Part of the reason why Rupert Murdoch’s network went along with James L. Brook’s demands back in the day is that Fox was a fairly nascent entity at that point. Or, as voice actor Harry Shearer — best known for Mr. Burns — put it in a 2004 interview, “[Fox] was such a fledgling joke network back then.” Naturally, the writers had a decades-long field day with their unprecedented freedom. From season to season, “The Simpsons” writers would directly address their “fledgling joke network,” never missing a chance to take a shot at the very company that broadcast their satirical musings on American culture.
Among them was John Swartzwelder, a former ad copywriter and Saturday Night Live writer who has gained an almost mythical reputation after working on “The Simpsons” for its first 15 seasons and contributing more episodes than any other writer in the show’s history. Contributing to his mysterious and legendary status is the fact that he is famously reclusive — he never once took part in any DVD commentaries or granted interviews. Well, until The New Yorker finally convinced him to do one in 2021.
In it, after revealing that he pursued a career in comedy writing to become a “national treasure,” Swartzwelder offered his take on Fox’s inability to intervene in the production of “The Simpsons:”
“The executives weren’t sent advance copies of the scripts, and they couldn’t attend read-throughs, even though they very much wanted to. All we had to do was please ourselves. This is a very dangerous way to run a television show, leaving the artists in charge of the art, but it worked out all right in the end. It rained money on the Fox lot for thirty years. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.”