The Critic began as ABC’s attempt at primetime animated programming, a subgenre that gained widespread popularity in the 1990s thanks to the huge success of The Simpsons. Unlike many of the other series that sprang up at the time, The Critic developed a passionate fan base. The show revolved around the misadventures of Jay Sherman, a pretentious New York City film critic who hosts his own movie review show, Coming Attractions. Film references and parodies ran rampant in each of the program’s 23 episodes. The second season aired on Fox, and some Webisodes acted as the show’s brief return in 2000 to 2001. Here are some facts about The Critic to read before the theater usher tells you the show’s over.
1. IT WAS INITIALLY PITCHED AS A LIVE ACTION SHOW ABOUT A MAKEUP ARTIST.
James L. Brooks (co-creator of The Simpsons) asked Al Jean and Mike Reiss (both writers on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, and The Simpsons) to write a show going behind the scenes of a network morning show, through the eyes of the makeup lady. Jean and Reiss then began to think about the rest of the morning show staff, like the film critic. After seeing Jon Lovitz in A League of Their Own (1992), Reiss suggested Lovitz as the film critic, and the two realized that was the show. Because Lovitz couldn’t commit to a live-action series because of his busy schedule, The Critic became animated.
2. MARGO SHERMAN AND BART SIMPSON ARE VOICED BY THE SAME PERSON.
Nancy Cartwright’s actual voice is similar to Margo, Jay’s sister’s, voice. In addition to Bart, Cartwright also voices Nelson Muntz, Ralph Wiggum, and Todd Flanders on The Simpsons. In other connections between the two animated series, Doris Grau was both the voice of Jay Sherman’s makeup lady Doris, as well as Lunchlady Doris on The Simpsons. She was also a script supervisor for the latter show from 1990 to 1993.
3. JAY’S PARENTS WERE BASED ON A PHOTOGRAPH.
It was James L. Brooks’ idea to make Jay's father, Franklin, a “crazy WASP.” Al Jean teased in a Critic DVD extra that both Franklin and Eleanor’s looks were based on a photograph of a professor and his wife.
4. ABC DIDN’T WANT TO AIR THE "MISERABLE" EPISODE AT ALL.
5. JUDD APATOW AND STEVEN LEVITAN WROTE FOR THE SHOW.
Judd Apatow penned the episode “Marathon Mensch,” received a story credit for “Franklie and Ellie Get Lost,” and even voiced Jay Leno in “L.A. Jay.” Levitan (co-creator of Modern Family) wrote the very same “L.A. Jay” episode, as well as "Miserable." He initially tried to get out of his writing job at Wings to work for The Critic full-time but was told he could not.
6. SISKEL AND EBERT REVIEWED THE SHOW.
Roger Ebert wanted more movie parodies. “Focus this show on the media, and not turn it into another sitcom about a guy and his son and his ex-wife and his girlfriends and so forth,” Ebert advised. Of course, Siskel and Ebert would famously cameo on season two’s “Siskel & Ebert & Jay & Alice.”
7. MAURICE LAMARCHE ONCE VOICED 29 CHARACTERS IN ONE EPISODE.
Maurice LaMarche (voice of The Brain in Pinky and the Brain and Jeremy Hawke on The Critic) was told by Jean and Reiss that he had beaten the previous record held by Harry Shearer (Ned Flanders, Lenny, Principal Skinner, other voices on The Simpsons) for most characters in an animated episode by one voice. Most of those 29 were nameless characters such as “hot dog vendor” or “taxi cab driver.”
8. JON LOVITZ TECHNICALLY DIDN’T SAY ALL OF JAY SHERMAN’S LINES.
While Lovitz was busy shooting City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold (1994), LaMarche voiced Jay for five episodes on the temp track. Engineers flew out to Utah and recorded Lovitz on a digital audiotape in his hotel room doing his lines for the final audio track. Once, the audio mixer made a mistake and left one of LaMarche’s temp track lines in the final cut, believing the voice to be Lovitz’s.
9. IT ELICITED A LOT OF HATE MAIL FROM ABC VIEWERS.
“When we went on ABC we knew they were not FOX so we felt we were soft-pedaling The Critic just a little bit," said Reiss. "Two days later my secretary walked in with a crate and said 'That's hate mail.' We were the most shocking thing anything anyone had ever seen on ABC." Things were different at Fox network for the second season. “When we made the jump to FOX we were doing the same show and the censors said we could be a lot ‘foxier,’" said Reiss. "They were complaining we weren't raunchier enough.”
10. MATT GROENING TOOK HIS NAME OFF OF THE CREDITS FOR THE SIMPSONS/CRITIC CROSSOVER EPISODE.
Brooks said that Groening (co-creator of The Simpsons) was acting like an "ingrate."
11. FOX WANTED TO MAKE JAY NICER.
"Fox has some changes. They wanted to give the character a girlfriend and make him, I guess, a little more likable, not always being made fun of constantly,” Lovitz explained when promoting the second season. Jean admitted he felt some viewers thought Jay was too much of a loser, so the writers made the other characters like him more for the Fox year.
12. THE PRESIDENT OF FOX DIDN’T LIKE THE SHOW.
The Critic was canceled after 10 episodes on Fox, despite retaining most of The Simpsons' audience. Jean had a theory as to why. “What really killed it was when it was on FOX and the guy who ran the network then, John Matoian, just didn't like the show," he said. "He preferred a show that no one remembers called House of Buggin' with John Leguizamo. He liked that show and didn't like ours. Even though our ratings were better, he cancelled us. It was very infuriating.” House of Buggin' was canceled after four weeks.
13. THE WEBISODES WERE FRUSTRATING TO THE CREATORS.
Jean and Reiss worked on the Webisodes for Atom Films by themselves, from 10 p.m. to midnight after working all day on The Simpsons. The two were intrigued with the promise of being able to parody a movie one week after its release. They wrote the episodes quickly, only for Atom Films to not run them for nine months. “They kept saying they were debugging it," Reiss remarked in 2004. "It was computer talk and that's why the dot coms were a bust."
14. THE CRITIC DVDS WERE RUSHED BECAUSE OF FAMILY GUY'S DVD SUCCESS.
“The history of Family Guy is almost exactly our history," explained Reiss. "We were on FOX and successful but then we got cancelled for no good reason. Then the show got successful later. They rushed The Critic DVDs into production. It was kind of breathtaking thing where we were talking about and suddenly they rushed it and wanted it out in two weeks.”
15. THE SHOW MIGHT BE RESURRECTED.
Last year, Jean—who is currently the showrunner for The Simpsons—said he would love for The Critic to return. “We actually have been, just preliminarily, trying to think of a way we could get someone else to do it full-time”, he added. “I would love it to come back.”