LOS ANGELES Wikileaks comes to Springfield as controversial figure Julian Assange joins the cast of "The Simpsons" for their milestone 500th episode on Sunday, which will see America's famous animated family being banished from their hometown.
Wikileaks founder Assange, who is currently under house arrest Britain and fighting extradition to Sweden for questioning over alleged sex crimes, recorded his cameo on "The Simpsons" over the phone from a secret location after the casting director tracked him down and asked him to guest star.
"Obviously he's a controversial figure and that was discussed before we agreed to let him do it. But it's a funny cameo and it makes no judgments about the larger case about him," Al Jean, executive producer of "The Simpsons", told reporters in a conference call.
Assange is the latest big name to be added to the show's prominent guest-list, which has included a Who's Who of pop culture voices including Elizabeth Taylor, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and former British prime minister Tony Blair.
In the trailers for the upcoming milestone episode, Springfield's Mayor Quimby is seen announcing the results of a vote to get rid of "Springfield's un-ending nightmare, The Simpsons," as the family get kicked out of town.
Producers have not revealed other details or how Assange is worked into the plot.
"There's a lot of little touches marking the milestone in the way we like to celebrate and mock something, and then there's a really nice emotional story about the family finding out how their neighbors really feel about them and it's not good and they have to deal with that," said Jean.
TWO DECADES OF "D'OHS"
Created by Matt Groening for Fox Television, "The Simpsons" first aired in 1989 and is the longest-running American sitcom in history. It is watched by an average 7.7 million U.S. viewers this season, and is broadcast in more than 100 countries and 50 languages.
The tales of donut-loving father Homer J. Simpson and his dysfunctional family, wife Marge and children Bart, Lisa and Maggie, have become a staple of American culture, winning 27 Emmy awards, earning a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, and even coining a new word as Homer's expression "D'Oh" entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 2011.
"Part of (the show's popularity) is because the world hates America, so we really cashed in on that," joked Jean.
"More seriously, it's about a family, and no matter where you go, people have a family and usually a family that doesn't work perfectly, so it relates very well to anyone who looks at it," he added.
The 500th episode came close to not being made after Fox in October threatened to end the show in contract renewal negotiations.
The issue was resolved and the show was renewed for two more seasons. But Jean said producers were prepared to end the series for good with the "Holidays of Future Passed," episode that aired in December 2011. It saw the family 30 years in the future, with Bart and Lisa discussing their own parenthood difficulties.
"I personally wouldn't want to do the show without the people that we have. They're obviously integral to it and we've done so many episodes, I can't conceive of it. Had they not signed, we would have stopped the show," said Jean.
"The Simpsons" 500th episode will air in the U.S. on February 19.
(Editing by Jill Serjeant)