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Throwing the book at ‘Simpsons’

While it might not be the Christmas gift for the person who has everything, a new book on animated TV series “The Simpsons” may be just the ticket for those with a little too much time on their hands.

“The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family” (HarperCollins, $15.95) has literally everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the Simpsons’ life in Springfield, their mythical middle-America hometown. Need a complete “Itchy & Scratchy” filmography? Got it. (42 shorts.) Want to know where, when and under what circumstances Homer said his trademark “D’oh!” for the last eight seasons? It’s here. (Over 200 times.) Ever wondered how many different couch gags there have been for the show’s opening credits? It’s in the book. (There’s 91 of them.)

“There’re a lot of people with no lives and I’m one of them,” jokes Daily Variety scribe Ray Richmond, who spent five months viewing all 178 episodes of the Simpsons’ first eight seasons alongside co-writer Chip Dornell.

Richmond, who is credited as editor of the book, painstakingly compared his notes to each show’s final script. “They changed when they were recorded because the actors often improvised new lines or the writers changed dialogue during taping,” Richmond says. In fact, as Richmond discovered, there are often 25 to 30 drafts of the script for each episode.

“I think that’s one of the reasons the show has stayed so consistently funny,” Richmond says. “(The producers) work hard on quality control.”

The process of compiling the book was equally arduous. Richmond says he, co-editor Antonia Coffman and contributing editor Scott Gimple spent months boiling 2,000 pages of manuscript down to the published 249 and haggling over the final form the book would take. The result is a book as bright and colorful as the world of Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa themselves, with sidebars of information on guest characters and visual jokes that fans may have missed on first viewing.

“Even if you’ve just watched a couple of episodes, I think the book gives you an appreciation of the brilliance of the show,” Richmond says.

Stellar guests

On thing the book reminds us is that the show, quickly established as a cult and ratings favorite when it debuted on the Fox television network in December 1989, has attracted an impressive roster of guest voices over the years. Dustin Hoffman (billed as Sam Etic), Donald Sutherland, Meryl Streep, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathleen Turner, Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson, Kelsey Grammer, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Glenn Close all have lent their voices.

And perhaps proving that the show is not yet passe, a voice gig on the show is still a hot ticket. This season, for example, Helen Hunt, Janeane Garofalo and Bobcat Goldthwait are scheduled to appear, as are the pop group U2 and Steve Martin for the series’ 200th episode.

“There may be fewer home runs than there were in the first few seasons,” Richmond says, “but I think the show is just as funny as it ever was.”

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