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Matt Groening Talks About What's In This Year's 'Treehouse Of Horror'

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Matt Groening Talks About What's In This Year's 'Treehouse Of Horror'


Matt Groening Talks About What's In This Year's 'Treehouse Of Horror'

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(Soundbite of TV series, "The Simpsons")

Mr. DAN CASTELLANETA (Actor, The Simpsons"): (as Homer Simpson) Ooh-hoo-hoo, what a haul this year. I love Halloween.

LIANE HANSEN, host: As a child, I looked forward to Halloween because of the chance to dress up in costumes and gather enough candy to keep my dentist in business for life. As an adult, or more specifically, for the past 20 or so years, I looked forward to Halloween because it was the time of year when the animated series "The Simpsons" aired its annual "Treehouse of Horror" show.

Ms. JULIE KAVNER (Actor): (as Marge Simpson): Hello, everyone. You know, Halloween is a very strange holiday. Personally, I don't understand it. I don't know, kids worshipping ghosts, pretending to be devils. Things on TV that are completely inappropriate for younger viewers.

HANSEN: Now, everything you could possibly want to know about those episodes and more can be found in a new book, "Simpsons World, The Ultimate Episode Guide to Seasons 1 through 20." Series creator and executive producer Matt Groening wrote the 1200-page, eight-pound book. And he joins us from the Village Studio in Santa Monica. Happy Halloween, Matt.

Mr. MATT GROENING (Creator/Executive Producer, "The Simpsons"): Happy Halloween to you.

HANSEN: The first "Treehouse" episode didn't appear until Season 2. How did the idea come about?

Mr. GROENING: We wanted to do an episode where we broke the rules of the show. We had established the characters. They were beloved or hated, depending on your point of view. And we decided, oh, let's do a horror episode. Yeah.

HANSEN: Edgar Allen Poe gets a writing credit on that first "Treehouse" because the story "The Raven" gets parodied.

(Soundbite of television series, "The Simpsons")

Ms. NANCY CARTWRIGHT (Actor): (as Bart Simpson) Wait a minute, that's a school book.

Ms. YEARDLEY SMITH (Actor): (as Lisa Simpson) Don't worry, Bart. You won't learn anything. It's called "The Raven." Once upon a midnight dreary...

Mr. JAMES EARL JONES (Actor): (as The Narrator): While I ponder the weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, while I nodded, nearly napping. Suddenly there came a tapping...

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (as Homer Simpson) Oy-hey-hey.

Mr. JONES: (as The Narrator): As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (as Homer Simpson) 'Tis some visitor.

Mr. GROENING: Well, we actually quoted the poem correctly. And I was actually nervous about that particular segment of the show, because I thought I don't know - the kids aren't going to know who Edgar Allan Poe is, and "The Raven" is kind of, you know, kind of old fashioned. But, you know, we spruced it up. We actually had a raven with Bart's haircut.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROENING: Get the kids enthused.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: That first episode, one of the acts was called "Hungry Are the Damned."

(Soundbite of television series, "The Simpsons")

Mr. HARRY SHEARER (Actor): (as Kang) Greetings, Earthlings. I am Kang. Do not be frightened. We mean you no harm.

Ms. KAVNER: (as Marge Simpson) You speak English.

Mr. SHEARER: (as Kang) I am actually speaking Rigelian. By an astonishing coincidence, both of our languages are exactly the same.

Ms. CARTWRIGHT: (as Bart Simpson) Well, what are you going to do with us, man?

Mr. SHEARER: (as Kang) Kodos and I are taking you to Rigel IV, a world of infinite delight...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: And one of my favorite "Twilight Zone" episodes is "To Serve Man." This is what you were parodying, more or less, right?

Mr. GROENING: Yes, "To Serve Man" with Kang and Kodos, our beloved aliens who are constantly drooling. In fact, I told the animators at the time, you know, they don't have to drool all the time. 'Cause I thought it would get distracting. But, indeed, I think you'll notice that they're drooling in every shot and they're in every "Treehouse of Horror." We sometimes forget. We have to write them in at the last second, but we try to put Kang and Kodos in every episode.

HANSEN: One of the things I love about these "Treehouse" episodes is the credits. I mean, you all give yourselves scary names.

Mr. GROENING: Well, what we used to do at the very beginning of the show, we used to have the camera track through a cemetery and see all these tombstones with shows that had been cancelled. And...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROENING: ...we finally got - we started feeling sorry for the people whose names we were - names of whose shows were put on these tombstones. So we now get our jollies out of giving ourselves scary names.

Now, "The Simpsons" writers, because they think too hard, their names are very, very long. I have made it a mission of mine to, whatever scary Halloween name that I can come up with, it's a shorter version of my own name. So right now, for the last several years, it's been Bat Groening.

HANSEN: Right. Right.

Mr. GROENING: So one fewer letter.

HANSEN: Yeah. I was noticing on the opening sequence of the first "Treehouse of Horror," the names on one of the graveyards was Disco.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROENING: Well, you know, I guess disco really never dies.

HANSEN: Yeah, except for Stu. Man, he keeps it alive.

Mr. GROENING: Disco Stu?


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROENING: Yes. Yes. Well, in fact, in this Christmas episode that's coming up in a year, you'll see the future Disco Stu; and disco exists in the future.

HANSEN: Oh. Oh, I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing.

(Soundbite of television series, "The Simpsons")

Unidentified Man: We interrupt this dance music from the Meridian Room in Capital City's Fabulous Hotel Hitler to bring you a special bulletin.

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (as Homer Simpson) Hey, I'm not done dancing. This bulletin better swing.

Unidentified Man: Reports are coming in of giant metal cylinders landing on the outskirts of major American cities.

Ms. KAVNER: (as Marge Simpson) Cylinders?

Unidentified Man: Astronomers say the ominous capsules originated from Earth's closest neighbor...

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (as Homer Simpson) Flanders?

Unidentified Man: ...Mars.

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (as Homer Simpson) So it's a war of the worlds. Good thing we got the sun on our side.

HANSEN: You take on Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds." I mean, this seems like a natural.

Mr. GROENING: Oh, yeah. We love - you know, basically after doing this for 20-odd years, we have basically run out of the main horror and terror and thrilling genres, and we've gone far afield. And we're finally coming back. Finally - thank God for all these vampire movies because we got a lot of new vampire stuff coming.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: But you did manage to do a "Treehouse" episode called "Hex in the City," where, you know, Marge is revealed to belong to a coven of witches. And then you draw on popular culture in a later episode - one of the later ones where you parody the opening of "Mad Men," and you see Homer, the shadow, falling down the big skyscraper building.

Are you always looking for things in our popular culture that says, ah, that's worthy of a parody?

Mr. GROENING: Oh, yeah. Well, one of the great things about having a TV show which is so flexible is that we can make fun of whatever we want to, or embrace it and be affectionate like our "Mad Men" reference.

HANSEN: Right. Is it as difficult to parody an existing work as it is to create an original one?

Mr. GROENING: No, I think parody is much easier.


Mr. GROENING: In fact, it's very easy and we try to hold back. We could do parodies in every episode. Sometimes we try to keep it subtle and oblique. There are parodies in there that you might not even know they're parodies because we've disguised it.

HANSEN: Yeah. And we can find out by looking at this episode guide.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROENING: Yes, exactly.

HANSEN: All the stuff we missed. You know, where the tree has four fingers exactly like "The Simpsons" and things like that.

How far ahead do you begin to plan the "Treehouse" episodes?

Mr. GROENING: Oh, we're generally a little over a year ahead on the "Treehouse of Horror" episodes. But we don't finish them until right before they're broadcast. So we have a lot of time to tinker and rewrite and fret. I would say the secret of animation is there's a lot of worry and anxiety that - is it really good; is it going to work? And because we have enough lead time, we change a lot.

HANSEN: Do you have a favorite "Treehouse" episode, by any chance?

Mr. GROENING: I like one of the very early ones in which Homer sells his soul to the devil for a donut.

HANSEN: Oh, yes.

Mr. GROENING: I love that one.

(Soundbite of television series, "The Simpsons")

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (as Homer Simpson) I'd sell my soul for a donut.

(Soundbite of thunder and laughter)

Mr. SHEARER: (as The Devil) Well, that can be arranged.

Mr. CASTELLANETA: (as Homer Simpson) What? Flanders, you're the devil?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHEARER: (as The Devil) It's always the one you least suspect.

HANSEN: I know I'm only touching really on a tiny portion of this book. I mean, it really has everything. But you say you've done episode guides before. Why the big tome now?

Mr. GROENING: Well, it's 20 years. So we - 20 years of episodes. We're in our middle four hundreds of numbers of episodes. In a couple of years, I'll be back touting our 500th episode.

On the show, we don't take hiatuses. We're working year-round. And we never pause to go, oh wait, look what we've done so far. The earlier episode guides, the little small ones, are used by the people who work on the show - by the animators and the writers to keep our history straight and to remind us what we've already done.

And so now we've got this jumbo book that's going to be our guide for another 20 years.

HANSEN: Any chance of a hint about this year's "Treehouse"?

Mr. GROENING: Let's see, this year's "Treehouse," we - well, let me think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROENING: We're working on next year's.

HANSEN: Right.

Mr. GROENING: This year we're doing "Tween Light."

HANSEN: Oh, yeah.

Mr. GROENING: Our version of "Twilight." Lisa falls in love with a child vampire at school. One of my favorite lines is: And now we'll move through the trees the way bats do, by jumping from tree to tree.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: And what do you do for Halloween?

Mr. GROENING: Well, these days I hand out candy. I like to make it different than what they get at other houses. So I don't just go to the store and get those little miniature candy bars. I go to ethnic supermarkets. I particularly like Japanese grocery stores and get Japanese candy.

Although I do now check very closely at what I buy, because one parent came back a couple of years ago and was very angry 'cause I had given the kids little, tiny dried fish. I - I...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROENING: I thought that they - well, they came in a little, you know, candy-like wrapper.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: But they were - they didn't want me to give them fish.

HANSEN: That's Matt Groening. He's the creator and executive producer of "The Simpsons." His new book, which contains every blackboard quotation, every couch gag, and every D'oh ever uttered by Homer, is called "Simpsons World, The Ultimate Episode Guide," published by Harper Collins.

Mr. Groening joined us from the Village Studio in Santa Monica. Thanks a lot.

Mr. GROENING: Happy Halloween.

HANSEN: (as Marge Simpson) Thank you very much, Mr. Groening.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROENING: That's fantastic.

HANSEN: Thank you.

And this year's "Treehouse of Horror" will air on Fox next Sunday November 7th. The World Series trumps vampires every time.

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