In all three of these cases, the writers found themselves under pressure from their networks (Comedy Central, WB, and Fox respectively) to add more characters to their core casts for viewership demographic expansion and/or merchandising purposes. Being comedians, the most principled and fearless advocates of artistic integrity you’re likely to find, with the power of producing essential cornerstone programs of their networks at the time, all three teams responded with pretty much identical middle fingers.
The Pinky and The Brain and Larry episode is almost as quick a bit, one segment of a multi-skit episode.
After the opening, Pinky and Brain launch into their usual banter, setting up the evening’s scheme, begrudgingly adding “and Larry” every time they say each other’s names. Larry smiles, nods, regularly points out that his name is Larry, and occasionally agrees with one of the other two without adding anything.
Then there’s a Three Stooges bit with the three of them as wallpaper hangers, to give Brain an excuse (not that he’d need one) to slap Larry around for a while.
When they get back to the cage after their latest failed plot, Brain concludes that “There was something wrong tonight.”
Something was wrong in their give and take, he explains, their usual yin and yang balance.
The Simpsons devoted an entire twenty-two minute episode to making their point and definitely dug into it the deepest with a double layer of meta.
They were also the first, in case you’re wondering, beating Pinky and The Brain (and Larry) by a few months.
In this episode, there’s inexplicably a guy named Roy crashing at the Simpsons’ house. Everybody loves him and calls him by name a lot. He adds nothing, except for being what might be called “cool” by a network executive whose concept of the word has been cobbled together from half-watched reruns of Happy Days.
In the same episode, Homer gets cast as a voice actor on Bart and Lisa’s favorite show, Itchy and Scratchy, as Poochie, a new character that’s being added to boost falling ratings.
Instead of the characters simply poking fun at their own producers, we get to watch the fictional producers of Itchy and Scratchy carry out their terrible idea from start to finish in full detail.
There’s a meeting where the producers try to explain to the wary writers what they want, fire one of them for pointing out that none of the words they’re saying actually mean anything, and then start working on designing the character themselves, ending up with a godawful amalgam of a dozen-odd different flavors of manufactured cool that should never, ever mix.
His introduction on the show says it all.
And I rock the telly.
I'm half-Joe Camel
And a third Fonzarelli.
I'm the kung fu hippie
From Gangsta City.
I'm a rappin' surfer,
You the fool I pity.”
The Itchy and Scratchy episode bombs spectacularly, all the good parts of the show having been pushed aside to make room for more Poochie. The producers realize they have to get rid of Poochie, fast. They kill him off in the most shoddy, last-minute manner possible, and a legal contract is presented to the audience promising, in spite of typical cartoon conventions, that he will never, ever be brought back.
In an effort to console Homer, Lisa cuts to the point. “It’s not your fault, Dad. It’s just that Poochie was a soulless byproduct of committee thinking.”
So what’s Roy for? To make it clear, in case it wasn’t already, that this idea for an episode was not random inspiration, that what happened in the Simpsons’ universe could also happen to it.
Roy leaves the house at the end of the episode, and all three shows successfully made their stands. None of them had awkward, unwelcome characters forced into them permanently….