April 14, 2009

The Final Word on the "Kid Whisperer"

Today's New York Times' article, "Disney Expert Uses Science to Draw Boy Viewers," on Disney's 45-year-old female executive who leads a team of researchers investigating what 6-14-year-old boys would like to see on TV reminded me of what's perhaps the Best.Episode.Ever of The Simpsons: "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show" from February 9, 1997:

Bart & Lisa participate in a focus group, along with several other kids including Milhouse, Nelson and Ralph.

MAN: Alright, thanks for participating in our focus group, kids. Today, we're going to show you some Itchy & Scratchy cartoons.

The kids cheer in delight. ...

MAN: We want you to tell us what you think. And, be honest, because no one from the show is here spying on you. (chuckles)

A sneezing sound comes from a large mirror on the wall.

LISA: Why is that mirror sneezing?

MAN: Ah, look, it's just an old, creaky mirror, y'know, sometimes it sounds a little like it's sneezing, or coughing, or talking softly.

LISA: Hmm...

The man gives a thumbs-up to the mirror.

MAN: Now, you each have a knob in front of you. When you like what you see, turn the knob to the right. When you don't like what you see, turn it left.

RALPH: (with knob in mouth) My knob tastes funny.

MAN: Please refrain from tasting the knob.

First up, Itchy & Scratchy play pool. Itchy knocks out Scratchy's eyeballs with a cue ball and Scratchy replaces them with two pool balls. The kids laugh turn their knobs to the right. The next cartoon is set on an island. While Itchy & Scratchy sunbathe, a muscle-bound man in bikini trunks flexes in front of the camera. Nelson turns Milhouse's knob repeatedly to the right.

MILHOUSE: Hey, quit it!

From behind the mirror, Meyers and two other people watch on a monitor.

MEYERS [owner of Itchy & Scratchy, Intl.]: They like Itchy, they like Scratchy, one kid seems to love the Speedo man... what more do they want?

Back with the focus group.

MAN: Okay, how many of you kids would like Itchy & Scratchy to deal with real-life problems, like the ones you face every day? (the kids all cheer and agree) And who would like to see them do just the opposite - getting into far-out situations involving robots and magic powers? (more cheering) So, you want a realistic, down-to-earth show... that's completely off-the-wall and swarming with magic robots? (The kids agree)

NELSON: Yeah, good.

MILHOUSE: And also, you should win things by watching!

The man sighs. The light is turned on in the observation booth, and Meyers appears at the mirror.

MEYERS: You kids don't know what you want! That's why you're still kids: 'cause you're stupid! Just tell me what's wrong with the freakin' show!

He turns the lights out. Ralph starts crying and turns his knob to the left.

RALPH: Mommy!

LISA: (talking to the mirror) Um, excuse me sir. The thing is, there's not really anything wrong with the Itchy & Scratchy show, it's as good as ever. But after so many years, the characters just can't have the same impact they once had.

Meyers turns the light back on.

MEYERS: That's it. That's it, little girl! You've saved Itchy & Scratchy!

A lawyer enters the room, holding papers.

LAWYER: Please sign these papers indicating that you did not save Itchy & Scratchy.

At Itchy & Scratchy, Intl., Meyers has called a meeting of the writers (who look strikingly similar to the real Simpsons writers [i.e., the Harvard Mafia whom my old-next-door neighbor, who was a writer on "Married with Children," used to denounce for ruining the business]) along with Krusty and a female network executive.

MEYERS: I have figured out how to rejuvenate the show. It's so simple, you egghead writers would've never thought of it! What we need is... a new character! One that today's kids can relate to!

The writers look at each other, uncertain.

OAKLEY [writer]: Are you absolutely sure that's wise, sir? I mean, I don't want to sound pretentious here, but Itchy and Scratchy comprise a dramaturgical dyad.

KRUSTY: Hey, this ain't art, it's business! (to Meyers) Whaddya got in mind? Sexy broad? Gangster octopus?

MEYERS: No, no. The animal chain of command goes mouse, cat, dog. (to the writers) D-O-G.

WEINSTEIN [writer]: Uh, a dog? Isn't that a tad predictable?

FEMALE EXECUTIVE: In your dreams. We're talking the original dog from hell.

OAKLEY: You mean Cerberus?

FEMALE EXECUTIVE: (pause) We at the network want a dog with attitude. He's edgy, he's "in your face." You've heard the expression "let's get busy"? Well, this is a dog who gets "biz-zay!" Consistently and thoroughly.

KRUSTY: So he's proactive, huh?

FEMALE EXECUTIVE: Oh, God, yes. We're talking about a totally outrageous paradigm.

MEYER [writer]: Excuse me, but "proactive" and "paradigm"? Aren't these just buzzwords that dumb people use to sound important? Not that I'm accusing you of anything like that. I'm fired, aren't I?

MEYERS: Oh, yes.

MEYERS: The rest of you writers start thinking up a name for this funky dog; I dunno, something along the line of say... Poochie, only more proactive.


Meyers, Krusty and the network executive leave.

OAKLEY: So, Poochie okay with everybody?

WRITERS: Yeah...

An animator, who looks like David Silverman, draws a sketch of a dog.

MEYERS: No, no, no! He was supposed to have attitude.

SILVERMAN [animator]: Um... wh-what do you mean, exactly?

MEYERS: Oh, you know, attitude, attitude! Uh... sunglasses!

FEMALE EXECUTIVE: Can we put him in more of a "hip-hop" context?

KRUSTY: Forget context, he's gotta be a surfer. Give me a nice shmear of surfer.

FEMALE EXECUTIVE: I feel we should rastafy him by ... ten percent or so.

Silverman redraws Poochie. They're still not totally satisfied.

MEYERS: Hmm... I think he needs a little more attitude.

Silverman blackens in Poochie's sunglasses.

FEMALE EXECUTIVE: Oh yeah, bingo. There it is, right there!

KRUSTY: Yeah, that's it!

MEYERS: I love it!

The next morning, The Simpsons eat breakfast. Bart notices the headline in the newspaper Homer is reading: "Funny Dog To Make Life Worthwhile". ...

[After Homer's debut as the voice of Poochie]

In the Android's Dungeon...

COMIC BOOK GUY: Last night's Itchy & Scratchy was, without a doubt, the worst episode ever! Rest assured that I was on the Internet within minutes, registering my disgust throughout the world.

BART: Hey, I know it wasn't great, but what right do you have to complain?

COMIC BOOK GUY: As a loyal viewer, I feel they owe me.

BART: What? They're giving you thousands of hours of entertainment for free. What could they possibly owe you? I mean, If anything, you owe them.

COMIC BOOK GUY: (pause) Worst episode ever.

Kent Brockman delivers the news.

KENT BROCKMAN: It looks like the end of the venerable Itchy and Scratchy program. For years, TV critics, such as yours truly, Kent Brockman, have waited impatiently for cracks to appear in the show's hilarious facade. Yesterday, our prays were finally answered when Poochie the Dog made his howlingly unfunny debut. Far be it from me to gloat at another's downfall, but I have a feeling that no children are gonna be crying when this puppy is put to sleep.

Krusty and the writers are watching the report.

KRUSTY: What the hell happened?!

FEMALE EXECUTIVE: Well, I'd attribute the product failure to fundamental shifts in our key demographic, coupled with the overall crumminess of Poochie.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Bill said...

The strangest thing is that Disney is using middle-aged women to try to understand what adolescent boys like.

MSNBC has been trying to enhance men's interest by setting up a sort of men's "lifestyle" feature. Guess who they put in charge. A woman, of course.

testing99 said...

That's because entertainment is a gay-female ghetto. They can't even begin to figure out what men and boys like. It would be like asking them to understand Kalahari Bushmen.

No, scratch that. Kalahari Bushmen are SWPL. Primitive tribesmen dancing around "authentically" are ground zero for gay/female SWPL status games.

m said...

Steve, I have always maintained this was the best Simpson's episode ever....scary....I always knew we were on the same comedic wavelength. How about Homer at the end where he talks about how it all went wrong because he lost "creative control"- for a brief moment you think Homer said something insightful and self aware but then he follows it up with "and then I forgot to ask them for any money....well; live and learn"....pure genius

Anonymous said...

This is great, though so dead-on accurate in its portrayal of focus group and marketing buzzword-driven entertainment executives that it's not really parody. The Monorail episode is slightly better, though, IMO.

Also, Disney TV is kind of hosed because their brand identity is so completely girly. They spun off Jetix from Toon Disney a few years back to carve out a more boy-friendly space, but it hasn't really taken off.

Rival Cartoon Network is much more a boy destination with its superhero shows and Adult Swim block for hip older brothers and dads.

And Nickelodeon has managed to have girly shows like iCarly without tainting the whole brand by running powerhouse animated comedies like Spongebob that appeal to both genders and a smattering of boy-oriented action adventures and anime imports.

Steve is right, though, that it's no big secret what Disney needs to do to lure boys back-- greenlight a couple of good action or superhero shows that aren't girl-oriented like Kim Possible. This is a little more difficult for Disney because most of their properties that they could spin off (Little Mermaid, et al) are themselves pretty girly. I don't know-- maybe an animated Pirates of the Caribbean?

anony-mouse said...

Er, wasn't it a female-led Mattel that created 'GI Joe', the first ever 'action figure' (ie doll for boys).

michael farris said...

I love Poochie .... there! I said it!!!!!! And I'm not ashamed. I keep hoping they'll explain what the crisis on his homeworld was....

Anyway, in the current political climate I don't think a pirate show is a good bet. In fact the current political climate means they're trying to attract boy viewers without having any of the things that traditionally US boys enjoy. I was pretty far from a typical little boy but my favorite kids shows revolved around monsters, adventures and kids having adventures (I hated kid sidekicks though).

They're trying to attract boy viewers with shows that don't have anything that most boys (and some girls) traditionally enjoy watching .... rotsa ruck.

Anonymous said...

That was a good episode, but not as good as The Father, The Son and The Holy Guest Star.

Anonymous said...

Anony-mouse, GI Joe was Hasbro, not Mattel, and he was created by Stan Weston. Weston was trying to make a male version of Barbie--something military that boys would like. Creative director at Hasbro Don Levine approved the doll; Hasbro was owned by the Hassenfeld brothers.

Anonymous said...

My three boys, ages 6-10, watch Cartoon Network almost exclusively except when they migrate to Nicktoons to watch Spongebob, Avatar, and a few others. They consider shows on Disney either for babies or girls.

They also love to watch various Discovery Channel shows such as Destroyed in Seconds, Deadliest Catch, Dirty Jobs, and Mythbusters.

Disney should look into making shows with talking animals if they want to score with young boys - my kids love the Buddies movies and Cats and Dogs is a family favorite.

silver said...

Er, wasn't it a female-led Mattel that created 'GI Joe', the first ever 'action figure' (ie doll for boys).There's a difference. Action figures aren't just dolls. They can only exist in context. Take the context away and the action figure gets binned. That's why you could never pass off a Ken doll in a military outfit as an 'action figure' -- no kid would ever buy into it. Trust me, an elderly aunt tried to pull this stunt on me once with some no name "android" thing. Who the hell is this guy supposed to be, I wondered, and never touched it again.

"Dolls," on the other hand, can come without any context, because the girls that play with them provide the context themselves. The difference, then, is what boys and girls imagine themselves to be doing when playing with 'dolls'/'action figures'. If you doubt it, try shifting from 'action figures' to 'army men' (the little figurines) to 'table-top gaming' etc.

Anonymous said...


Why do you keep censoring my suggestion that Ms. Pena simply give her Powerpoint on the Disney Channel without her shirt? Guaranteed market dominance in the 12-year old male demographic.

You can't HANDLE the truth, Steve!

--Senor Doug

David Davenport said...

What's strange to me is that the bosses at a big firm such as Disney let their personal tastes override more venal but clever and Machiavellian business judgment.

It confirms my suspicion that much of American business, as well as academia and government, really is run by fools.

Anonymous said...

Outer space, dinosaurs, aggressive sports, crime fighting heroes, and big shiny metal things that make loud noises. Jesus, it's that simple.

Anonymous said...

Disney actually may have done the right thing in selecting a woman to lead the research project. Women are perceived as less threatening than men, so a woman will have an easier time convincing parents to give her access to their children. Perhaps a male researcher would have fairly easy access if he presented Disney company credentials to parents, but that's not an option because the research is not identified as being conducted for Disney.


i am the walrus said...

The Simpsons was a great show, but the current king of comedy is The Onion.

Disney Geneticists Debut New Child StarsMedia Having Trouble Finding Right Angle On Obama's Double-Homicide

Anonymous said...

"RALPH: (with knob in mouth) My knob tastes funny.

MAN: Please refrain from tasting the knob."

These lines make the scence doubly funny if your British. I have no idea if Americans use knob for a certain part of the male anatomy.

I love this episode, it probably ranks alongside the chilli/space coyote episode.

"doll for boys"

I would suggest that action figures are sort of upgraded toy soldiers so a doll for boys.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Anonymous: Outer space, dinosaurs, aggressive sports, crime fighting heroes, and big shiny metal things that make loud noises. Jesus, it's that simple.Uh, for the older boys, you might wanna throw in some smokin' hot lesbian vampires.

Although, in a pinch, Julie Newmar as Catwoman would do the trick - and I certainly wouldn't object to an afternoon with Diana Rigg as Emma Peel.

Heck, for that matter, I wouldn't object to Ginger & Mary Ann, either.

Lucius Vorenus said...

i am the walrus: Media Having Trouble Finding Right Angle On Obama's Double-Homicide
That one wasn't funny - it cut a little too close to the bone [no pun intended].

Anonymous said...

If someone wanted to create the perfect show for boys I imagine it would look a lot like Army of Darkness.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"If someone wanted to create the perfect show for boys I imagine it would look a lot like Army of Darkness."

Spot on. I would've LOVED an Army of Darkness TV show when I was 10.

Slampo said...

Poochie the Dog With Attitude ... exactly who came to mind when reading the NYT article. You're on the ball, man---got your finer right on it!

Epicurean said...

The strangest thing is that Disney is using middle-aged women to try to understand what adolescent boys like.It's much the same problem the comics industry had in the 1970s, when it nearly tanked. It was run by (male) 45-year-old New Yorkers who were wondering why they were losing young readership. The fact that Kansas kids didn't use words like "swell", "groovy", or "meshugginah" was only part of the problem.