episode around Homer failing to give a good speech and then going and learning improv to try to boost his confidence,” Jean said. “Dan plays both Homer, obviously, and the improv teacher in the episode.”

08
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They Edited The Episode To Make Room For Homer Live

Leaving three minutes open at the end meant that this will be the shortest Simpsons episode ever. “What I had to do is cut it to the bone to make room for the three minutes,” Jean said. “It really zips along until you get to Homer. There’s no couch gag, etc.”

09
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Producers Screen Questions for Dan Castellaneta

The amount of calls coming in and tweets would be insurmountable for any one person to choose from. The Simpsons have set up a crew to screen questions so Castellaneta only has to worry about being funny for the ones he answers.

“It would be too hard for him to choose,” Jean said. “What’s going to happen is we’re going to open the phone lines half hour prior and the writers actually will be monitoring the phone lines picking the questions. Obviously, we’ve talked about what people might be likely to ask, like why the heck are people voting for Donald Trump? Like that kind of question. It’s really going to be up to him. It’s three minutes, he’s going to do what he’s going to do and that’s what’s so exciting about it.”

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They Have Practiced

Although anything can happen on live TV, it won’t be a complete dry run. They rehearsed and made improvements so they are ready for broadcast. “We’ve done some rehearsals,” Jean said. “The first two were a little rough, which you expect from a rehearsal. Then we kind of got the phone lines down smoothly. The best case is like the last two rehearsals we had where it ran smoothly. Dan is just really funny. If Dan is like kind of finding an answer as Homer it’s almost funnier than having an answer, the way he kind of stumbles over words and gets to something and you never see where he’s going and it’s really great.”

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They Also Have a Backup

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If the Homer Live experiment fails completely, there won’t just be three minutes of dead air. The Simpsons has a backup plan, but it would mean Homer Live didn’t work. “I can tell you we’ve actually recorded a fallback, if God forbid, like there was a blackout Sunday and we had no power or something,” Jean said. “So we have something. We’ll air a full episode Sunday regardless, but we already have our failsafe.”