Sam Simon, a nine-time Emmy winner and one of the co-creators of “The Simpsons,” died on Sunday (March 8) after a long battle with colorectal cancer.
He was 59.
A writer and later showrunner on “Taxi,” Simon also produced and wrote for “Cheers.”
Simon was part of the original team that helped develop “The Simpsons” into a regular-length series after it began its run as shorts on “The Tracey Ullman Show.”
Credited as series co-creator with Matt Groening and James L. Brooks, Simon assembled the original team of “Simpsons” writers, a murderers' row that included legendary show scribes including John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti, Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky. Simon, and the staff he brought together, has been given much of the credit for helping craft the sensibility of the series, as well as the ever-expanding universe of Springfield.
Simon left the show in 1993 and had a wildly eclectic post-“Simpsons” career including a number of successful World Series of Poker appearances, a run as manger to heavyweight champion Lamon Brewster and a number of high profile charitable ventures.
Due to the collaborative nature of the “Simpsons” writing process, you'd be hard-pressed to know which classic moments came directly from Simon, but here are five classic “Simpsons” moments or episodes either officially credited to Simon or linked to him through “Simpsons” lore:
1) Homer in The Land of Chocolate – While Jon Vitti is the credited writer on the marvelous “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” episode from Season 3, “Simpsons” lore credits Simon with suggesting the beloved fantasy sequence in which Homer is told that Germany is The Land of Chocolate, prompting a reverie in which he goes skipping through his own imagined version of a Land of Chocolate, including noshing on a small chocolate dog and celebrating discount chocolate. This is one of my all-time favorite episodes and this is an all-time favorite moment.
2) “Is this the end of Zombie Shakespeare?” – Simon's final credited “Simpsons” segment was the “Treehouse of Horror III” segment “Dial 'Z' For Zombie,” in which an occult spell to bring back Snowball ends up causing the dead to rise. Ooops. For some reason, it turns out that several luminaries were buried in and around Springfield, including Shakespeare and Albert Einstein. Zombie Shakespeare's demise is a favorite moment, but I also love Homer shooting Flanders with a shotgun without necessarily knowing if his neighbor has been zombified. A fine contrast would be Simon's “The Raven” installment from the original “Treehouse of Horror” episode, a triumph of rich content, rather than quick gags.
3) “Mr. Burns, Your Campaign Seems To Have the Momentum of a Runaway Freight Train. Why Are You So Popular?” – The Season 2 episode “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish” is an acknowledged classic with Blinky, Mr. Burns' run for governor and the memorable sequence in which Mr. Burns sits down for dinner with The Simpsons and Lisa has to ask the above question. Simon co-wrote with John Swartzwelder.
4) “Black Widower” – Sam Simon famously sought out mystery novelist Thomas Chastain to help construct the second appearance by Sideshow Bob, in which Bart's familiar nemesis would target Selma for murder, only to be thwarted, as Sideshow Bob must always be thwarted. The result is one of the show's more complicated episodes, structurally.
5) “The Way We Was” – This flashback episode introduced Artie Ziff and was written by the all-star team of Simon, Mike Reiss and Al Jean. Although most of the historical details have had to be ret-conned over, it's one of the show's great sentimental episodes.
Honestly, you could pick dozens of moments from those first Simon years, or pick any of hundreds or thousands of moments from the writers he helped bring into the “Simpsons” stable.