The Simpsons

For 16 years and 351 episodes, I was fortunate enough to work as Producer on the longest running comedy in television history and won three Primetime Emmy Awards.

In additon, I also wrote and produced some of the couch gags that opened each episode.

Explaining the animation process at a college seminar.

On the yellow carpet for the premier of The Simpsons Movie.

Homer sweet home

Ex-Orleanian settles down on the
production staff of ‘The Simpsons’


On the Air

Talk about your dream jobs.

As animation producer for “The Simpsons,” Archbishop Rummel High School alum Rick Polizzi occasionally gets to dream up a “couch gag.”

As the “Simpsons” hardcore knows, the couch gag closes the show’s opening credits by assembling the family, in some kind of bizarre way, in front of the family TV set.

Remember the one in which everybody swings into place on vines, Tarzan-style?


Everybody except Homer, that is, who smashes into a wall. Polizzi’s.

Or the one in which the clan drops into the room by sliding down poles, firehouse-style?

Homer gets stuck at the ceiling level.

Polizzi’s again.

“The Simpsons” launches its new season at 7 p.m. Sunday on WVUE-Channel 8 with the annual “Treehouse of Horror” episode.

Polizzi’s work on the episode began months ago.

After each “Simpsons” script is locked and the show’s brilliant voice cast has recorded the dialog, layout drawings are sent to a team of animators in South Korea, where the characters are brought to life.

It’s Polizzi’s job to oversee the two-month-plus, trans-world, animation turnaround.

Once an episode is back stateside, segments have to occasionally be tweaked, or dialog re-recorded.

“If the show is not as strong as they like, they can rewrite a few things,” Polizzi said. “If the ending isn’t that strong and they want to punch it up, we can.”

Because of the minimalist animation style used in “The Simpsons,” lines can often be changed without re-drawing faces.

“You can get away with changing a few words here and there,” said Polizzi. “If things aren’t right, we just try to make sure that they work. If Homer is walking too slow, we try to figure out what doesn’t work.

One of the most frequent alterations would actually make a good “Treehouse” segment: When a famous name referenced in a joke dies between scripting and air date, a new name sometimes has to be dubbed in.

“We’ve had a number of gags where people died,” said Polizzi. “The celebrities are in a joke and they’ve died just before air time and we’ve had to change it real quick. It’s happened a bunch, more than I would’ve thought. The show takes on so many different celebrities that it’s bound to happen.”

Polizzi caught the film bug at Rummel, where he shot his first several Super-8 projects.

“Cheap, crude things,” he said. “I just got hooked on filmmaking.” Polizzi trained further at the University of New Orleans and Loyola University (while he worked on “P.M. Mag- azine” at WWL-Channel 4).

Eventually he left for Los Angeles, where he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, then did improv comedy with The Groundlings comedy troupe.

“It was fun,” Polizzi said of The Groundlings, which has also spawned the likes of Lisa Kudrow, Paul Reubens (aka Pee- wee Herman) and Phil Hartman. “It just got nerve-racking after a while to keep hearing, ‘You’re a pregnant woman stuck in an elevator. Now, go!”

“Now it’s hard for me to watch improv. When it’s going well, it’s the greatest feeling on Earth. You just want to stop time. When it’s not, you want to crawl in a shell and throw yourself in the ocean.

“When it’s not going well for someone else, I have to have a finger on the remote.”


Animation producer Rick Polizzi shows off the Emmy Award he won for ‘The Simpsons’ in September.

Polizzi was working for a film production company several years ago (helping create, among other projects, “Afterschool Specials” for ABC), when a friend with “The Simpsons” called to say there was an opening.

In September, Polizzi won his first Emmy Award, for his work on “The Simpsons.”

Polizzi’s workplace is creativity-friendly, as you might expect. His cubicle is decorated with vintage toys. The other day at lunch: a Pictionary contest.

Toys and games are, as it turns out, a couple of subjects close to Polizzi’s heart. He has written two books about board games, another about plastic model kits.

The Roman numerals behind this year’s “Treehouse” are XIV. Sunday’s “Horror” stories include “Reaper Madness,” in which Homer briefly subs for the Grim Reaper; “Frinkenstein,” in which professor Frink’s father (voiced by Jerry Lewis) is reanimated using body parts from Springfield residents; and “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off,” in which Bart and Milhouse discover a watch that can stop time.

In addition to Lewis, guest voices include “Alias” star Jennifer Garner and Dudley Herschbach, 1986 winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

If your pulse started racing after that last sentence, you should know that Herschbach’s part is very minor.

The episode is as funny and perverse as usual, so “The Simpsons” continues to defy the actuarial odds.

“I’m shocked that it still comes back fresh and just as funny as the last one,” said Polizzi. “I’m still surprised that it’s going so strong.”

And going. And going.

At least as cool as getting to write a “Simpsons” couch gag is getting your own scary nickname on the “Treehouse” closing credits. Sunday, Polizzi’s is “R.I.P.”

Thankfully, it’ll be a while before those initials will apply to “The Simpsons.” Polizzi works for one of the few long-running TV hits with no finale in sight.

“When I first started, I said, ‘Well, this could be the last year,’ “Polizzi said. “And now I’m not even thinking about that.”


TV columnist Dave Walker can be reached
at or
(504) 826-3429.

I also produced all of the Simpsons commercials from 1999 through 2005 for clients including: Post cereals, Nabisco, Burger King, Mastercard, Frito Lay, and CC Lemon in Japan.