Oct. 23, 2006 — -- It happens every year about now. "The Simpsons," that animated money-making satire on Fox TV, airs its "Treehouse of Horror" episode to coincide with Halloween -- or at least as close to the holiday as possible, given the uncertainties of the World Series.
But this year the show is scheduled to air the first week in November, two days before the midterm congressional election, and it has caused more of a stir than usual.
A synopsis helps explain why.
The segment, titled "The Day the Earth Was Stupid," is a takeoff on Orson Welles' infamous 1938 radio broadcast, "The War of The Worlds."
Dig out your history books.
Welles' broadcast caused widespread panic back then, despite repeated assurances that it was fiction.
Back to the future.
In the Simpson's version, the confusion the radio broadcast created sets the stage for an invasion by Kang and Kodos, the lime-green aliens who have appeared in every Halloween, sorry -- "Treehouse Horror" special. The parallels to the U.S. occupation of Iraq are not subtle.
After the aliens destroy Springfield, home to the Simpson clan, they talk about the invasion and the occupation that will follow.
"Well, the Earthlings continue to resent our presence," Kang says. "You said we'd be greeted as liberators!"
"Don't worry," says Kodos. "We still have the people's hearts and minds." In the show's characteristic over-the-top sarcasm, Kodos then holds up a brain and heart.
"I don't know," says Kang. "I'm starting to think 'Operation Enduring Occupation' was a bad idea."
Kodos disagrees. "We had to invade. They were working on weapons of mass disintegration."
As the two survey the smoking ruins of their town, Kang deadpans the last line of the segment. "This sure is a lot like Iraq will be."
The show's executive producer, Al Jean, has said he's not sure whether that last line will be broadcast. Some of the writers apparently want it cut.
"The debate is whether people already get it, and we're being too obvious," he told Radaronline, insisting there was no pressure from Fox. "They didn't have any objection to this, " he said.
The possibility of Fox objecting is not surprising, given the politics favored by Rupert Murdoch, Fox's corporate chairman. He's conservative, even though he has been described lately as "drifting left."
And, of course, there's the timing. The episode comes on the eve of the congressional elections, and it's been suggested that the show's liberal writers might be piling it on, or at least trying to influence some voters.
Jean finds that laughable.
"I'd like to take credit for being adventuresome, but I think we're expressing a viewpoint 69 percent of the country agrees with," he says. He also points out that Simpson episodes are written and produced a year in advance.
If nothing else, the publicity surrounding the episode is bound to ensure lots of viewers. And that, after all, is the bottom line in broadcasting. Ratings. Advertising. Money. It's something Rupert Murdoch understands very well.