On Sunday night’s season premiere (and 250th episode) of ”The Simpsons,” the Who join the exclusive cadre of rock stars who’ve gigged in Springfield. Come February, ‘N Sync will join the bandwagon, too, playing their animated selves when Bart, Milhouse, Nelson, and Ralph form a boy group. Like ”Futurama,” Fox’s other Matt Groening created animated series, ”The Simpsons,” has never had trouble attracting famous guest voices: Paul McCartney, Aerosmith, Cypress Hill, Sonic Youth, and the Smashing Pumpkins have all appeared in two dimensions. ”Even when people say they’re not available, we eventually get them,” says Mike Scully, one of the ”Simpsons” executive producers. ”We have no problem with stalking.”
Actually, Scully didn’t have to risk being slapped with a restraining order while wooing Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, and Pete Townshend. ”I knew they didn’t do a lot of cartoon work,” he says. ”But I really wanted to meet them, so it was worth a shot.” A few calls from the show’s casting director in L.A. to the Who’s managers in London and the threesome said, in ”Won’t Get Fooled Again” fashion, ”Yeeeeeaaaaaaahhhhw.”
The next step was creating cartoon versions of the band, which meant drawing Daltrey in his trademark tight T shirt and long curls – even though the singer cut his famous locks in the mid ’80s. ”I wanted to go with the look of the band that’s frozen in everyone’s mind,” Scully says. ”No one ages on the show anyway.” The Who recorded their dialogue in England, but they still weighed in on script details. ”If you look closely at the animation,” Scully says, ”you’ll see a familiar drummer.” That would be the addition of an animated Keith Moon, who died in 1978. ”The guys agreed that having Keith in it was a great idea. Why not?”
The same attitude seems to prevail at ”Futurama,” which nabbed Beck and Coolio for upcoming episodes. Next month, the rapper will play Kwanzaa bot – a robot who travels the universe to raise awareness for the African American holiday. Beck, meanwhile, will appear as himself – he’ll be a head preserved in a jar, natch – in an episode set to air next spring. The alt music wunderkind will perform ”My Broken Friend,” an original song penned by coexec producer and former ”Simpsons” scribe Ken Keeler. It’s a two minute duet with Bender, the series’ robot sidekick. Jokes David X. Cohen, the show’s exec producer: ”I’m hoping it will go straight to No. 1 on all the charts.”
As successful as they’ve been, Scully and Cohen still have a wish list of musical guest stars: ”I’d love to get Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty – I’ve been a huge fan of both since I was a teen,” says Scully. ”I know Chris Isaak is both funny and an actor, so we’ll have to see if we write something for him.” Cohen’s top picks for ”Futurama” are Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page: ”They represent the pinnacle of musical achievement. But you don’t see them on TV shows, so it would certainly be a challenge to convince them.” Cohen also hopes to recruit rapper turned actor Ice Cube. ”He’s got a great voice, which I think would work well for a number of characters.” But if those names don’t pan out, Cohen has a backup: ”Coolio is a closet nerd, and he can do all sorts of voices,” he says. ”I’m considering bringing him back for a regular part.” Maybe he could be a 31st century gangsta bot.