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Groening Has a Cow Over 'Critic' : Television: The creator of 'The Simpsons' has removed his name from Sunday's episode, which promotes Fox's latest cartoon series.

March 03, 1995|JUDY BRENNAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening is so angry with executive producer James L. Brooks for cross-promoting "The Critic" on this Sunday's episode that he has yanked his name from the credits.

For those who don't remember the adult animated comedy series "The Critic," it briefly appeared on ABC last year, then was canceled because of poor ratings. Brooks, the executive producer of that too, later cut a deal with Fox to pick up the show; it premieres at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, following "The Simpsons."

And Groening is crying foul. At issue is whether Brooks is basically shoving one of his productions that failed elsewhere down the throat of a successful one to launch it on Fox.

Hurt by the allegation, Brooks said that Groening is acting like an "ingrate" and characterizes Groening's actions as a public slap in the face to the creators of "The Critic," Al Jean and Mike Reiss--whose previous work as writers and executive producers of "The Simpsons," he notes, helped make Groening a wealthy man.

"I am furious with Matt," Brooks said. "He's been going to everybody who wears a suit at Fox and complaining about this. When he voiced his concerns about how to draw 'The Critic' into the Simpsons' universe he was right and we agreed to his changes. Certainly he's allowed his opinion, but airing this publicly in the press is going too far.

"This has been my worst fear . . . that the Matt we know privately is going public," Brooks added. "He is a gifted, adorable, cuddly ingrate. But his behavior right now is rotten. And it's not pretty when a rich man acts like this."

Groening said his decision has nothing to do with Reiss or Jean. His dispute is with Brooks and the cross-promotion, or crossover.

"The two reasons I am opposed to this crossover is that I don't want any credit or blame for 'The Critic' and I feel this (encroachment of another cartoon character) violates the Simpsons' universe," Groening said. " 'The Critic' has nothing to do with the Simpsons' world."

He fears that fans of "The Simpsons" will "accuse us of making the crossover episode just to advertise 'The Critic.' That's why I've had my name removed on this episode."

In this Sunday's "Simpsons" episode, Marge Simpson comes up with the idea of a Springfield film festival to boost tourism. Movie critic Jay Sherman, the lead character in "The Critic" (with the voice of Jon Lovitz), is invited to judge the event. (In typical "Simpsons" style, however, the producers acknowledge what is going on. When Bart Simpson meets Sherman, he says, "Hey man, I really love your show. I think all kids should watch it." Then he turns away and cringes and says under his breath, "I suddenly feel so dirty.")

*

It takes six months to produce one of these episodes. When asked why he waited until the last minute before this public show of displeasure, Groening said his reasons were twofold. One, he hoped that Brooks, who has the final word on the show because his Gracie Films produces it, would have a change of heart. Two, "articles began to appear in several newspapers around the country saying that I created 'The Critic.' And that simply is not true," he said.

"My concern is for my professional ethics and reputation," Groening continued. "The problem for me is this: In the mind of the public, I created 'The Critic' and produced it, or both."

The "Critic" character is a plump, bald, divorced film critic who rates movies--all parodies--for a cheesy New York cable show. On ABC, he was played as a loser and could be nasty, but creators Jean and Reiss say they have softened him up for the Fox run, including giving him a girlfriend.

John Matoian, president of the Fox Entertainment Group, declined to comment on the network's decision to pick up "The Critic," Sunday's crossover episode or the rift between Brooks and Groening. The decision to put "The Critic" on the air was made by a prior regime.

Groening said that he was "not criticizing 'The Critic.' But cartoons have their own style and I really have nothing to say about 'The Critic.' Through all the years of 'The Simpsons' we have been careful about maintaining their uniqueness. Sure, there have been other cartoons who visit, but it's usually just one scene, often for a sight gag.

"This show employs my cartoon style, my handwriting and my humor," Groening continued. "The characters are named after my family members, except of course Bart, which is an anagram for Brat. They have occupied most of my waking hours over the last seven years."

Reiss' and Jean's too, said Brooks. "For years, Al and Mike were two guys who worked their hearts out on this show, staying up until 4 in the morning to get it right. The point is, Matt's name has been on Mike's and Al's scripts and he has taken plenty of credit for a lot of their great work. In fact, he is the direct beneficiary of their work. 'The Critic' is their shot and he should be giving them his support."

Reiss said he was a "little upset" by Groening's decision to pull his credit because "this taints everything at the last minute. These are shows Al and I have worked on for three years. This episode doesn't say 'Watch "The Critic" ' all over it."

"What bothers me about all of this," Jean said, "is that now people may get the impression that this 'Simpsons' episode is less than good. It stands on its own even if 'The Critic' never existed.

"We've never tried to give Matt blame or credit for our show. But it's not like we're some outsiders who suddenly came in and did this thing. We've been with ("The Simpsons") since 1989. Mike and I weren't trying to shove anything down anybody's throat. It was Jim's idea to do the crossover.

"And as for his dispute with Jim," Jean added, "he was the guy who helped Matt achieve tremendous wealth and success." Brooks hired Groening to create cartoon fillers for "The Tracey Ullman Show" in 1986, from which "The Simpsons" sprang.

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