Showrunners 2012: 'The Simpsons' Guru Al Jean

Jean on his toughest scene to write this past year? "Working on the episode where Lady Gaga came to Springfield. And I give her credit: she filmed herself making voiceover debut, which took a lot of guts," he says.

From their obsessive rituals (Peppermint Patties! Oatmeal! Bruce Springsteen!) to the parts of their jobs they hate most (killing characters off, dealing with agents), TV's most influential writer-producers featured on The Hollywood Reporter's annual list of the Top 50 Showrunners come clean about the people, things and quirky habits that keep them -- and their shows -- alive. 

Al Jean, The Simpsons (Fox)

The show that inspired me to write:
Jean: Mary Tyler Moore, Barney Miller and Taxi.  I couldn't believe people wrote things so funny and heartfelt, and I still can't believe I've worked with some of the people that wrote them.

My big break:
Jean: Editor at National Lampoon magazine, back when there were such a thing as humor magazines.

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My TV mentor:
Jean: Bob Bendetson, on Alf, and Sam Simon, on The Simpsons, taught me how to do the job I do.

My proudest accomplishment this year:
Jean: Working on the short, silent Simpsons film The Longest Daycare, which aired before Ice Age: Continental Drift.  Someday I hope to write a two-reeler.

My toughest script to write this past year:
Jean: Working on the episode where Lady Gaga came to Springfield. And I give her credit:  she filmed herself making voiceover debut, which took a lot of guts.

The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
Jean: A film exec, a while ago, told me that if you take a comedy, and remove all the humor, what is left should still be funny. 

The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
Jean: I don't enjoy making budget cuts in personnel; can't imagine any showrunner who does.

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My preferred method for breaking through writers’ block:
Jean: I never stop thinking about The Simpsons. I don't feel any relief till we've cracked all the stories for the year, then we're right back at it again.

If I could add any one writer to your staff, it would be:
Jean: I'd get back Conan O'Brien. His office is waiting.

The show you’re embarrassed to admit you watch:
Jean: Not embarrassed whatsoever; the two shows I watch without fail are Mad Men and The Daily Show. 

If you could scrub one credit from your resume, what would it be?
Jean: I would never dis a former showrunner I worked for that way.