With the network it calls home in a state of flux, “The Simpsons” is also addressing the future of one of its characters. Kwik-E-Mart boss Apu Nahasapeemapetilon has come under intense scrutiny over the past year, with many audience members and public figures calling the character a South Asian stereotype.
Dana Walden, Co-Chairman and CEO of Fox Television Group, addressed the Television Critics Association press tour on Thursday, and said she spoke with creative team of “The Simpsons” about the current status and possible future of the character.
“We have had conversations with [James L.] Brooks and his team. We’ve left it up to them. We definitely trust them to handle it in a way that’s best for their show,” Walden said.
A Lisa Simpson line — “It’s hard to say. Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” — in a recent episode seemed to be the show’s way of downplaying the issues raised about the character. When asked about the social media feedback to the episode in question, Walden implied that the creators were aware of the response.
“In a day of social media where fans are able to have a very public forum and have these conversations, I thought it was good information for the creators to receive,” Walden said. “I’m sure that’s partially informing how they go forward.”
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Hari Kondabolu’s documentary “The Problem with Apu” helped bring the character back into a greater conversation about representation, particularly for animated characters voiced by white actors. Hank Azaria, who has voiced Apu since its creation, addressed the controversy back in April, saying that he was willing to step away from the character if the show decided to move in another direction.
With Fox’s recent acquisition by Disney, Walden and fellow Co-Chairmen and CEO Gary Newman were also asked about the series’ place on the broadcast network’s schedule. Walden reaffirmed the series’ current status as a staple of Fox Sunday night programming.
“There are no plans to go anywhere other than Fox,” Walden said, adding, “Down the line, I can’t speak to.”
Newman pointed out the growing nature of independent TV productions and broadcast networks, saying that the questions Fox faces in the wake of the Disney acquisition are similar to those faced by a number of network hit shows.
“There is no difference between the Simpsons on FOX and the Big Bang Theory on CBS,” Newman said. “‘The Simpsons’ is so associated with Fox. That benefits the network and benefits the owner of the IP. I feel confident that Disney and Fox are going to find a way to both have an interest in the show. I anticipate it being able to stay on the Fox network.”