Alf Clausen Fired

“So that’s it, after twenty years: so long, good luck?” – Kirk van Houten
“I don’t recall saying good luck.” – Cracker Factory Manager

Last night, Variety broke the news that longtime Simpsons music guy Alf Clausen will no longer be working on Zombie Simpsons:

Clausen told Variety that he received a call from “Simpsons” producer Richard Sakai that the company was seeking “a different kind of music” and that he would no longer be scoring the longtime Fox hit.

First of all, condolences to Clausen. Getting fired is rarely fun, and getting fired by the boss’s assistant, over the phone, from a job you’ve had for a quarter of a century, and just four weeks before the next season starts is especially crappy.

The Simpsons wouldn’t have been The Simpsons without him and his orchestra. Vulture put up a nice little package of YouTube videos of some of his more memorable contributions (there’s a tiny bit of Zombie Simpsons at the end, but who cares?), but for my money it’s the smaller musical cues that are what elevated the show.

To take just one example: the end of “Old Money”. The music gets heroic as Grampa quotes Kipling, then gets taught as Homer keeps him from betting, then resolves happily after the bet would’ve missed, and finally flows seamlessly into a sweet and uplifting number as Grampa uses Bea’s money to give the old folks some dignity (and a giant TV for watching cartoons!). It’s genuinely beautiful music and the episode would end with a thud without it.

And, of course, there’s all those other moments: the few Karate Kid-esque notes when Bart is training in “Dead Putting Society”, the heavy gloom of the endless line of mail trucks in “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge”, the seemingly infinite variations on “Baby Elephant Walk” in “Dancin’ Homer”, the dramatic campaign montage from “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”, and, of course, the dual endings of “Lisa’s Substitute”, first when Mr. Bergstrom leaves and then when Homer patches things up with his heartbroken daughter. Oh, silly me, I just cited examples that are only from Season 2. Clausen kept up that kind of work for years.

Variety points the finger squarely at the cheapskates at FOX:

Speculation about Clausen’s dismissal involves cost-cutting measures, which have been ongoing at “The Simpsons” in recent years, despite its massive profits for Fox and executive producer James L. Brooks’ Gracie Films.

Clausen uses a 35-piece orchestra every week — something that “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening insisted upon from the start of the show. Including costs of musicians, recording studios, and orchestration, expenses routinely run into the millions of dollars per year.

The sourcing on that is obviously less than ideal. (It’s not even an anonymous source, it’s anonymous speculation.) But it does fit overall with the direction of the show these last few years. Ratings are down, and presumably the ad rates are down along with them.

I have no idea what Clausen himself was getting paid, but 35-piece orchestras aren’t cheap. Whether or not it’s actually in the millions per year doesn’t really matter. The team of monkeys that runs FOX made a purely mercenary decision, and, from their point of view, it’s probably the correct one. How many viewers who haven’t turned the show off already are going to care if the live music gets replaced by two guys and a synthesizer? The only immediate question is whether Clausen is done right now, or if he’s staying on through the current WABF production run, which has seven episodes left.

As for what this means for the future of Zombie Simpsons, who knows? A move like this is not the behavior of a healthy production, but we knew that already. Clausen’s involuntary departure, while bad for him and the show, pales in comparison to what would’ve happened if they’d followed through on replacing Harry Shearer two years ago, and by all accounts they were dead serious about that. FOX has already picked up Zombie Simpsons for two more production runs, which will take it through a full Season 30 and into at least a partial Season 31 in the fall of 2019. Whether or not this is a harbinger of the end won’t be known until next fall at the earliest.

Meanwhile, Zombie Simpsons has managed to get even worse than it already was. Given that it’s already unwatchably dull, this at least qualifies as somewhat impressive.

Good luck, Alf. We love you and your work and we always will!

Update: Clausen confirms on Twitter that the orchestra has also been fired. We now bring you an exclusive sneak peak of the new musical coordinator for Seasons 29 and 30:

Update 2: In a move that shows they’ve learned the importance of weaseling out of things, the show has released a very weaselly statement:

“We tremendously value Alf Clausen’s contributions to the Simpsons and he will continue to have an ongoing role in the show,” producers said in a statement provided to Deadline. “We remain committed to the finest in music for the Simpsons, absolutely including orchestral. This is the part where we would make a joke but neither Alf’s work nor the music of the Simpsons is treated as anything but seriously by us.”

It’s not clear what his ongoing role will be.

Jean tweeted out the link, so this is official. It’s also about as vague and non-specific as it’s possible to be in English. There’s nothing definite, no denial of the earlier report that Clausen and the orchestra are gone, and no concrete replacement offered. 

At best this could set the stage for a triumphant reunion like what happened with Shearer two years ago. More likely this is a cover-your-ass publicity move that doesn’t change a thing. 

12 Responses to “Alf Clausen Fired”

  1. 1 Alicia Sammon
    31 August 2017 at 11:55 am

    That is awful, but considering how downhill this show has gotten and how no one seems to care about good music these days, maybe it was for the best that they get rid of Alf Clausen. He’ll probably have a nice severance package to make up for it (Hollywood and business types always do).

  2. 2 Tom S. Fox
    31 August 2017 at 3:08 pm

    “It’s not even an anonymous source, it’s anonymous speculation.”

    Alas, that is the quality of news nowadays.

    • 3 Alicia Sammon
      31 August 2017 at 10:31 pm

      Regardless, I’m pretty sure Clausen and his orchestra being let go was because of money issues, since making Simpsons episodes is now considered a net loss instead of a net gain.

      • 4 Alicia Sammon
        31 August 2017 at 10:37 pm

        (cont’d): On top of that, most countries don’t even air the show anymore (they pretty much stopped at seasons 16 or 17, which is also where the DVD production stopped…unless you count the release of the 20th season, though that was for an anniversary gimmick). It’s probably going to take a change in management to fully get The Simpsons.

  3. 8 Anonymous
    1 September 2017 at 12:01 pm

    Further proof that it’s time to put this bloated zombie carcass six feet under again. In a tightly sealed titanium casket with a thick slab of cement over the grave.

    I can’t even fathom what the series would have sounded like without Mr. Clausen’s music, but I wonder if the few remaining ZS fans will even care, considering they apparently don’t give a fuck about how terrible the plots are and how badly the characters have been butchered. If they can defend the flat, lifeless animation, I’m sure they’ll find a way to excuse or defend the new music too.

    By the way, Charlie, you give them too much credit. Here’s the real new guy:

    • 9 Victor D
      1 September 2017 at 8:26 pm

      I honestly have to wonder if there are still people defending Zombie Simpsons at this point. I’ve noticed that those kind of people that come here to post an ill-worded defense of the show have seemingly decreased over the years since the blog started (in 2009!). It seems it’s now more or less an open secret that Simpsons ain’t what it used to be.

      Unrelatedly, couldn’t help but mess with your GIF a bit. Now Milhouse appears to be making spooning sounds to “Sweet Georgia Brown” in a perfect loop (with no pause):

      • 10 Bleeding Gums Murphy
        2 September 2017 at 10:01 am

        You have never gone to No Homers?

      • 11 Anonymous
        2 September 2017 at 1:41 pm

        Thanks for the updated gif, Victor.

        Yes, people are still defending ZS, and they use the same pathetic arguments every time that have already been torn apart on this site, like how it’s “still better than anything else on TV”, which says more about how bad TV is than properly defends the show anyway. (And in my personal opinion, as long as shows like “Better Call Saul” or “Twin Peaks: The Return” are still airing, they definitely can’t use that excuse. Or if you need an animated example, “Archer”, despite its own current decline.)

        Reading old posts here, you occasionally see examples of ZS apologists, as you mentioned, but half of them didn’t even try that hard to defend it and instead just resorted to insults and whining about how other people on the internet shouldn’t waste their time “trashing” the show, while the irony completely sailed over their heads.

  4. 12 Steven
    1 September 2017 at 9:40 pm

    I think the statement should have read “this is the part where we would make a joke but none of the writers know how”

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