As a reminder, I'm at the summer Television Critics Association press tour through next week. If you're curious about what that means, read a quick explanation here. And follow my writing from the tour at my blog.
Since cable network FXX landed exclusive cable rights to the seminal animated series The Simpsons, the assumption has been that the centerpiece of the deal was the ability of the fledgling network to air every episode of the show, often in lengthy marathons. The launch of FXX has been a bit rough for its parent, FX Networks, and the stability of being the exclusive cable home of The Simpsons was supposed to shore up the channel's ratings.
And, yeah, the network is going to do a lot of cool things with its rights to The Simpsons. Even the promos the network showed were funny. But the real effort FX Networks has expended, as announced at the TCA press tour, turns out to be for the Simpsons World website, which may be one of the greatest feats of engineering in human history.
That's only mild hyperbole, too. The website (and app) will feature all 552 episodes of the show to date, which can be watched in any order at any time. It's basically a Simpsons-specific version of the pre-existing FX Now streaming service. Even if Simpsons World offered only that, it would probably be a daunting feat. (Remember: There are 552 episodes.) But, as the infomercial pitchman says, there's more.
Simpsons World will have clips. It will have an episode database with thoughts from series creator Matt Groening. It will have a character database, complete with the ability to click on certain highlights from that character and see those clips. You can then scroll down from there and see certain highlights of that character interacting with another character, or that character in a certain location. It will have the complete scripts of the show, scrolling alongside the episode as it plays, and you can share lines from the scripts on Twitter or Facebook or what-have-you as it goes.
It will have a "Simpsons TV" service, where you can watch individual channels that just sort episodes for certain themes or topics or characters. It will have a feature where Groening's commentary on certain scenes and elements is available, as well as a feature that points out movie references and other gags you might have missed. And if FX can work out the rights issues with Groening (it hasn't just yet), even the shorts from The Tracey Ullman Show days that gave rise to the whole enterprise will be available on the service. Many of those haven't been seen since the '80s, so if the deal can be worked out, it would be a true boon to TV historians.
And, really, that's just the tip of the iceberg. The presentation kept revealing new features and other things the site could do, and there was some indication that not everything the site does had been shown.
Aspects of the website will be available to anyone who's curious, but the ability to watch full episodes will be limited to cable subscribers who have access to FX Now. (FX is hoping to have deals in place for FX Now with all major cable providers by the time the service launches.) There will be limited ads in every episode, but, c'mon, wouldn't The Simpsons feel weird without ads? The website should launch in the fall, likely October, and if it doesn't work, expect millions of TV reporters to have their own version of the HealthCare.gov launch.
But, honestly, the opposite might be even worse. If the Simpsons World does work, expect all work on this site and every other one to grind to a halt until roughly late 2016.