LOS ANGELES — WikiLeaks comes to Springfield as Julian Assange joins the cast of “The Simpsons” for their milestone 500th episode Sunday, which finds America’s famous animated family being banished from their hometown.
Assange, who founded WikiLeaks, 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. Assange is under house arrest in Britain and fighting extradition to Sweden over alleged sex crimes.
“Obviously he’s a controversial figure, and that was discussed before we agreed to let him do it,” Al Jean, executive producer of “The Simpsons,” told reporters in a conference call. “But it’s a funny cameo, and it makes no judgments about the larger case about him.”
Assange is the latest big name to be added to the show’s prominent guest list, which has included a who’s who of cultural voices over the decades — 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 unending nightmare, the Simpsons,” as the family gets 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.
Created by Matt Groening for Fox Television, “The Simpsons” debuted in 1989 and is the longest-running American sitcom in history. This season, the show has averaged 7.7 million viewers in the United States. (The show is broadcast to more than 100 countries in 50 languages.)
“The Simpsons” has won 27 Emmy awards. The show even coined a new word, as Homer’s expression “D’oh” entered the Oxford English Dictionary last year.
The show is “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,” Jean said.
In October, Fox threatened to end the show after the voice actors were balking over terms of their contract renewal. Ultimately, the show was renewed for two more seasons.
Jean said that the 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 havem” Jean said. “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.”