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Tribute to Sam Simon (1955-2015)

     
               Yesterday the world lost one of the great creative and comedic minds in entertainment. Sam Simon was one of the most influential and talented writers in television history. And it’s unfortunate that so many people just know that name as the third “Developed by” credit in The Simpsons opening. But he did much more for that show and other shows than people may think.
                Sam Simon started off with a spec script for the third season of Taxi in the early 80’s. By the fifth and final season when executive producers Glen & Les Charles moved on to their own series Cheers they trusted Simon enough to be showrunner after only two years as a working television writer. Not only that, Simon was brought over to Cheers as part of its inaugural writing staff. He managed to handle showrunning and writing responsibilities for one series while also writing for another. Not just that, he wrote Cheers’ best episode that season “Endless Slumper” which I highly recommend as it mixes the comedic with the sometimes necessary dramatic moments of a sitcom perfectly encapsulating his style. And it really foreshadows his work on The Simpsons.  Sometimes on his own, sometimes with partner Ken Estin he continued to write great episodes for Cheers in its first three seasons including “Fairy Tales Can Come True” and “Cheerio Cheers”. And I always felt his episodes had a little more heart than average as well as some damn good jokes.
                Simon also worked on series like It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and The George Carlin Show but perhaps his greatest legacy is The Simpsons. Simon had worked with James L. Brooks as the co-creator of Taxi and eventually both became executive producers on The Tracey Ullman Show. Into that show walked cartoonist and animator Matt Groening and the rest is history. Simon many don’t realize, actually designed a number of Simpsons characters including Mr. Burns, Chief Wiggum, and Dr. Hibbert, having started his career as an artist. In addition to that Simon’s influence on The Simpsons in those early years was tremendous. He is credited with developing the show’s sensibility, it’s incredibly funny environment and character coupled with its ability to be heartwarming and dramatic, characteristics that to me and many others are what make it one of the greatest shows of all time. And we owe it to him. Episodes such as “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish” (which he co-wrote with John Swartzwelder), “Black Widower”, The Treehouse of Horror episodes (who can forget “The Raven” segment he “co-wrote” with Edgar Allan Poe) including “Dial Z for Zombies” my personal favourite Treehouse of Horror segment, and one of my personal favourite episodes “The Way We Was” (co-written with Al Jean and Mike Reiss), certainly are testaments to what he brought to the show.  The Simpsons writers room being what it was then, most of the original staff handpicked by Simon himself, he contributed so much that most of the shows from those early years have his fingerprints somewhere on them. He left in the show’s fourth season going on to philanthropic work for PETA and other organizations, and directing work, overall winning nine Emmy Awards.
                In 2012 he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and given only a few months to live. But as always Simon surpassed expectations for over two years. Unfortunately it has finally caught up with him. He planned on donating his entire fortune to charity upon his death which hopefully will now happen.
                Sam Simon though gone will not be forgotten. He was one of the best writers in the history of American television and comedy and is leaving a great void. Personally he has been a major influence on me, his style and sensibility on Cheers and The Simpsons in particular has inspired my own approach to writing and viewing comedy. He’ll always be a gold standard of sitcom writing to me and many others and I hope will continue to inspire from beyond the grave (much like his Simpsons zombies). He was a brilliant and talented man and there will never be another quite like him. Rest in Peace Sam Simon.

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