al jean getty 'The Simpsons': EP Al Jean reflects on 500 episodesWith “The Simpsons” 500th episode set to air on Sunday (Feb. 19), EP Al Jean has had a chance to reflect on the empire he’s helped create. And it staggers even him.

“Working on 500 episodes is something that I don’t think will really sink in until after we’re done,” says Jean, who has been with the series since it began in 1989. “It’s really amazing that we got here.”

The show, which began as an animated short on “The Tracey Ullman Show” in 1987, has since grown into a multi-billion dollar enterprise that airs all over the world, has been merchandised to the hilt and was turned into a feature film. It is this global recognition that makes Jean a celebrity even though he’s a face that’s never seen and a voice that’s never heard. 

“The best thing about it is you go around the world, I’m not exaggerating, and say you work for ‘The Simpsons’ and people are really excited to talk to you,” Jean says. “I never thought I’d have a job like that.”

Jean has no plans on stepping away from the series any time soon. The program is under contract through the end of the 2014 season, bringing the show to a total of 559 episodes. And Jean looks forward to upcoming editions that will feature celebrity voices including Steve Carell, Lady Gaga, Zooey Deschanel and Shepard Fairey.

As one of the longest tenured show staffers, Jean has noticed a bit of an evolution in tone on the program. For this he believes the economy and broader societal issues are the cause.

“If you look back at the show about 15 years ago, even though it was cynical and jaded, it was a more optimistic time,” Jean says. “We really are doing a lot of episodes now about the complete collapse of society.”

But at the end of the day, “The Simpsons” is just a show about a little family from a small town. And it’s this that Jean believes makes it resonate with so many.

“Everybody comes from a family no matter where you are in the world,” Jean says. “I think everybody’s got their problems, and the show tapped into that. That’s pretty much the most universal theme there is.”

Posted by:David Eckstein