‘Itchy & Scratchy’ From ‘The Simpsons’ Wasn’t Actually Based on ‘Tom & Jerry,’ But Something Much Worse

‘Itchy & Scratchy’ From ‘The Simpsons’ Wasn’t Actually Based on ‘Tom & Jerry,’ But Something Much Worse

As it turns out, the concept of doing a hyper-violent rip-off of Tom & Jerry is almost as old as Tom & Jerry.

For as long as The Simpsons has been on the air, Simpsons writers and animators have found endless joy in the indulgently violent escapades of The Itchy & Scratchy Show, the show-within-a-show-within-a-show featured on Krusty the Clown's variety hour. The timeless tale of cat-and-mouse has been the central focus of many episodes throughout The Simpsons’ 35 seasons and counting, including many of the absolute best ones, like “Itchy & Scratchy Land” and “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show.” Simpsons fans have long made the easy association between Itchy & Scratchy and the significantly less violent Hanna-Barbera cartoon Tom & Jerry, but the link between them is more complicated than anyone outside of the most obscure animation fanatics would assume.

As founding Simpsons writer and producer Mike Reiss wrote in his 2018 book Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons, which he co-authored with Mathew Klickstein, the original idea for The Itchy & Scratchy Show came from the 1940s-1950s series of animated shorts called Herman and Katnip, which Reiss calls “a cheap, ultra-violent knockoff” of Tom & Jerry. Leave it to the Harvard nerds to make a simple Simpsons joke needlessly inaccessible.

Created in 1944 by Famous Studios, the very first animated division of  Paramount Pictures, which opened just two years prior to the Herman and Katnip premiere, the Itchy & Scratchy progenitor was just one of many variations on the “cat vs. mouse” cartoon dynamic that Tom & Jerry obviously perfected. However, as opposed to Tom & Jerry and the rest of its contemporaries, Herman and Katnip distinguished itself from the pack by being preposterously brutal for what was, in its essence, a kids comedy project.

As is the case with Tom & Jerry, every Herman and Katnip short ended with the mouse on top. Oftentimes, this conclusion would see Herman and the rest of the mice uniting in song while Katnip was crushed to death by boulders, eaten by sharks, strung up with Christmas lights, electrocuted, or, in one instance, flat-out dying and having his spirit be sent to hell. And, in case it needed clarification, those mouse songs were absolutely awful, too, and Hermans voice actor has the most smug, shit-eating, fake Brooklyn accent that we naturally associate with the entertainment of the 1940s.

Perennial Simpsons director David Silverman, who also directed The Simpsons Movie, once told MSNBC that Herman and Katnip is hilarious because its just bad. Its painfully bad. He explained the beauty and brilliance of the Itchy & Scratchy parody, saying that, “The key to comedy is quick recovery, and Itchy & Scratchy has no quick recovery. Theres not the quick recovery that you normally associate with cartoon violence. Thats the big joke behind the segments. Its an ironic commentary on cartoon mayhem in the sense that its taken to a more realistic level.”

Speaking of realism, Silverman also spoke highly of the meta-commentary of “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show," in which the producers of Itchy & Scratchy awkwardly shoehorn a new, pandering character into the series to get a cheap boost in ratings, just as Fox had been trying to do to The Simpsons at the time. Said Silverman, “At the end of that episode, they should have added a note that this is a true story.”


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