"The Simpsons" renewal: Exec producer Al Jean speaks | EW.com

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'Simpsons' exec producer Al Jean on renewal: 'This isn't an end but a beginning' -- EXCLUSIVE

Homer Simpson Jean

(Frazer Harrison/Getty Images; Fox)

Crack open those cans of Duff beer: The Simpsons is staying on TV. After a public round of negotiations between the voice actors and the show’s studio, 20th Century Fox TV, Fox announced on Friday afternoon that the venerable animated comedy has been renewed for two additional years, bringing its run to at least 25 seasons and – holy Homer! – 559 episodes. “In the words of Mark Twain: Woo Hoo! Two more seasons!” Simpsons exec producer Al Jean summed up to EW. “Our mood is elation, mixed with a sense of ‘Man, we’ve got a lot of work to do.’ Believe me, we don’t look at this as these will definitely be the last two [seasons]. We just want to keep fighting and go as long as we can…. We really feel this isn’t an end but a beginning. It’s a cliché, but it’s the truth.”

Jean had certainly been hopeful that the series would return beyond this season, but he was realistic about the financial realities of the business during this last round of contract talks. “Negotiations are like a baseball game: You never know how it’s going to turn out,” he says. “I thought it could be [the end], because everything comes to an end at some point. And I’ve always felt that whenever the end comes, it’ll be for economic reasons. 20th was hoping to get an economic model for the show that could allow it to continue for two or more seasons, and that’s what we’ve got.” (Jean and other sources close to the show deny reports that there was any scenario of bringing back Homer & Co. for just one season.)

While the show’s budget had been reduced over the last few seasons, costs needed to be shaved even more this time around. During negotiations this fall for the cast’s new contract – their current deal expires at the end of this season – the voice actors were asked to take a significant salary cut, which they ultimately did. Producers also are accepting less money this time around. Jean won’t comment on the specifics of the deal, other than to note that there were “reductions all over the budget,” and that there weren’t any talks of replacing the cast (“Either they came back or we wouldn’t do the show.) “They understand that the world we live in is different in many ways from 2007,” he says, adding, “Everybody loves this show and realizes it’s the greatest job in the world, and they want to keep doing it. [Executive producer] Jim Brooks, [creator] Matt Groening, and I had one-on-one talks with the cast, and that was the unanimous view.” As for that statement released on Friday morning by Harry Shearer, the voice of Mr. Burns and Ned Flanders, that the actors deserved to share in the show’s bountiful profits, Jean says, “I’ll let it speak for itself, though my personal view is the actors are extremely valuable. They are brilliant, they are the characters, which means they possess an irreplaceable commodity. And because of that, they deserve to participate in the success of the show, and I think they do.”

It’s likely that the series will include a meta joke about all of these recent ‘End of The Simpsons?’ headlines, perhaps in the opening minute. (Jean is still beaming about last week’s trippy couch gag, courtesy of Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi: “The only thing we told him was, ‘Break all our rules,’ which he did gleefully.”) And the producers are putting together a special promo to air on Fox to thank fans for their vocal support. “The silver lining is that people cared,” says Jean. “The viewers are obviously the reason this has happened.”

Given the possibility that Homer and Marge could have bicycled off into the sunset for good, does the idea of the show ending feel more real at Simpsons HQ? Are they starting to figure out how they’ll eventually wrap up the show? Not quite. “It’s hard to think of the end,” responds Jean. “We got a two-year pickup. I mean, that’s as long a pickup as any show on the air.” That said, he believes episodes like season 11’s “Behind the Laughter” or season 19’s “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” could have made for fine finales. “Every year, we have a couple where I go, ‘Oh, that would have been a great one,’” he shares. “I don’t think we’re a serialized show and I don’t think we’re going to have a Lost finale where we reveal some truth about the world that nobody ever suspected. Whenever we do a last episode, we just hope that it would be sweet, true to the characters, funny, and give you a nice feeling for where the Simpsons would be headed.”

And if The End isn’t near, exactly how many seasons do Jean & Co. want to make? Thirty? Forty? “I honestly think that 30 is a goal to shoot for. I want to put The Simpsons at 30 seasons before the end of the decade,” he quips, nodding to John F. Kennedy’s moon speech. “Forty sounds insane, but 25 sounded insane 20 years ago. Having seen how far it’s gone, it’s not for me to cap it…. And Gunsmoke did 635 episodes [a record for a prime-time series], so that’s something to shoot for, too.” Not that he’s downplaying the magnitude of Friday’s big announcement. “When the show turned 21, it could drink,” he says. “And now when we turn 25, we can rent a car!”

Twitter: @dansnierson

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