‘The Simpsons’ Wrote Conan O’Brien’s Talk Show Into an Episode Before He Got the Job

The ‘Simpsons’ writers had more faith in Conan than Conan did
‘The Simpsons’ Wrote Conan O’Brien’s Talk Show Into an Episode Before He Got the Job

The classic Simpsons episode “Bart Gets Famous” finds Springfield’s most mischievous 10-year-old becoming world famous thanks to a one-joke catchphrase that quickly gets run into the ground — aka, the Saturday Night Live method.

As a result of his newfound celebrity, Bart records an album with MC Hammer, lends his name to a spurious 900-number and publishes an autobiography that’s mostly full of information about Ross Perot, with some “excerpts from the Oliver North trial.”  

But most memorably, Bart appears on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, where he’s forced to soullessly regurgitate his “I didn’t do it” catchphrase and is admonished for stealing Conan’s spotlight by dancing.

Weirdly, this episode occurs in The Simpsons’ fifth season, which is also the season that Conan left the show. He’s credited as the writer of Episode Three, “Homer Goes to College,” but by Episode Twelve, he was a full-fledged late-night talk show host? How did that happen? 

Well, this is the rare case where The Simpsons actually did sort of predict something. While breaking the episode, the writers realized that this would be an “opportunity” for Bart to go on a talk show. At that point in time, Conan had only auditioned for NBC, but hadn’t landed the job yet.

Despite the fact that it was far from a guarantee, the writers gambled that their colleague would ultimately succeed, and wrote him into the episode. “Even though the Conan O’Brien show did not exist yet, we decided to put (Bart) on the Conan O’Brien show and make Conan a character,” then-showrunner David Mirkin explained in the episode’s DVD commentary, pointing out that Conan had made the rare leap “from writer to character.”

“But we were writing this before the information came in,” Mirkin confessed, “so we actually wrote it in secret, not telling Conan that we had put him in the show, just in case. Although we were confident.”

By the time the episode was being recorded, Late Night with Conan O’Brien was in production, but even then Conan was worried that his cameo might seem totally nonsensical by the time it was released. “The (Late Night) show was on the air when I did the record, and I remember at the time thinking, ‘This is very optimistic of The Simpsons,’” O’Brien recalled. “It was just after Chevy Chase had been canceled, and people thought I would last about eight weeks. I thought there’s a good chance I won’t be on the air when this airs, and it’ll just be this sad, ironic thing.”

Fortunately, Conan’s detractors were wrong, and the scene totally worked in the end. Although, he later had some complaints about how his hair looked in the finished product.

You’d think he would have been more concerned with the freakishly large, Pippi Longstocking-esque freckles.

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