“Who Shot Mr. Burns?” may be The Simpsons’ best-known episode to date, but the decision to make Maggie Simpson the shooter wasn’t set in stone from the get-go.
Josh Weinstein, one of the credited writers on the episode and a Simpsons showrunner between 1995 and 1999, recently tweeted the original pitch sheet for the episode. Weinstein says it’s “neat” to see how the episode developed, as the team tried to figure out who the suspects could have been.
Summary of our pitch for "Who Shot Mr. Burns" from the June '94 story conference notes.— Josh Weinstein (@Joshstrangehill) March 11, 2018
Neat to see how this developed (we thought it could be Barney but on the very next page -so within minutes of discussing it- someone suggests Maggie) And Patty & Selma could've been suspects. pic.twitter.com/8O3mOdY7vr
The episode was conceived at a writers conference in 1994, when Weinstein and fellow showrunner and writer Bill Oakley pitched their idea for the two-parter. The idea was to use the finale as a cliffhanger for what happened, à la Dallas’ infamous season three “Who shot J.R.?” finale, which aired in 1980. Weinstein’s notes allude to trying to capture the vibe of Twin Peaks, David Lynch’s strange, whimsical series about a small Washington town haunted by the death of a popular high school girl.
“The way we imagined the second half is that it would be a cheat if it wasn’t somebody good,” the notes read. “We want to do a parody of all these horrible things like ‘it’s a dream...’ A Twin Peaks-type thing, someone you’ve never seen before. A drifter who just recently arrived into town. Or we identify the spirit of another drifter. But in the end we have to decide a character we’re willing to sacrifice.
“It could be Barney, who has been driven to madness by the imminent destruction of Moe’s bar.”
Weinstein’s notes also point to Patty and Selma as possible suspects, but in a followup tweet, Weinstein clarifies that the formalized pitch contained more details and a rough story. That means an additional five pages of people’s suggestions over who the shooter could be, including Maggie.
“This is the summary after our pitch,” said Weinstein, adding, “(you can see it’s page 16 of a document that summarized all the writers’ pitches.) Our actual pitch had more details & rough story but after a pitch, everyone jumps in with ideas & there are 5 more pages of people’s suggestions including Maggie.”
This is the summary after our pitch (you can see it's page 16 of a document that summarized all the writers' pitches.) Our actual pitch had more details & rough story but after a pitch, everyone jumps in with ideas & there are 5 more pages of people's suggestions including Maggie pic.twitter.com/WMfG6dP0HJ— Josh Weinstein (@Joshstrangehill) March 12, 2018
We know that Maggie — the silent baby whom few would have suspected — was revealed to be the shooter. “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” continues to be one of the most adored two-part episodes in television history, and remains a prime example of The Simpsons’ storytelling abilities at the height of its success.