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SMST216-05B Television Week 38 (September 19) The best of television: The Simpsons “Animation”

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SMST216-05B Television


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smst216 05b television

SMST216-05B Television

Week 38 (September 19)

The best of television: The Simpsons

animation
“Animation”

From the Latin verb ‘animare’=‘to give life to’. The working definition…is a film made by hand, frame-by-frame, providing an illusion of movement which has not been directly recorded in the conventional photographic sense…[includes] cel, hand-drawn and model animation ..also now CGI animation.

P. Wells (1998), Understanding Animation

cartoon
“Cartoon”

Often used as a synonym for ‘animation’ but the origins of the cartoon lie in the animation of print comic strips. Cartoons, through much of the c20th, were largely tied to short formats and child audiences; ‘animation’ suggests a larger range of forms and artistic purposes (eg animation as art). Nevertheless, many cartoons are now regarded as ’art’, or the work of auteurs eg Walt Disney (Fantasia) , Chuck Jones, Tex Avery

animation on television 1
Animation on television (1)

Some background information:

  • television initially benefited from the 1948 Paramount Decision, which meant that major film studios no longer had guaranteed outlets for their films and cartoons.
  • Studios turned to television for a place to screen such material--a shift accelerated by the move to double features and the elimination of first-half (“the shorts”) before the main feature
animation on television 2
Animation on television (2)
  • These ‘shorts” included newsreels, serials, movie trailers and--most importantly--animation (cartoons) from major studios such as Warner Brothers and Disney (eg The Bugs Bunny Show, Merry Melodies)

* These cartoons quickly migrated to television and were initially scattered across the schedule (occasionally appearing in primetime).

animation on television 3
Animation on television (3)
  • By the early 1960s, animation was largely concentrated in Saturday morning slots (9-12.30) on ABC/NBC/CBS, with cartoons being made specifically for television (and child audiences)

Cartoons were now culturally defined as a genre whose primary audience was children and not legitimate entertainment for adults as part of a mass audience.

J. Mittell ‘The Great Saturday Morning Exile’ in Stabile & Harrison eds (2003), Prime Time Animation: Television animation and American culture

animation on television 4
Animation on television (4)

A critical moment, in the history of animation on television, was

The Flintstones (1960-1966), on ABC

This was the first animated series produced for primetime television. Developed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (Hanna-Barbera)--formerly employed by MGM--and distributed by Screen Gems. Attracted high ratings from its first episode

animation on television 5
Animation on television (5)
  • Other networks followed suit, with primetime animation shows (eg The Alvin Show, CBS; The Bullwinkle Show, NBC) but none achieved the success of The Flintstones. Other ABC shows (eg The Jetsons, Top Cat) also had little success in prime time, and were shifted to Saturday morning
animation on television 6
Animation on television (6)
  • Once The Flintstones finished in 1966, there were no primetime animation shows on American television, until 1989, when

The Simpsons

premiered on the fledgling FOX network

the simpsons 1989
The Simpsons, 1989 -

Developed out of a long history of film animation, and a shorter history of television animation--as well as drawing on other traditions of American humour:

Ancestors of The Simpsons (I & II)

[From Chris Turner (2004) Planet Simpson]

the simpsons a pre history 1
The Simpsons: a pre-history (1)
  • Began as short sequences (or ‘bumpers’) on the skit comedy show The Tracey Ullman Show (Fox, 1987-89), drawn by Matt Groening (previously known for his comic strip/books Love is Hell and Life in Hell)
  • Attracted a cult following (cf. BBC); Producer James L. Brooks (Cheers) and Groening turned these short sequences into a pilot half-hour sitcom. (Turner, pp 16-17)
the simpsons a pre history 2
The Simpsons: a pre-history (2)
  • The third season of The Tracey Ullman Show (1989) featured longer Simpsons inserts, of equivalent length to the live-action skits.
  • The first full episode of The Simpsons went to air on Fox on Sunday 17 December 1989 (a ‘Christmas Special’)
the simpsons 1989 to 1
The Simpsons, 1989 to ? (1)
  • The Simpsons quickly became one of Fox’s highest rating programmes, and was instrumental in the success of this new network
    • One of the reasons The Simpsons got to air in the first place was that there were finally some executives [at Fox] who remembered watching The Flintstones and The Jetsons and Jonny Quest at night as children, so they could conceive of the idea of animation during prime time (Groening, in Solomon 1997)
the simpsons 1989 to 2
The Simpsons, 1989 to ? (2)

The success of The Simpsons created a boom in primetime animation, with the longer-established networks (ABC,CBS,NBC) developing their own series;

Turner: Descendants of The Simpsons

+ Duckman (video)

the simpsons some opinions 1
The Simpsons: some opinions (1)

..because of its cartoon disguise, The Simpsons has been permitted a degree of freedom unparalleled in [American?] mainstream entertainment. The only real controversy it has raised centred on the idea that Bart was a bad role model for kids. The show has otherwise felt free to comment, as sharply and derisively as it likes, on every controversial issue of its time, from religion to sexual orientation to drug use, from political hypocrisy to corporate crime. Turner, PlanetSimpson, 9

the simpsons some opinions 2
The Simpsons: some opinions (2)

The dumbest thing I have ever seen

Barbara Bush (the mother of George Bush!)

This nation needs to be closer to the Waltons than the Simpsons

George Bush (senior)

[and Hey, we’re just like the Waltons! We’re both praying for the end of the Depression

Bart Simpson]

The Simpsons are one of the most subtle pieces of propoganda around in the cause of sense, humility and virtue

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Wales

the simpsons a set of contradictions
The Simpsons: a set of contradictions?

The Simpsons frequently parodies the Fox Network, Fox News and Rupert Murdoch (the owner of Fox). Indeed, it is often suggested that the venial Montgomery Burns is modelled on RM [cf. National billboards in the 2005 NZ Election].

The Simpsons is also a Fox-owned property, and enormously profitable around the globe

murdoch and the simpsons
Murdoch and The Simpsons

…even Rupert Murdoch isn’t crazy enough to sue himself.

Ben Woodhams, (2004), ‘Yellow Peril’, Cult Times #33

an animated sitcom
An animated sitcom

In genre terms, The Simpsons is most clearly a sitcom, displaying the following characteristics:

  • regular episodes, featuring a core of unchanging characters + peripheral characters
  • domestically/family-based setting and ‘situations’
  • archetypal sitcom characters eg the incompetent father; long-suffering and loving mother
  • storylines generated by humour-based ‘situations’ or misunderstandings, resolved within an episode
  • characters suffer from ‘collective amnesia’
slide21
I think we can get away with a little more on The Simpsons because the setup is so traditional. The Simpsons are an intact family unit … Homer works nine-to-five and Marge stays at home …

George Meyer, executive producer (in Lealand & Martin, 63)

slide22
We have a huge advantage that the characters never age. My goal at the end of each year is to return to square one, to have the status quo prevail, so that an episode that is good from season 15 isn’t much different from one from season three.

Executive producer Al Jean (from season 13-) In Idato , ‘America’s first family’, Sunday Star Times, Oct 10 2004

the simpsons the production process
The Simpsons: the production process
  • The Simpsons was one of the last animated series to use ink and paint. It made the transition to computer-based animation in season 15 (2003)
  • It is written by a US-based team of writers and the characters are voiced in the US.
  • One episode takes about nine months to produce, from script to screen.
  • Script + audio recording is sent to Film Roman (LA), who draw rough storyboards
  • The resulting sketches are animated in South Korea
  • The animation process uses a limited palette of 200 colours
slide24
An estimated sixty million people in 60 countries regularly watch The Simpsons
  • In 2005,it was voted history’s greatest cartoon by Channel 4 (UK)
  • Bart, Homer, Marge and Lisa are now as recognisable as Mickey Mouse
        • [Emmerson cartoon, New Zealand Herald 2004]
the wisdom of homer
The wisdom of Homer

Bart, I want to share something with you - the three little sentences that will get you through life. Number One, ‘Cover for me’. Number Two, ‘Oh Good idea boss’. Number Three, ‘It was like that when I got here’

We live in a society of laws. Why do you think I took you to all those Police Academy Movies? For fun?

The answers to life’s problems aren’t at the bottom of a bottle; they’re on TV!

questions
Questions …
  • Does this information fully explain the appeal of The Simpsons?
  • Some critics describe The Simpsons as a ‘double-coded’ television text. What is meant by this?
  • What might be the reasons why people dislike The Simpsons?
          • Video excerpts
bro town
bro’Town

….inspired by Bart?