They are two of the most famous creators in the universe. Their work is quoted almost as often as Scripture. They have turned their pens into ATMs, making them richer than the creator of the universe. They have given rise to — and remain the symbolic deities of — two sides of a great pop culture debate that is being fervidly argued out on some message board as you read this. But on this toasty summer afternoon in L.A., dressed in white shirts, jeans, and sneakers, these two men — Matt Groening, the 60-year-old creator/exec producer of The Simpsons (and Futurama), and Seth MacFarlane, the 40-year-old creator/exec producer/vocal star of Family Guy (and American Dad) — are just two dudes in a room, talking ‘toons.
Kicking back in Groening’s Simpsons office on the Fox lot, the pair shoot the breeze about all things animation; the rivalrous relationship between their big shows, both built around a slothful, sophomoric patriarch; and that ultra-anticipated hour-long Family Guy season premiere that will combine the franchises in a true display of animation domination. Yes, on Sept. 28, ”The Simpsons Guy” aims to do something that fans thought unpossible: Take two shows with 37 combined seasons of comedy — the revered elder statesman/pioneer of modern prime-time animated humor and its edgier, so-cultishly-beloved-that-Fox-uncanceled-it, bratty-fratty descendant — and create a giant episode that is more ”Holy crap!” than ”D’oh!”
The extravaganza is as self-deprecating as it is self-aware, winking at criticism that Family Guy ripped off The Simpsons, nodding at crossover cynicism, toying with both shows’ signature gags (Stewie saying, ”Eat my shorts”), and sneaking in cameos (Bob from Bob’s Burgers!). The plot? The road-tripping Griffins accidentally wind up in Springfield, where they are befriended by the Simpsons. Stewie is in awe of Bart, and Lisa tries to build Meg’s self-confidence, while Homer and Peter bond over doughnuts before throwing down in a nuclear chicken fight.
But the real meeting of the minds is taking place right here, as Groening and MacFarlane squeeze onto the same couch for the very first time.
Seth, is there anything you were hoping to find in Matt’s office? Anything you’d like to steal?
Seth MacFarlane [Looking around] Holy s—. Actually, that’s a really awesome dual-cassette player. I need one of those.
Matt Groening Journey to the past! [Walks over to cassette player behind his desk] I want to see what cassettes are in there. [Checks] There are no cassettes.
MacFarlane If I need to make a tape of one of my CDs, will that do it for me?
[Noticing jar with floating embryonic Bart] Hey, Matt, is that a Bart fetus in a jar?
Groening Yeah, I guess it is. Somebody sent us that.
MacFarlane Are those awards? Can I touch one? I’ve never…
Groening You must have all this crap, right?
MacFarlane You’re much better at saving stuff than I am. Most of it is in the backseat of my car.
Groening You’ve never been in this office before?
MacFarlane No, I haven’t. I think Dads was over here during the episode and a half it was on the air…. Is that a dual-VHS player?
Groening Nothing changes.