‘Simpsons’ Prepares for Animation’s First Live Broadcast

Executive Producer Al Jean talks about what this could mean for the future of animated TV May 3, 2016

LOS ANGELES—In the 25 years that “The Simpsons” has been on the air, there isn’t much that the show hasn’t done. It’s won awards; it’s become a cultural landmark; it successfully spun off onto the big screen. But even after all that, “The Simpsons” is still finding ways to innovate and it will do so again on May 15 when it will become the first ever animated show to broadcast live.

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Homer will answer audience questions live on May 15 (Photo credit: FoxFlash)

In the episode titled “Simprovised,” written by John Frink, Homer Simpson will be featured in a three minute segment at the end of the episode that will have voice-performer Dan Castellaneta use motion capture technology from Adobe to bring the animated patriarch live to audiences. The segment will be broadcast live twice, once for the east coast and once for the west, and will see Castellaneta respond to calls and Twitter questions on current issues from Homer’s unique point of view.

Executive Producer Al Jean said this has been an idea that has floated around “The Simpsons” writer’s room for some time, originally being thought of during the run-up to “The Simpsons Movie” in 2007. “But at that point we looked at motion capture technology and we didn’t really think that it was up to it,” said Jean. Now, seeing how the same Adobe technology has been employed by others like Fox Sports to capture actors without using electrical hook-ups, Jean and company thought the timing was finally right. “We looked at what we had and we thought this will be convincing.”

Jean says that preparation for the episode has gone smoothly. The traditional animation for the segment has already been completed and there have been no real issues with the technology. Of course, the real test will be when things go live, but Jean is confident and believes that even if there is a little mistake, “that’ll even be better,” as it will help prove that the event was in fact live.

Don’t expect to see a full live episode of “The Simpsons” any time soon, however.

“I don’t think you’d want to see it for 30 minutes,” Jean said. “I think it’s great for three… but you wouldn’t be able to have the character interact with anybody else; you could have people talking, but not interacting… You couldn’t really do a fully animated show like this.”

Another new and exciting technology that has many people in the TV industry talking is virtual and augmented reality. “The Simpsons” will cover the VR buzz in an upcoming episode, where Montgomery Burns gets an Oculus Rift device, but as far as integrating the technology someway into the show or as a promotional tool, Jean says there are no immediate plans.

How will these new technologies be integrated into TV going forward? Jean isn’t sure, but he is excited to see where it progresses.

“There’s a new frontier, somebody’s going to conquer it,” he said. “I’m just glad we’re the first to do it for an animated show.” 

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