Here Are the 20 Words Conan O’Brien Used to Pitch the Greatest ‘Simpsons’ Episode Ever

And, no, it’s not just ‘monorail’ chanted 20 times in a row
Here Are the 20 Words Conan O’Brien Used to Pitch the Greatest ‘Simpsons’ Episode Ever

One word, one track, one endlessly re-watchable episode: “monorail.”

When the Season Four The Simpsons episode “Marge vs. The Monorail” aired on January 14, 1993, it wasn’t exactly an instant classic. In fact, the abstract, high-concept and heavily musical storyline was divisive even among the Simpsons family. Two years after its premiere, Yeardley Smith called the episode “truly one of our worst — we (the entire cast) all agree.” However, in the 31 years since writer Conan O’Brien ensured that the word “monorail” would forever be spoken rhythmically and repetitively by millions of Simpsons fans across the world, “Marge vs. The Monorail” has become an absolute tentpole plot line in the history of television and is widely regarded as one of the best-ever episodes, not just of The Simpsons, but of TV itself.

Also during that time, O’Brien became one of the biggest names in all of comedy, but he still points to his seminal Simpsons episode as his most celebrated writing credit. In a recent interview with The New York Times, O’Brien explained the origins of the unusual premise behind “Marge vs. The Monorail,” and he revealed the 20-word pitch he used to sell it to the rest of the Simpsons writing staff.

O’Brien’s outline went simply, “Springfield gets a monorail. Homer likes the idea. Marge not so sure. First act: Music Man. Second: Irwin Allen parody.”

The inspiration behind O’Brien’s magnum opus as a Simpsons writer has been known to die-hards for decades, but he deigned to describe the lightbulb moment during his wide-ranging conversation with The Times. As the legend goes, O’Brien saw a billboard on Los Angeles' Olympic Boulevard bearing only the word “monorail,” which sparked his imagination and motivated him to quickly scribble the above 20-word plot summary onto a handy legal pad.

O’Brien pitched those fantastical phrases to the rest of the Simpsons writers' room, and, as they added their own gags and addendums, “Marge vs. The Monorail” picked up enough speed to become nearly unstoppable, much like the titular train itself. "It was like falling off a log,” Conan told The Times of the Simpsons writers embracing of his episode.

Today, “Marge vs. The Monorail” is one of the most quotable and karaoke-worthy Simpsons episode of all time. Phil Hartmans perfect performance as the charismatic huckster Lyle Lanley and Leonard Nimoys unexpected appearance as himself punctuate O’Brien’s immaculate plotting, and his 20-word pitch proved to be the best locomotive-related idea anyones had since that crazy Russian engineer Ivan Elmanov first decided that a train only needs a single track.

Sadly, O’Brien’s 20-word pitch proved to be the most destructive utterance in the history of the monorail itself. Real-life monorail advocates are still reeling from the bad press The Simpsons made up for them. I heard a rumor that you can get mono from riding the monorail — maybe it's true.


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