If at first you don't succeed, wait 25 years and try again. Comedy auteur Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-old Virgin, Knocked Up) wrote the Sunday, Jan. 11 episode of Fox's The Simpsons-- "Bart's New Friend" — way back in 1990, mere weeks after the series debuted. Why did his work take so long to hit the air? Apatow gave us the d'oh-down.
TV Guide Magazine: What made you write this thing?
Apatow: I was 22, a huge fan of The Simpsons, and hoping for a TV writing career. At the time I was a fledgling standup comic and people said, "If you want to write for sitcoms, you need to do spec scripts." Only six episodes of The Simpsons had aired at that point but I tried to copy the style and did a spec script where Homer gets hypnotized and thinks he's a 10-year-old. He has such a great time being Bart's friend that he doesn't want to become an adult again. I sent it in — in fact, I sent it to all my favorite shows — and got no job offers. I also wrote a spec script for the great Chris Elliott show Get a Life. They at least brought me in for a meeting, but that didn't lead to any work, either. Then, all these years later, [Simpsons executive producer] Al Jean calls and says, "Hey, we'll make it now!"
TV Guide Magazine: What changed? How did anyone even remember your script all these years later?
Apatow: I had talked about the script on stage in an interview at the L.A. County Museum and how I have always been fascinated with how difficult it is to grow up. In fact, everything I've done on film and TV is pretty much based on my Simpsons idea. [Laughs] I can't shake it. Parts of that interview hit the press and I guess Al read about it. Better late than never.
TV Guide Magazine: You know you're giving hope to every wannabe writer still hanging on to their old, moldy scripts, right?
Apatow: Good! Never give up. I'm a packrat so I hung on to that Simpsons script. My wife [actress Leslie Mann] is always yelling at me to throw everything out. Glad I didn't. Of course, the downside is that I'm paying for storage facilities all over California. Now, if Get a Life will come back on the air and buy my script, my life will be complete. No more bucket list.
TV Guide Magazine: Were you any good back when you first approached The Simpsons?
Apatow: I had funny instincts. That's about all. It's a pretty rough script — when I reread it I wasn't exactly glowing with pride — but Al and the staff did their Simpsons magic on it. The whole process blew my mind. Sitting at the table read, listening to Dan Castellaneta [Homer], Julie Kavner [Marge], Nancy Cartwright [Bart] and Yeardley Smith [Lisa] putting their brilliant spin on something I wrote back when I was a dreamer, was one of the greatest days of my life. These are legends! It was as thrilling as if I'd been allowed to sit in on the making of The Honeymooners.
TV Guide Magazine: So Judd Apatow has no problem having his jokes rewritten?
Apatow: Not by this bunch. They know their business. They were very collaborative and very respectful but everything they wanted to do was so much better than anything I could think up. They turned my messy little effort into Cinderella.
TV Guide Magazine: How would your career have been different if they'dbought this script when they first had the chance?
Apatow: I'd have worked my way into a staff position — if they'd have me — and would have never left. Seriously, I'd still be there! And I would be a very happy man.