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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Sam Simon, Co-creator of Hit TV Show The Simpsons, Visits ODU Class

Students of Kevin Crawford's COMM 330 - The Short Script class got to pick the brain of a television industry titan Saturday morning when writer/producer Sam Simon visited the Old Dominion University campus.

Simon is probably best known as a co-creator of "The Simpsons," the animated sitcom and pop culture juggernaut that has been a prime-time mainstay since 1989. He has also been a major producer/writer influence on other hit shows that include: "Taxi," "Cheers," "The Tracey Ullman Show," "The George Carlin Show" and "The Drew Carey Show," among others.

In addition to his entertainment industry work, Simon is a well-regarded philanthropist with a nonprofit foundation that rescues stray dogs and trains them to be work/companion animals for people with hearing problems and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He is also a major supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Simon was in Norfolk last weekend for events related to PETA's naming of its headquarters in his honor. Crawford said Simon reached out to ODU because he wanted to talk with students in an industry-related class while he was in town.

As a result, about two dozen ODU students had the opportunity to spend nearly two hours with Simon in an intimate setting with ample opportunity for an extended question-and-answer session. As a bonus, Simon was accompanied by a small entourage that included his ex-wife, actress Jennifer Tilly.

Simon shared with students how he got started in the entertainment business after graduating from Stanford University, where he was a "self-taught" cartoonist at the student newspaper. He designed the "Brown Hornet" character on the "Fat Albert" cartoon series and was later doing storyboards when he wrote and sold an episode of "Taxi."

Although he "never had an idea of becoming a writer," Simon was "running the show ('Taxi') a year later at the tender age of 23," he said.

In answering a student's question, Simon said his favorite experience was working on "The Simpsons."

"It was the pleasure of my life being in the writers' rooms with really funny, talented people. Everyone was great," he said, of his "Simpsons" colleagues. "We had four people with IQs over 170, kids that graduated from Harvard at 17 - all working for me. I hate to say it, but it was easy. We had fun."

Despite his comedy background, Simon said he prefers to watch dramas like "The Walking Dead," "Game of Thrones" and "Breaking Bad" for personal enjoyment, noting: "It's the golden age for these shows."

Toward the end of the class, Simon shared with the students his recipe for television writing:

  • When you have a good story, you don't need jokes.
  • Don't be afraid of the quiet moments. You don't need three laughs every page.
  • Love your characters.

"That's my idea of good TV writing," he said.

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