The Simpsons is about to make history with its 600th TV episode, which airs on Fox on Sunday night. However, while the show has become an institution for the network, things haven't always been so certain for The Simpsons. In fact, according to Simpsons executive producer Al Jean, there were two memorable moments when he thought the animated series was going to get cancelled. And one of them happened more recently than you might guess. In fact, Al Jean had this to say about the 2011-2012 TV season:
One was after the 23rd season, where Fox wanted to cut the budget 25% -- and they did. We were asked to designate a final episode, which would have been the one called "Holidays of Future Passed." There wasn't a desire to cancel the show, but moving back to Sunday from Thursday was a huge help, too. I'm sure we wouldn't be on if we weren't on Sunday.
If you haven't been keeping up with The Simpsons or its ratings in recent years, this story is kind-of crazy. While the show hasn't been a huge ratings-bringer in recent history, right now it's one of Fox's best performers---sometimes the best performer---on Sunday nights. If we know one thing about the ratings right now, it's that steady is the new increasing, as fewer and fewer people watch TV live. However, the problem with The Simpsons five years ago, as Al Jean reported to the Wall Street Journal, was the budget and not the ratings. Shows get more expensive to produce over time, and the only reason The Simpsons would be able to make money is if the show can make more money on advertisements than it costs to produce each episode. Thank Sunday Funday and a huge budget cut for keeping the show around.
The other time Al Jean thought The Simpsons was going to be cancelled happened far earlier in the show's run. Actually, it happened before critics even caught an episode. There was a ton of scrambling after the first episode didn't turn out so well. It took a few more months of work before the final product even made the grade. Said Jean:
The first show that everybody saw completed was a disaster. There was a thought to cancel the whole thing. What they did was, they didn't send it to the network. [The network] got the second one, which was "Bart the Genius." It was going to premiere in the fall of 1989 and they delayed the premiere until the Christmas show. They didn't air that first one until it was reworked and made it the last to air in the first season.
It's interesting that The Simpsons eventually started on a Christmas episode and that the creative team wanted to end on another holiday episode back in Season 23. There some nice circular symmetry to that, and maybe eventually the series will end on a Christmas episode. As for "Holidays of Future Passed, " the episode that was very nearly the end aired in December of 2011, making it Episode 495. If Fox had given the show the axe after that episode, we would never have seen the 500th episode of the series, much less the 600th episode. "Treehouse of Horror XXVII" will be a very special episode of the long-running comedy, indeed and hopefully there's more exciting territory the show has yet to cover.
Catch the 600th episode of The Simpsons on Sunday, October 16 at 8 p.m. ET. And find out when the rest of your favorite shows are hitting the schedule with our fall TV premiere schedule.