The writers of “The Simpsons” were exhausted. During the show’s fourth season in March 1993, the team had just put to bed what would become arguably the best episode of the show ever.
But coming off that high mark, the show hit a bump in the road: “The Simpsons” aired its first clip show.
“I mean, the title of the episode is, ‘So It’s Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show.’ We knew it was lazy. We knew we weren’t giving people a whole show,” Season 4 co-showrunner Mike Reiss told TheWrap.
For those of you too young to remember, a clip show is a sitcom staple compiling fan favorite moments from past seasons in lieu of a new episode. Such a thing would never exist today when you can pull up literally any episode or any clip online. But in the days before syndication when reruns were a rarity, a clip show was a necessity.
Surprisingly, this episode still offers more substance than your average clip show. The story finds Homer landing in a coma after Bart’s particularly nasty April Fools’ prank. The episode even became the subject of a Reddit fan theory that presumes Homer has remained in that coma ever sine 1993, which co-showrunner Al Jean later denied.
But why would a show firing on all cylinders feel the need to rehash their greatest hits?
“We were really overwhelmed,” Reiss said. “We were doing 24 episodes with eight writers. Now we do 22 episodes with 20 writers. And we were really burning out.”
“Nobody realized how much work that would mean when two seasons started overlapping,” Jean told TheWrap. “When we were running the show and it started happening to us, I’m not exaggerating, we were working 80-hour weeks, Mike Reiss and myself. We were just exhausted, working 8 a.m. till 3 a.m. the following morning.”
Jean and Reiss went to “Simpsons” executive producer James L. Brooks and proposed they do just 22 episodes instead of 24. To Brooks’ credit, he agreed and said he wanted to preserve the integrity of the show, even though it meant less money. He even went one step further and suggested that one of those 22 should be a clip show.
But the burnout was still real, and “The Simpsons” was such a hot property, other writers could land jobs on any show they wanted.
“For whatever reason, I had just had enough,” writer Wallace Wolodarsky told TheWrap, whose episode “Last Exit to Springfield” which he co-wrote with Jay Kogen, would be their last. “We had the feeling of, we got to get out of here. We don’t have any more childhood memories to mine. I’ve done every funny story I can think of about my youth and Jay’s youth, so I feel like it’s the time to get out, and the show would last a couple seasons and that would be that. It’s astonishing that it still goes on.”
“Jay and Wally left. Jeff Martin left. And we were worried because we had this really tiny staff. Conan [O’Brien] was the first person we brought on who was new who wasn’t in the original group,” Jean said. “Mike and I were just trying to keep the show together, much less do an episode people were talking about 25 years later. Looking at how nervous I was before the start of that season, to think how thin I thought we might be, I’m wowed by how well we have wound up.”