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IT'S NO JOKE: EUGENE GETS A PLUG ON 'THE SIMPSONS'.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

At last. After years of living in Springfield's celebrity shadow, Eugene finally got its own moment in the humor spotlight.

For 14 years, Eugene's neighbor to the east has reveled in its status - earned or not - as hometown to Fox TV's comedy cartoon "The Simpsons."

But on Sunday night, Eugene got a brief taste of the thrill when "The Simpsons" writers deigned to put the city in the script, too.

On average, 12 million Americans watch the cartoon comedy created by Portland native Matt Groening. The show airs in 60 countries and Salon magazine reported a few years back that weekly viewership averaged 60 million. That's a lot of people knowing your name.

In Sunday's episode, the cartoon characters re-enact the Lewis and Clark expedition with Homer's drinking buddies Carl and Lenny playing the Lewis and Clark parts.

Naturally, when the two reach the mouth of the Columbia River, the rain kicks in.

"I say we give this lovely land a name," says Lenny. "How about: Eugene, Oregon?"

For a nifty in-joke chaser, the show ends with Homer watching "Animal House," the comedy classic filmed here 25 years ago. That's a long time to go between jokes.

"Simpsons" head writer Al Jean, reached by telephone Monday, said another writer on the show, Michael Price, came up with the line because he thought it sounded funny and because Eugene's a pretty well-known place.

(Really, compared to what? Yoncalla?)

While Groening didn't inspire the line himself, he was on hand for the final mixing of the show, when special sound effects are added, and was amused when he heard the line.

`He said, `I really hope they see it in Eugene,' ' Jean said.

While plenty of people believe Groening set his cartoon world in Springfield as a nod to the city 108 miles south of his hometown, that's not exactly so, Jean said.

Groening as a kid watched a lot of "Father Knows Best," and that squeaky clean family drama also was set in Springfield. Groening thought the writers meant the one in Oregon and it wasn't until he became an adult that he learned that practically every state has a Springfield, Jean said. It's more an every-town kind of name, Jean said.

How national a splash Eugene made is anybody's guess, considering that the show aired against a live broadcast of the Grammys with skimpily dressed music superstars and wardrobes likely to malfunction at any moment.

"I turned on my TV and saw Prince dancing around and I thought: `Oh my God, how can we compete with that?' ' Jean said.
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 10, 2004
Words:434
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