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The series was created by writing partners Al Jean and Mike Reiss, who had previously worked as showrunners for The Simpsons. The two had a contract with executive producer James L. Brooks to create an original series that he would help sell to a network and, at the time, Brooks had a deal with ABC that essentially meant that they would put anything he brought them on the air for 22 episodes.
The initial idea came from Brooks, who approached Jean and Reiss with an idea about doing a show based around the backstage of a morning show like Today or Good Morning America from the perspective of a make-up artist at the show. They described it as like The Mary Tyler Moore Show except during the daytime. However, neither of the two writers knew anything about make-up and felt unqualified to write the series. Over time, the pitch was reshaped until A League of Their Own was released, which co-starred Jon Lovitz. The duo decided to write a role specifically for Lovitz, who they had worked with in the past when he did voices for The Simpsons, and wrote him as a film critic. They dropped the earlier ideas entirely and let the series develop from there.
When the series was first coming together, it was meant to be a live-action sitcom. Lovitz was enthusiastic about doing the show, but was unable to commit to a live-action shooting schedule because of his commitments for A League of Their Own. Because they were already familiar with animation and to make sure Lovitz could do the show, they decided to turn the series into a cartoon. They eventually figured out that even if they had done the series in live-action, it would have cost millions of dollars per episode because of the elaborate movie parodies that frequently appear in the cartoon.
The ABC Season
Reiss and Jean sold the series to ABC based on the pilot script, despite a completely lack of any visuals nailed down. ABC gave them a 13 episode commitment, which allowed them to move on to designing the aesthetic of the series. The one stipulation Lovitz had was that he didn't want Sherman to look like him, although the two more or less look alike in the end. They also make a conscious decision to make it as far from The Simpsons as possible, despite hiring Simpsons alumni in key art positions.
The series premiered on January 26, 1994 on ABC, leading into Home Improvement, and began airing at an extremely inopportune time. The popularity of The Simpsons had led to major networks trying their hands, and largely failing, at primetime animation. By the time The Critic started airing, shows like Family Dog and Fish Police had already failed to gain an audience. The first episode also managed to garner massive amounts of hate mail, which likely discouraged the network further.
In the season's most crucial ratings week, "A Little Deb Will Do Ya" aired against the Women's Figure Skating final during the 1994 Winter Olympics, which was seen by over 46 million households (a 48.5 share) and rates as one of the highest rated broadcasts on American television.
The crew was informed that they would not be renewed midway through the first season. They creators scrambled to retest episodes and put together a new pitch for other networks, eventually settling with FOX.
The FOX Season
FOX picked up the series for a 10 episode second season after it was dropped by ABC. The series creators paid particular attention to focus groups and other sources of criticism. They changed some of the designs, opting to make Jay Sherman's head rounder and his pupils bigger, introduced a love interest (Alice Tompkins) and generally made Sherman's character less pathetic. The lower budget also necessitated a clip show episode as one of the 10 from the season.
The series went over as poorly at FOX as it did at ABC. In the DVD commentary tracks, Al Jean offered several reasons why the show failed on FOX despite promising ratings when put alongside The Simpsons (particularly after the cameo appearances by Jay Sherman on The Simpsons), mainly that the network simply didn't have as much financial interest in the series because they didn't own it. The Critic was solely owned by Sony, which meant that reruns and syndication deals would not net FOX any money down the road, whereas a 20th Century Fox show like King of the Hill would yield profits. He also suggested that FOX had less invested into the series because it was inherited from another network.
The series was cancelled a second time after the second season.
Once it became clear that the series would not have a long life on FOX, the producers started talks to move the series yet again. Nine scripts for the never produced third season were written, including a parody of Single White Female, and UPN was interested in picking the show up. However, the budget would have been slashed dramatically and FOX wouldn't officially cancel the series, for fear of them jumping to another network and succeeding. Negotiations broke down and the series was finally put down for good on broadcast television.
In 2000, the series was resurrected briefly on AtomFilms.com as a series of webisodes animated using Adobe Shockwave. The art was significantly more rudimentary and nearly every character was dropped with the exception of Jay Sherman and a single appearance by Vlada. The webisode series largely was an excuse to do more movie parodies, but also featured a narrative of Jay trying to date his new young make-up lady, Jennifer. Each webisode was between 3 and 5 minutes long, the series ran for 10 episodes.
The series was popularized again when Comedy Central bought the broadcasting rights and aired it alongside other acquired animated comedies like Duckman and Undergrads. The series, for a time, was one of the most watched shows on Comedy Central. A DVD collecting both seasons and the webisodes was released in 2004.
|Jon Lovitz||Jay Sherman||1||2||W|
|Nancy Cartwright||Margo Sherman||1||2|
|Christine Cavanaugh||Marty Sherman||1||2|
|Gerrit Graham||Franklin Sherman||1||2|
|Doris Grau||Doris Grossman||1||2|
|Judith Ivey||Eleanor Sherman||1||2|
|Maurice LaMarche||Jeremy Hawke||1||2|
|Charles Napier||Duke Phillips||1||2|
|Park Overall||Alice Tompkins||2|
|Russi Taylor||Penny Tompkins||2|
|Season One||January 26, 1994||July 20, 1994||13|
|Season Two||March 5, 1995||May 21, 1995||10|
- At a Glance: Additional information about the series
|The Critic: The Complete Series||January 27, 2004||3|