A key figure - according to many, the significant creative force - behind "The Simpsons" (Fox 1989- ), writer/producer/director Sam Simon was responsible for much of the historic animated series' tone and direction during its initial seasons before departing in 1993 to focus on other programs and a vast array of philanthropic efforts. The Los Angeles native began in daytime animated programming before penning scripts and producing for several popular primetime series, including "Taxi" (NBC/ABC 1978-1983) before collaborating with James L. Brooks and Matt Groening on "The Simpsons." Simon was credited with laying the foundation for many of the show's characters and its more adult, story-driven tone, but clashes with Brooks and Groening led to his departure in its third season. He left the show with a historic contract that granted him a yearly portion of its immense profits, which made him extraordinarily wealthy. Simon dabbled in producing and directing other series, including "The Drew Carey Show" (ABC 1995-2004), but devoted much of his time to establishing charities that cared for animals and people in need. A 2012 diagnosis of terminal cancer prompted him to dedicate his remaining time and fortune to various charities, which underscored the shift in his status from one of the entertainment industry's most successful but volatile figures to one of its most caring. Sam Simon died at his Los Angeles home on March 8, 2015, at the age of 59.
Born Samuel Michael Simon on June 6, 1955 in Los Angeles, California, Sam Simon was the son of a clothing manufacturer and spent his early years in what he described as a privileged childhood, with homes in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He discovered his talent for art at an early age, and served as cartoonist for Stanford University's college newspaper while pursuing a degree in psychology there. While in Stanford, he began drawing cartoons for the sports sections in the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner before landing a job as a writer and storyboard artist for Filmation Studios. Simon worked on several of their more high-profile Saturday morning animated series, including "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" (CBS 1972-1984). On the suggestion of Filmation head Lou Scheimer, Simon submitted a spec script for the popular sitcom "Taxi." He subsequently joined the writing staff before serving as the series' showrunner during its final season on ABC. His experience on the critically lauded comedy led to writing and producing stints on such acclaimed series as "Cheers" (NBC 1982-1993) and "Barney Miller" (ABC 1975-1982). In 1987, Simon began working with fellow "Taxi" alum James L. Brooks on a series of animated shorts for "The Tracey Ullman Show" (Fox 1987-1990) based on characters created by cartoonist Matt Groening.
The shorts, dubbed "The Simpsons," were expanded to a weekly primetime series on Fox in 1989, with Simon serving as executive producer and showrunner with Brooks and Groening. His contributions to the first two seasons were considerable: Simon was credited with establishing the show's tone, which was smarter and more character-driven than previous animated efforts. He was also credited with expanding the show's main setting of Springfield and for creating such enduring characters as Chief Wiggum, Dr. Hibbert and Waylon Smithers, whose sexuality was also established by Simon. Though scripts were the result of collaborations between the entire writing staff, he was credited with penning or co-writing some of the show's best episodes, including "Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish," in which the villainous Mr. Burns runs for governor of Springfield in an attempt to divert the town's attention from the pollution flowing from his power plant.
Despite these achievements, Simon soon found himself at odds with Brooks and Groening over the show's focus and stewardship. A comment by Simon about "The Simpsons" as being "thirteen and out" - meaning that the show would be canceled after the first half of the debut season - drove a wedge between him and Groening, who believed that Simon was uncommitted to the program's success. He also reportedly felt underappreciated by media coverage, which frequently credited Groening as the key figure in the show's conception. His partnership with Brooks grew strained after both "She" (ABC 1991) and "Phenom" (ABC 1993), a pair of sitcoms they produced while also working on "The Simpsons," failed after only a single season. By the third season of "The Simpsons," Simon had relinquished showrunner duties to writers Al Jean and Mike Reiss before severing ties with the show in 1993. Before departing, he shrewdly negotiated a deal with Fox that provided him with a yearly share of the show's profits and a continued executive producer credit. His net take from "The Simpsons" was considered by many to be more than $10 million per year.
In 1994, Simon co-created "The George Carlin Show" (Fox 1994-1995), which starred the legendary comedian as a salty cab driver. The show was not a success, and Carlin would later write that he clashed frequently with Simon over his reportedly poor treatment of people on the series. For much of the 1990s, Simon worked as a director, helming episodes of "Friends" (NBC 1994-2004) and "The Drew Carey Show," for which he also served as consulting producer. Save for a consulting producer job on "Anger Management" (FX 2012-14), Simon stepped away from television in the early 21st century to lend his time and considerable fortune to a variety of philanthropic efforts, including the Sam Simon Foundation, which rescued and retrained stray dogs, and the Sam Simon Feeding Families program, which provided vegan meals to individuals and animals in need.
During this period, he also managed World Boxing Organization champion Lamont Brewster, funding and guiding his rise to the top of his profession with a 2004 win over the heavily favored Wladimar Klitschko. Simon retired from the industry after Brewster's win, and devoted his sporting interests to high stakes poker competitions, winning several major tournaments during the late 2000s. In 2012, Simon was diagnosed with terminal colorectal cancer, which metastasized to other organs, including his liver and kidneys. He was subsequently given three to six months to live, but chemotherapy extended his expected life span over the next two years. During that period, Simon arranged for his vast fortune to be given to his survivors and to various charities. Simon died at his home in Los Angeles on March 8, 2015. He was 59.
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Special Thanks (Special)
Director (TV Mini-Series)
Producer (TV Mini-Series)
Animation (TV Mini-Series)
Film Production - Main (TV Mini-Series)
Earliest credits as writer/animator on "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids"
Writes and co-produces "Taxi"
Producer of "Simpsons" shorts on "The Tracey Ullman Show"
Develops "The Simpsons" as weekly series for Fox
Departs "The Simpsons" with historic participation deal
Producer, "The George Carlin Show"
Consulting producer, "The Drew Carey Show"
Launches Sam Simon Foundation
Producer, "Sam's Game"
Executive consultant, "Anger Management"