Despite once being told by the voice of Itchy and Scratchy that broadcasting live creates “a terrible strain on the animators' wrists,” Homer will give it a try on Sunday’s episode of “The Simpsons.”
In “Simprovised,” Homer turns to improv comedy to regain his confidence after butchering a speech in front of his co-workers. It’s the perfect set-up for the final three minutes of the episode, in which he’ll answer fan questions in a live segment produced using motion-capture technology.
“We actually considered doing a live appearance on ‘The Tonight Show’ by Homer to promote ‘The Simpsons Movie’ in 2007,” executive producer Al Jean told a group of journalists, “but what we saw at the time didn't seem to have smooth-enough animation, so we didn't do it. But now it's advanced to the point where we think we think we can do three minutes of the show.
"Homer will be animated live," he continued, "while [voice actor] Dan Castellaneta will be in a booth where he'll speak into a mic, and what he says will go out live. But he's not hooked up to electrodes or anything; his motions are captured and translated into Homer's moves, which will appear in the animation. It will look like the normal show. We do have background animation that's been pre-animated with several jokes, but everything Homer does at the center of it will be live."
It’s only the latest seemingly far-fetched idea from the nearly 27-year-old series. “I think our success ratio is determined by [the fans]," Jean conceded, "but almost everything we've tried — doing LEGOs, doing the live-action Muppet parody, the 'Davey & Goliath' parody — there's very little we've attempted that we haven't been able to do. Though I would like to say that I don't want to sound like I'm taking a victory lap. I understand that it hasn't happened yet. This is presuming it all goes well. But that's the excitement of it: it may not be perfect, but we're trying something different."
Viewers are encouraged to call 1-888-726-6660 on Sunday, beginning at 8 p.m. ET/PT (if you call before then, you’ll hear a message from Homer, but won’t be able to pose a question). Two versions of the segment will be broadcast, one for the Eastern and Central time zones, and the other for Mountain and Pacific.
"What's going to happen is that the writers will pick the questions,” Jean explained. “And there are a few rules I should mention: You have to be over 18, we'll need your permission to use them in reruns, and the questions should be for Homer -- they shouldn't be things like, 'What's Dan Castellaneta like?' And they should be funny. But we'll select them and send them in to Dan. And we've obviously we talked about what people might be likely to ask, things like, 'What the hell are people voting for Donald Trump for?'"
There are a lot of variables involved in the live segment, but the producers have contingencies in place should something go horribly awry during those three minutes.
"To be honest, we've done some rehearsals, which were a little rough, but you expect that from rehearsals,” Jean conceded. “But then we got the phone lines down smoothly, so the best-case scenario will be like the last two rehearsals, where everything ran smoothly. And Dan is really funny. In fact, Dan finding an answer as Homer is almost better than him having an answer, the way he stumbles over words and gets to something and you never see where he's going.
“The worst-case scenario,” he added, “is that we recorded a fallback segment if there was a blackout Sunday and we had no power or something."
“The Simpsons” airs Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.