Al Jean : biography
Al Jean (born January 9, 1961) is an American screenwriter and producer. Jean is well known for his work on The Simpsons. He was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan and graduated from Harvard University in 1981. Jean began his writing career in the 1980s with fellow Harvard alum Mike Reiss. Together, they worked as writers and producers on television shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, ALF and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.
Jean was offered a job as a writer on the animated sitcom The Simpsons in 1989, alongside Reiss, and together they became the first members of the original writing staff of the show. They served as show runners during the show’s third (1991) and fourth (1992) seasons, though they left The Simpsons after season four to create The Critic, an animated show about film critic Jay Sherman. It was first broadcast on ABC in January 1994 and was well received by critics, but did not catch on with viewers and only lasted for two seasons.
In 1994, Jean and Reiss signed a three-year deal with The Walt Disney Company to produce other television shows for ABC and the duo created and executive produced Teen Angel, which was canceled in its first season. Jean returned full-time to The Simpsons during the tenth season (1998). He became show runner again with the start of the thirteenth season in 2001, without Reiss, and has held that position since. Jean was also one of the writers and producers that worked on The Simpsons Movie, a feature-length film based on the series, released in 2007.
Early career and The Simpsons
The humor magazine National Lampoon hired Jean and Reiss after they graduated in 1981. During the 1980s, the duo began collaborating on various television material. During this period they worked as writers and producers on television shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, ALF, and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. In 1989, Jean was offered a job as a writer on the animated sitcom The Simpsons, a show created by Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, and Sam Simon that continues to air today. Many of Jean’s friends were not interested in working on The Simpsons because it was a cartoon and they did not think it would last long. Jean, however, was a fan of the work of Groening, Brooks, and Simon, and therefore took the job together with Reiss.
The duo became the first members of the original writing staff of The Simpsons and worked on the thirteen episodes of the show’s first season (1989). While watching the first episode of the show, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire", premiering on television in December 1989, Jean opined to himself that the series was the greatest project he had been involved with and desired to continue working on it for the rest of his professional career. What he enjoyed most about The Simpsons at the time was something he recognized from Brooks’ previous work: although the show was largely based on humor, it had depth and warmth.
Although Jean has been credited as the sole writer of several episodes of the show, he considers the process to be mainly collaborative: "the principle writer [of an episode] has, at most, written 40% of the script. It’s a real team effort." The person who is credited as the writer in the episode’s closing credits is the person that came up with the idea for the episode and wrote the first draft, even if he or she only contributed to a small part of the final script. Jean has stated that Lisa Simpson is one his favorite characters to write for. She is the character he relates the most to because of their similar childhoods and due to the fact that he has a daughter.
Jean became show runner of The Simpsons at the start of the third season (1991) together with Reiss. A show runner has the ultimate responsibility of all the processes that an episode goes through before completion, including the writing, the animation, the voice acting, and the music. When Jean began his tenure as show runner, the only thing he thought to himself every day was "Don’t blow it and screw up this thing everyone loves." The first episode Jean and Reiss ran was "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington" (aired September 19, 1991), and they felt a lot of pressure on them to make it good. They were so pressured that they did six to seven rewrites of the script in order to improve its humor. Jean said he "kept thinking ‘It’s not good enough. It’s not good enough.’" Reiss added that "we were definitely scared. We had never run anything before, and they dumped us on this."