A night at the Forum
Geneve and I just got back from an evening at the Connecticut Forum. Tonight's forum was a roundtable discussion with Al Jean, Tim Long, Yeardly Smith, and Harry Shearer. Jean and Long produce The Simpsons (Jean has been there since day one), Smith provides the voice of Lisa Simpson, and Shearer voices Burns, Smithers, and Principal Skinner, among others.
The first half of the forum was a meandering and not uninteresting conversation that consisted of smarmy host Colin McEnroe asking questions about things like the process of making a Simpsons episode from concept to broadcast, how The Simpsons is able to have many "recherché" jokes--his word, hence the "smarmy" tag--while still appealing to "the masses", Yeardley Smith telling mostly boring stories, and Harry Shearer and Tim Long cracking hilarious jokes.
The second half of the forum was far more interesting, with the Simpsons team answering questions from the audience. One of the most interesting responses came from Harry Shearer in response to a question about Clear Channel pulling Howard Stern off the air in 6 of its markets. Shearer faulted Bill Clinton, who signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which removed rules permitting a company to own a maximum of two radio stations per market, and 24 nation-wide. This Act has allowed Clear Channel to grow to own over 1,200 radio stations--900 more than its closest competitor--which gives it control over much of the content that Americans listen to every day.
In the face of pending fines by the FCC (which ended up totalling $755k), Clear Channel yanked Stern from its markets, to much praise from Congress. This is one of the most gratuitous examples of, um, "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" that I have seen in a long time. Clear Channel Radio president John Hogan labelled Stern's show "vulgar and offensive", but what he's really doing is playing nice with Congress for several reasons. First, he's scared that the Government will limit Clear Channel's explosive growth. Second, Clear Channel has bred a frat-house culture that has been threatened with investigation due to complaints about sexual harrassment and a minority-unfriendly workplace. And finally, they economic impact of taking Stern off the air in 6 markets is nothing compared to the potential fines they might incur (however unlikely that is) if FCC Chairman Michael Powell tunes in one day to find Stern up to his usual shenangians.
So in these post-Superbowl extravaganza days, Clear Channel protects its ass and kowtows to government pressure by cancelling the same Howard Stern that they made money off of for years because he's suddenly "offensive". As if that wasn't enough, Clear Channel also has contributed over $100k to the Republican Party this year.
But I digress... after slamming Clinton, Harry Shearer slammed Clear Channel, the FCC--for dictating the types of content that Americans should be exposed to--and John Hogan. He also dropped an "s-bomb" when describing CBS chief Les Moonves, in addition to basically calling him a liar in regard to Moonves' purported lack of prior knowledge of Janet Jackson's Superbowl show.
As to be expected from those who work on The Simpsons, the conversation was rife with Fox jokes, some more malicious (and true) than others. While the Simpsons writers have creative control over the show, it was interesting to see how much leverage they have: Shearer recounted the story of contract negotiations with Fox a few years ago during which the cast was told by one Fox executive that Fox could go to any high school in America and re-cast the show... and then followed it up by casually mentioning that said TV exec no longer works at Fox. There aren't many employees who can openly feud with The Man who cuts the checks--Stern's feud with his own boss (Les Moonves) is another that comes to mind--but it makes sense that the crew who work on The Simpsons would be one such group of employees.
All in all, a good night, and it makes me even more curious about the next Connecticut Forum event, which is a conversation with Al Franken and Ann Coulter.