We’ve all heard of Godzilla vs. Mothra and Batman v. Superman. Now get ready for The Simpsons meets Family Guy, coming up September 28 on FOX. This milestone in the history of television animated comedy brings the Griffins of Quahog, RI, to Springfield.
According to Rich Appel, one of the Family Guy executive producers and a co-showrunner, “This episode, called ‘The Simpsons Guy,’ was completely written, produced and animated by the Family Guy team. One of the nicest aspects of this project was that the Simpsons crew trusted us enough to hand over these beloved characters for us to play with.”
The only request from Simpsons executive producers James L. Brooks and Matt Groening and Simpsons showrunner Al Jean was that they be able to read the script ahead of time. They did not insist on script approval.
Mmmm, doughnuts. Lois, Stewie and Peter Griffin are greeted by a friendly stranger named Homer Simpson.
“Without giving too much away, to their great credit there were only one or two lines that anyone had any concerns with,” Appel says. “In fact, one of their original supervising directors and animators, David Silverman, worked closely with our supervising director, Peter Shin, providing tutorials on the proper style of animation for the Simpsons characters.”
Fortunately Shin had worked on The Simpsons several years ago, so he understood the show’s style and methodology.
“It all has to do with each character’s unique mannerisms,” Appel says. “Once we have the action taking place in Springfield, we employed the Simpsons’ templates, color palette and backgrounds so the audience will know they have entered the Simpsons’ world.”
On the late-September season opener of Family Guy, the Griffins take a road trip and wind up in Springfield. They meet a friendly saffron-skinned stranger named Homer Simpson (Dan Castellaneta), who welcomes his new “albino” friends with open arms. At first everyone gets along famously: Stewie (Seth MacFarlane) and Bart (Nancy Cartwright) make out like bandits when Stewie trades in his mind control device for a good old-fashioned slingshot; Lisa (Yeardley Smith) takes Meg (Mila Kunis) under her wing and teaches her the saxophone; and Marge (Julie Kavner) and Lois (Alex Borstein) ditch housework for a little bonding. But true to form, conflict erupts when Peter and Homer fight over which beer—Pawtucket Patriot Ale or Duff—is the best in town.
Bart teaches Stewie how to skateboard.
Outside of the use of generic background designs, the only artistic input the Family Guy team received was from The Simpsons’ David Silverman. “Of course, since The Simpsons has been on the air for 25 years, our artists didn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Appel says. “Matt, Al and Jim really liked this new episode, and enthusiastically promoted it last July during a panel discussion in Ballroom 20 during Comic Con in San Diego.”
Who came up with the idea of putting the Griffins into The Simpsons’ world? Over the years there have been several story meetings in which the writers discussed having the families meet, but Appel was probably the only writer in attendance who had penned scripts for both shows.
Appel says he first talked with Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane about it in October 2012. “He liked the idea, so I ran it by Al and Matt and right off the bat they thought it could be fun,” Appel explains. “Once I assured them we were not going to do something like shoot Homer at dawn, they decided to trust our intuition on how far we could push the situation.
“Since it is a Family Guy episode, we knew that to invite Simpsons fans to enjoy it, we had to craft the script to appeal to both camps,” Appel says. “By now, since The Simpsons has been on the air for 550 episodes and Family Guy has completed 270, we don’t have to worry that fans don’t know these two worlds.”
Brian and Santa's Little Helper share a moment.
Hallmarks of each series are celebrated. For example, Peter demonstrates his series’ iconic cutaways to Homer, and the show invokes Homer’s jump-over-the-gorge joke made famous by Bart’s skateboard prank. Even the Simpsons’ current dog, Santa’s Little Helper, makes an appearance.
“We know that the audience knows these characters so well that they will be ahead of the insiders’ humor,” Appel says, “so we are counting on them understanding the joke.”
The production process for an episode like this is a long one. Once the creatives and talent got on board with the story concept, it took about 10 months for the series’ veteran writer, Patrick Meighan, to pen the script.
In May 2013 the actors got together in Family Guy’s Hollywood offices for a table read of the script, which was recorded to create a low-res scratch cut. The actors began laying down final studio vocal tracks last August. At the same time, Family Guy animators got to work. There was an animatic screening three or four months later. Once approved, sequences were shipped to Korea for finishing animation.
Three weeks before air, Appel did the music spotting with Family Guy composer Walter Murphy, emphasizing several homages to The Simpsons’ musical style. The final audio mix was finished in late August.
Unlike the usual 10-month turnaround for a half-hour animated comedy, the creatives behind this season’s one-hour premiere of Family Guy with guest stars The Simpsons lavished almost two years on the project.
You will be able to see the results when the episode airs on September 28. One thing is certain: TV animation will never be the same.