Friday, March 13, 2015

Simpsons Creator Sam Simon R.I.P.

Television writer and producer Sam Simon, who co-created The Simpsons with Matt Groening and James L. Brooks, died on March 8 2015 at the age of 59. The cause was cancer.

Sam Simon was born on June 6 1955 in Los Angeles, California. He spent his childhood in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He attended Stanford University in Stanford, California. While there he worked as a cartoonist on the school newspaper. While he was attending Stanford he also worked as a sports cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner. Following graduation he worked as a storyboard artist at Filmation. It was at Filmation that he received his first credit as a writer, on episodes of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle in 1979.

It was in 1982 that he broke into writing for live action, prime time situation comedies, writing episodes of Barney Miller and Best of the West in 1982. In the Eighties he went onto write episodes of Taxi, Cheers, It's Garry Shandling's Show, and The Tracey Ullman Show. He served as executive story editor on Taxi from 1981 to 1982 and a producer on Cheers from 1984 to 1985. He was an executive producer on The Tracy Ullman Show. It was on The Tracy Ullman Show that the Simpsons themselves originated in bumpers (segments aired before and after commercial breaks) created for the show by Matt Groening, creator of the comic strip Life in Hell. The characters proved so popular that they graduated from bumpers to their own segments during the show. Eventually the characters proved so popular that it was decided to spin them off into their own half hour series, The Simpsons.

While Matt Groening created the five main characters on the show (Bart, Lisa, Homer, Marge, and Maggie), it was Sam Simon who developed much of  the world of the Simpsons (namely, the city of Springfield), as well as many of show's central characters ( Mr. Burns, Dr. Hibbert, Chief Wiggum, and yet others). It was Sam Simon who assembled the show's first team of writers. He has often been credited with setting the tone for the show and as well as giving the seies its sensibility, making The Simpsons essentially a sitcom whose comedy grew out of the characters. Sam Simon's involvement with The Simpsons was such that he was not only credited as one of the show's creators and executive producers, but also character designer, creative consultant, and creative supervisor. He wa also responsible for a good deal of writing on the show.

Unfortunately Sam Simon did not get along particularly well with either Matt Groening or James L. Brooks. As a result he left the show in 1993. In leaving the show he received a deal in which he got a portion of the show's profits every year, as well as an executive producer credit even though he was no longer with the show. In the end. this made him a very wealthy man.

After leaving The Simpsons Mr. Simon created the short lived series Phenom and co-created the short lived George Carlin Show with George Carlin. He wrote episodes of Sibs as well as the feature film The Super. He served as a creative consultant and executive producer on The Drew Carey Show. He later served as an executive consultant on Anger Management. He also started directing television, directing episodes of The George Carlin Show, Friends, the American version of Men Behaving Badly, Norm, The Michael Richards Show, The Drew Carey Show, and Anger Management.

Later in his life Sam Simon also became active with various charities. He created the Sam Simon Foundation, which is dedicated to rescuing and training homeless dogs as service dogs. He also served on the board of Save the Children. He supported the ocean conservation organisation the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as well.

Sam Simon participated in the the World Series of Poker every year between 2007 and 2011, as well as other poker events.

Although for many years it was rarely acknowledged, there can be no doubt that Sam Simon was responsible for a good deal of The Simpsons as we know it. It was largely Mr. Simon who shaped the show and gave the show its sensibility. Many of the characters on the show, as well as many of the running gags (such as Mr. Burns's assistant Smithers) were developed by Sam Simon. He also gathered together the show's original team of writers. In the first three years of The Simpsons there was very little that of the show that was not touched by Sam Simon in some way, from character design to writing. To a large degree Sam Simon was responsible for the success of the show. While he was gone by what might be considered the Golden Age of The Simpsons (roughly 1994 to 1997), it was he who set the stage for it.

Of course, Sam Simon worked on more shows than The Simpsons. He wrote several episodes of Taxi, Cheers, It's Garry Shandling's Show, and The Tracy Ullman Show, episodes which number among the best of their respective series. He won Emmys for his work as a producer on The Tracey Ullman Show and The Simpsons, and was nominated for an Emmy for The Garry Shandling Show. While he was reportedly not the easiest person to work with (at least according to George Carlin, Matt Groening, and James L. Brooks), there can be no doubt that he was a very good television writer and producer. Indeed, he was responsible for a good deal of classic television in the Eighties and Nineties.

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