As much work as Steven Spielberg has done to shape television over the course of his career, it’s only natural that television has reached to tweak the filmmaker back.
An appearance in cartoon form in a 1991 episode of “Tiny Toon Adventures” marked a rare “on-camera” speaking role, but the director’s recognizable bearded visage has showed up on several animated series for which Spielberg wasn’t an executive producer.
A memorable “Simpsons” episode featured Spielberg’s “non-union Mexican equivalent,” Senor Spielbergo, who directed Mr. Burns in sendups of “E.T.” and “Ben-Hur.” After the special edition of “E.T.” was released to theaters, “South Park” built a whole episode around ruthless versions of Spielberg and George Lucas trying to ruin “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with a special edition version of its own. “The Simpsons” is only one of the sitcoms that has referenced Spielberg’s films repeatedly, but over its long run it probably has established the mark for most allusions.
Besides Spielbergo, the show has directly borrowed shots of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” on at least two occasions, and this year’s Halloween episode skewered “War of the Worlds.” “That ’70s Show” did the “Close Encounters” meaningful-mashed-potatoes bit, too, with Danny Masterson’s Hyde in the Richard Dreyfuss part.
Listing the shows that have co-opted the “Jaws” theme to provide automatic suspense would be more difficult than simply listing the shows that haven’t. Perhaps no primetime show has so thoroughly watched over Spielberg’s film career more than “Dawson’s Creek,” whose title character was an aspiring filmmaker who idolized the man.
You know someone’s crossed the line from admiration into worship, however, when his room features “Hook” and “Amistad” posters.