Matt Groening Talks About What's In This Year's 'Treehouse Of Horror' : Monkey See The Simpsons creator Matt Groening talks to Liane Hansen this weekend about an enormous new episode guide covering the show's first 20 years, and about the "Treehouse Of Horror" tradition.
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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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M: (as Homer Simpson) Ooh-hoo-hoo, what a haul this year. I love Halloween.


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.

M: (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.

M: Happy Halloween to you.

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

M: 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.


M: (as Bart Simpson) Wait a minute, that's a school book.

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

M: (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...

M: (as Homer Simpson) Oy-hey-hey.

M: As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

M: (as Homer Simpson) 'Tis some visitor.

M: 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.



M: Get the kids enthused.


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


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

M: (as Marge Simpson) You speak English.

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

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

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


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

M: 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.

M: 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...


M: 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.

M: 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.


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

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

M: Disco Stu?



M: 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.


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

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

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

M: (as Marge Simpson) Cylinders?

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

M: (as Homer Simpson) Flanders?

U: ...Mars.

M: (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.

M: 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.


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

M: 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?

M: No, I think parody is much easier.


M: 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.


M: Yes, exactly.

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

M: 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?

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

HANSEN: Oh, yes.

M: I love that one.


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


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

M: (as Homer Simpson) What? Flanders, you're the devil?


M: (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?

M: 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"?

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


M: We're working on next year's.

HANSEN: Right.

M: This year we're doing "Tween Light."

HANSEN: Oh, yeah.

M: 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.


HANSEN: And what do you do for Halloween?

M: 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...


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


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

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

M: Happy Halloween.

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


M: That's fantastic.

HANSEN: 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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