‘The Simpsons’ hits a Homer by making the character live


‘The Simpsons’ hits a Homer by making the character live

by | May 11, 2016

Leave it to technology: Now you can talk with Homer Simpson, live on the air

It’s Homer Simpson, live. Really.

The long-popular animated character will respond to viewers’ questions in real time during a new episode of Fox’s “The Simpsons” Sunday, May 15, with the segment to be staged separately for the East and West Coast airings. It’s part of a story that finds Homer (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) trying his luck at an improv club after his speech at work goes very, very badly.

“Early on, when we were doing ‘The Simpsons Movie,’ we had talked about Dan appearing live as Homer on things like ‘The Tonight Show,’” says executive producer Al Jean, “but the technology that existed then seemed too rudimentary, and you really couldn’t get very much range with the animation. So, John Frink — one of our writers — was doing an episode about improvisation and he said, ‘Why don’t we try having Homer live at the end?’

“We checked into (the technical aspect), and it’s greatly improved,” Jean reports. “Some guys at Fox Sports, working in tandem with Adobe, have come up with a (computer) program that I think is pretty convincing. It’s going to be Homer taking questions on the phone and talking live … and we’re doing it because we can.”

Castellaneta performs improv regularly, so he’s familiar with being ready for anything. “We don’t know what he’s going to say, but there’s no one better to be doing this,” Jean reasons. “Motion capture (with the character mirroring the actor’s movements) is really the key to it, and the improvements in it have made this possible.”

Since the episode airs on a Sunday, Jean notes “there’ll be baseball games” that Homer could talk about, and developments on the political scene also would seem likely that day. “We won’t really know what’s going to happen until it happens,’’ but there will be only three minutes for it. “It’s a new process, so I didn’t think you could do a full show with it,” Jean explains. “I think people would get tired of it, so three minutes is an optimal length.”

And whatever the result is, it will be part of the episode permanently, not just for that night. For however of-the-moment the topics might end up being, Jean says that for callers who get on the air, “You’ll be in the show forever, because it’s going into syndication that way. We’re not going to change it.”

“The Simpsons” includes a live segment featuring Homer, Sunday May 15 on Fox.

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Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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