CCI | <i>The Simpsons</i> Panel

Fans of The Simpsons were treated to a lively panel at Comic-Con International dedicated to the entirety of the nearly 22-year-old animated series, from writing to merchandising to the characters’ love lives. Creator Matt Groening and a handful of the show’s producers were on hand to answer questions and offer teasers of what to expect from the upcoming season.

The panel got rolling with a simple question: "What guest that hasn't been on the show yet would you like bring on?" Most of the panel seemed to have a hard time thinking of someone who had not yet been on the show. Groening finally said, "I would like to get Phil Hendrie on the show."

The producers then discussed how they enjoyed inviting guests, who may not actually appear on the show, to table readings, where the cast runs through an episode’s script. Some of the recent guests have include the bands Weezer and My Chemical Romance, and members of the White House staff.

Someone brought up The Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios, triggering quick praise from Groening. "This is no Captain EO," he said. "This ride is unbelievable. Your mind will be blown in the first three seconds."

A fan then asked if it had always been planned for The Simpsons characters not to age. "Yeah, that was the intention. That is the great thing about animation,” Groening said. “You know those sitcoms were the characters you love come back on those reunions and look horrible and decrepit? We don't have to do that. But we may do that if we run out of ideas. The last sad season of The Simpsons, Bart will turn 11."

When asked if there were a finale planned in case the series had to suddenly end, producer Rob Lazebnik replied, "No. So, I guess we can't end it."

Another fan asked if it was easy to write new episodes after so many years. "It's never easy," Lazebnik said. "The hardest thing about it now that we have done 500 episodes is thinking of new ideas for episodes. We just sit around the room going, ‘We did that, we did that.’ But once you get the idea, we have a great staff and it writes itself. It's not easy, and we take it very seriously."

When the show's many theological references and jokes was brought up, Groening quickly pointed out that The Simpsons staff is comprised of people from all different faiths. Lazebnik added, "I would hope that the show, if anything, would make people more tolerant to others. We like to explore it from many points of views."

"We do take a lot of shots at every kind of authority and religious dogma, but I think we try to honor the characters in their beliefs," Groening said.

When asked if there would ever be a crossover between Futurama and The Simpsons, Groening encouraged fans to visit their local comic book store and pick up the Bongo Comics graphic novel The Simpsons and Futurama Crossover Crisis.

On the subject of Simpsons merchandise, the producers said their favorite piece was a pinball machine Groening gave to the writing staff following the success of the first season. Groening said he once had a large collection of bootleg Bart Simpson porcelain statues from Mexico, but they were destroyed in an earthquake.

The panelists also discussed some of the characters love lives. In general, they said they were in favor of Ned Flanders and Edna Krabappel getting married. They also acknowledged that Lisa Simpson has had a difficult time with relationships. "If she winds up with anybody, it'll probably be Milhouse," said producer Al Jean.

A young fan then pointed out that shows like Family Guy and South Park have made fun of The Simpsons, but that The Simpsons never seems to fight back. "We're too classy," one producer said.

"Because we love them,” Groening said. “Why don't they love us?"

The Simpsons begins its 23rd season Sept. 25 on Fox.

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