The Critic was short lived but much beloved-by-me-from-day-one show that originally aired on ABC and I started recording because I had a feeling it would be cancelled. Sure enough – it was. But much to my delight and surprise, the show resurfaced on Fox, only to be cancelled again that same year. Considering the show was everything that is popular today: Family Guy style cut-aways awash in pop-culture references and movie parodies framed by a fat schlubby main character and his friends life adventures – how did this show fail?
This list, “10 Movies Sabotaged by Their Own Creators” (which obviously also includes tv series) revealed to me that the show didn’t fail at all – it was internally loathed and taken down from the inside.
This cartoon from Simpsons show-runners Al Jean and Mike Reiss ran on ABC for one season before being picked up by Fox in 1995. It had done poorly on ABC (running against the Winter Olympics) but it seemed to have fresh promise on its new network. There was just one problem: The president of Fox hated it.
When he and his colleagues previewed two episodes, he allegedly asked those there why they were laughing. When they replied that the show was funny, he yelled, “NO IT’S NOT!”
The president moved the The Critic‘s time slot to make it harder for viewers to know when to tune in. The network didn’t advertise it. Mike Reiss called this a perfect example of a network “actively killing [its] own show.”
Did They Succeed?
Yes. An initially successful and highly rated show on Fox quickly lost its audience and didn’t receive another season. Still, at least the show has a cult following decades later.
This made me dig further and I found this article from March 1995 in the LA Times that details a further, deeper, and very personal rift between the creator of the Simpsons, Matt Groening (who insists his name is pronounced “Grain-ing”), groaning over The Critic entering The Simpsons world in a crossover episode that was often quoted from by my best friend and fellow Critic fan Johnny and I. Groening was reportedly so angry with James L. Brooks, who executive produced both shows, for “cross-promoting” The Critic in that Simpsons episode that Groening had his name removed from the credits.
At issue is whether Brooks is basically shoving one of his productions that failed elsewhere down the throat of a successful one to launch it on Fox.
This greatly taints my memory of that episode, which I was extremely excited about at the time and remember fondly. The degree to which Groening allegedly sabotaged The Critic runs deep and ran personal. From the 1995 article:
Hurt by the allegation, Brooks said that Groening is acting like an “ingrate” and characterizes Groening’s actions as a public slap in the face to the creators of “The Critic,” Al Jean and Mike Reiss–whose previous work as writers and executive producers of “The Simpsons,” he notes, helped make Groening a wealthy man.
“I am furious with Matt,” Brooks said. “He’s been going to everybody who wears a suit at Fox and complaining about this. When he voiced his concerns about how to draw ‘The Critic’ into the Simpsons’ universe he was right and we agreed to his changes. Certainly he’s allowed his opinion, but airing this publicly in the press is going too far.
“This has been my worst fear . . . that the Matt we know privately is going public,” Brooks added. “He is a gifted, adorable, cuddly ingrate. But his behavior right now is rotten. And it’s not pretty when a rich man acts like this.”
Groening said his decision has nothing to do with Reiss or Jean. His dispute is with Brooks and the cross-promotion, or crossover.
“The two reasons I am opposed to this crossover is that I don’t want any credit or blame for ‘The Critic’ and I feel this (encroachment of another cartoon character) violates the Simpsons’ universe,” Groening said. ” ‘The Critic’ has nothing to do with the Simpsons’ world.”
He fears that fans of “The Simpsons” will “accuse us of making the crossover episode just to advertise ‘The Critic.’ That’s why I’ve had my name removed on this episode.”
The angle about the alleged purity of The Simpsons seems silly. As the article recaps exactly the meta reference to exactly that accusation made in the episode:
In this Sunday’s “Simpsons” episode, Marge Simpson comes up with the idea of a Springfield film festival to boost tourism. Movie critic Jay Sherman, the lead character in “The Critic” (with the voice of Jon Lovitz), is invited to judge the event. (In typical “Simpsons” style, however, the producers acknowledge what is going on. When Bart Simpson meets Sherman, he says, “Hey man, I really love your show. I think all kids should watch it.” Then he turns away and cringes and says under his breath, “I suddenly feel so dirty.”)
19 years later, another show that Groening and The Simpsons have swiped at for copying them – Family Guy – another Fox animated show about a schlubby selfish middle aged man with a smarter hotter wife, an unappreciated daughter, anti-social son, infant baby and a dog in suburbia – did a 45 minute long crossover episode, this time airing on the crossers-show (Family Guy) and I found no mention of Groening having any problem with it.
Further, I noticed the 2016 Simpsons Halloween Special contained a jab at The Critic, including it in a list of short lived shows that The Simpsons had to serve as a lead-in for despite being “bad. really bad” as the song overlay stated. While it’s true that The Critic was short lived on Fox, it’s a crime to include it in the “bad show” company of other short-lived shows like House of Buggin, Hermans Head (the precursor to Pixar’s Inside Out), and a comedy called Whoops about a post-nuclear earth.