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The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History Hardcover – October 13, 2009

3.3 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Freelance writer Ortved tells the story of a cartoon about a dysfunctional family living in the shadow of a nuclear power plant that became the longest-running prime time series in American television history. The Simpsons first appeared as a series of shorts on The Tracy Ullman Show in 1987 and debuted as a full-length series in 1989. Almost immediately it became an international phenomenon, helping to establish the then-upstart Fox network. Since then, The Simpsons has featured dozens of celebrity guests, from Michael Jackson to Tom Wolf, and has become a major influence on the development of television comedy and on a generation of Americans. Ortved has done dozens of in-depth interviews, and they make the book. His oral history approach is particularly compelling through the first 200 pages, where the disagreements over who deserves credit for The Simpsons take on a Rashomon-like complexity. Ortved seems evenhanded in his assessments of principals like Matt Groening and James Brooks-few of whom come through unscathed. As the book progresses, it loses focus, and Ortved inserts more of his own opinions and analyses, which are generally less interesting than the interviews (hating Everybody Loves Raymond isn't exactly a radical stance). Nevertheless, Ortved has done a remarkable job of bringing to light the creators of our beloved four-fingered creatures with the bright yellow skin.
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"Ortved's "uncensored, unauthorized" history... is as tasty as a pink-glazed donut with sprinkles, as refreshing as a Duff beer and as piquant as a curry slushy from Kwik-E Mart." —Louis Bayard, The Washington Post
"A gloriously windy oral history crammed with behind-the-scenes squabbles and power grabs...I completely devoured The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History, even if I felt a little bad afterward for the central players who got sucker punched. The early details, as show creator Matt Groening goes from obscure alt-weekly cartoonist to megamogul via talent and chance, remain a well-known showbiz tale. John Ortved's sources (including artist Art Spiegelman) tell it in a fresh, vivid way. The subsequent testimony about the empire Groening created is contentious and mesmerizing." —Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly
"Mr. Ortved has produced a 300-page combination of juicy entertainment gossip, rich television history and notes from a disenchanted lover." —Lisa Tozzi, The New York Times
"Brisk and engaging and likely to entertain Simpsons die-hards without breaking a sweat...a good balance between information and gossip; between a story about simmering creativity and a story about flawed human beings who showed their flaws -- as many do -- more and more as the money accumulated...a rich read for fans." —Linda Holmes, NPR
"Ortved has done a remarkable job of bringing to light the creators of our beloved four-fingered creatures with the bright yellow skin." —Publisher's Weekly
“An essential resource for any fan.”—John Williams, The Second Pass
“Ortved’s account is remarkably thorough, witty, and stands as likely the best Simpsons volume we'll see for some time to come.” —Under the Radar
“All of those people providing their perspectives on the founding of The Simpsons builds a multifaceted history of a television revolution and institution. If anyone has any interest in codifying the building of one of the most important pieces of American pop culture, The Simpsons: The Uncensored, Unauthorized History is a very effective, very worthwhile read.” —Michael C. Lorah, Newsarama

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; First Edition edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865479887
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865479883
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #923,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If you have any affection for The Simpsons, I can't recommend more highly John Ortved's oral history of the show, The Simpsons: An Uncensored Unauthorized History.

The book focuses on the creative process that led to the show's miraculous early run, and on the financial windfall that fell upon, and destroyed relationships among, the creators of the show.

Ortved does an effective job of weaving a compelling narrative drawn from previously-published and first-hand interviews. By and large, the narrative remains fixed on the now-legendary writing team (including someone named Conan O'Brien) that was the true heart of the show. You get a real sense of what it must have been like in the writers' room, where this collection of talent, protected from network interference by powerful producer James L. Brooks, was set free to create multi-leveled, satirical, anti-authoritarian, classic television.

I'll tell you what I learned from, or had confirmed by, Ortved's book:

1. Matt Groening's role on the series was quite different from what he, and Fox Television, would have you believe. The heart and soul of the show was, more accurately, its first showrunner, Sam Simon, and its most influential, long-time writer, George Meyer. Meyer's role, in particular, was made quite clear a number of years ago in a fascinating New Yorker profile, but it turns out that, if anything, the earlier magazine article may not have given Meyer his due.

2. Money ruins everything. OK, maybe not if you're the one getting the money. Then how about this - take a beautiful situation, throw a really big bag of money in the middle of the room, and watch everyone turn into animals.

3. The best creative work is made when creative people are left alone.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm a bit surprised at all the harsh reviews for this book (reviews I largely consider to be overly critical and nit-picky), but I guess I shouldn't be. After all, there's a reason Comic Book Guy was created to lampoon "Simpsons" fans. But to be honest, this book is not without its flaws. I'll get them out of the way first:

1. Yes, there are a few factual mistakes that legions of nerds must have noticed.

2. Poor organization did indeed get on my nerves. I'm referring mostly to latter portions of the book, when Ortved apparently decided to shift from writing more or less in chronological order to organizing sections by topic. For example, why not incorporate the guest stars into the main body of the story?

3. Ortved has an inconsistent voice. He's an objective narrator for most of the book, letting the writers, producers, etc. give their oral history -- but then his paragraphs (in bold, so you know it's him) get bigger and bigger. He beats a dead horse about the lack of subtlety in recent seasons and the loss of overall quality of the show. (John, you're preaching to the choir!) He practically rants about Rupert Murdoch and Fox News. He talks about later "grown up" animated series, such as "South Park," and "Family Guy," but it's hard to tell if he's criticizing them for being "ungrateful children" (his words) or applauding their success.

But despite these three significant flaws, I really enjoyed this book. It offers a good look at the things that made the show great in the early years, and what has made it not so great in the many years to follow. We get to hear from writers (including Conan!
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Format: Hardcover
Looking at all the other reviews, the biggest complaint is the tone of the author's comments, and it's true that Ortved's demeanor is often petty and amateurish, sometimes pausing to take swipes at things he doesn't enjoy, or make sweeping statements about people. Even if you agree with his point of view, it often feels unpleasant to read, like a blog written by a bratty teenager. Despite this, I still found myself wholly enjoying the book. Not only does it very rarely stop to focus on the author's opinions (most of the book is made up of quotes from those who worked on the show) but it also does a great job investigating the history of the show.

After reading the negative reviews, I was worried that the author was going to ruin the book. He doesn't. I was also worried that it might make me appreciate The Simpsons less: Would everyone behind the scenes be horrible and nasty? It's true that not everyone is a saint, and while the book is honest, but it's also respectful and fair thanks to the way it lets other people's quotes tell the story. You may not like everything you read, but you'll still come away with a respect for the people involved, even if it's just for their incredible talent, and how much they brought to The Simpsons.

In case you're wondering, here's a breakdown of how everyone comes across:

James L. Brooks: Brilliant with real characters and emotional stories, not so good with people, despite being very sensitive himself. Apparently capable of being a bit deluded and cold. His relationship with producer, Richard Sakai, is likened to Mr Burns and Smithers by the writers there. Brooks also held grudges against Gabor Csupo and Jerry Belson for very petty reasons. Greedy.
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