'The Simpsons' Boss Talks Staying Power and Riding the Zeitgeist (Again)

The Simpsons Family with Milhouse - H 2014
Courtesy of FOX

The Simpsons Family with Milhouse - H 2014

The Simpsons is having a moment. And that's a bold statement for TV — and history's — longest-running comedy ever.

Fresh off a record syndication deal with FXX, the animated comedy's 200-hour marathon helped the young network set its biggest ratings day yet. The series celebrated its 25th anniversary with multiple sold-out performances at the Hollywood Bowl. And FXNow is poised to launch Simpsons World, an impressive online hub for all things Simpsons.

Heading into its 26th season, The Simpsons will continue that hot streak with a premiere that promises to be deadly, a crossover with Family Guy as well as Futurama.

"People say we're riding the zeitgeist, but I don't know what that means," showrunner Al Jean tells THR with a laugh. "I hope it gives us a good ratings numbers."    

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The longtime writer-producer is cautiously optimistic that the FXX marathon and massive summer exposure will help bring back some of the show's longtime fans who may have forgotten about the series. "I've learned in the world of television that to get a 2 [rating in the adults 18-49 demographic] is a magnificent number, and I think the [season premiere] is a great episode. We really take season 26 as seriously as we took season one, and there are a lot of really great and well-animated episodes."

Jean also reassured fans who rediscovered the show via FXX and are returning for new episodes on Fox that The Simpsons is, at its heart, still the same show it has always been. 

"The great thing about The Simpsons is no matter when you stop or start, it's pretty much the same show," he says. "That was the great thing about the marathon: People would dive in at every point and, I think on average, they would watch about 12 in a row or some really huge number. I think no matter where you go in, we try to give you the same well-thought-out show on that basic premise. We've never done anything where people would quote on quote say, 'it jumped the shark' or it changed from what came before."

As for the show's longevity, Jean credits the ageless quality of Homer, Bart and company.

"We've been able throughout to have a welcoming persona to the show where people who see it are happy no matter what," Jean says. "In real life, if Bart Simpson was now 36 and wearing short pants and skateboarding, it would be kind of creepy!"

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As for what comes next this season, Jean says the goal in the writers' room is to find new ways to top themselves.

"I didn't know how we were going to top the show being a hit and then we did the movie and topped that. We had a short that was nominated for an Oscar, and we just had the Hollywood Bowl that went great," Jean says. "We just want to try things that we haven't done. Sometimes we'll do episodes that are a little crazy, but we are really trying to do stuff that's new. To do 22 shows where you can do whatever you want with this great cast every year is a real blessing and we take it very seriously."

Check out a preview of David Hyde Pierce's return to The Simpsons — as himself! — in the exclusive clip below. The Simpsons airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. on Fox.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit