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Arts and Entertainment

Seven Questions with Sam Simon

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LA has a diverse cast of characters. Whether it's the characters with stirring stories or interesting occupations or the people who are just simply characters, this town has them all. In an effort to get to know some of those characters a little better, we've created "Seven Questions with..."

Today's subject is Sam Simon.

Sam is a renowned television writer and producer who has written for Taxi, Cheers, The Tracey Ullman Show, The George Carlin Show and The Drew Carey Show. Most notably, Simon along with Matt Groening and James L. Brooks originally developed a little TV show called The Simpsons. Along with his illustrious career in the entertainment industry, Simon has also managed a World Champion boxer in Lamon Brewster and runs the Sam Simon Foundation, an organization that rescues dogs from animal shelters and humane societies to become a Hearing Dog for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

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Simon, who currently resides in Pacific Palisades, is also a recreational poker player and appears in the highly-anticipated fifth season of High Stakes Poker, which premieres this Sunday at 9 pm on GSN.

1) You made it pretty far in the World Series of Poker main event in 2007. Would you consider a win in a major poker tournament to be a bigger accomplishment than winning an Emmy or managing a world champion boxer?
Well when Lamon (Brewster), my fighter won his world championship, I would say that might have been the happiest night of my life. It was an exciting fight and he won. But that wasn't really my accomplishment. The Emmys are nice and I have a few of those. I'd say right now, there's no piece of hardware out there that I'd rather win than a World Series bracelet. My goal is to make a final table this year.

2) You’ve got High Stakes Poker premiering this weekend - what was your favorite thing about being on the show?
My favorite thing about that, having some money left when I quit. I only played four hands in seven hours. It's a monster game. Without getting too technical for the non-poker players, they changed the structure so it's just crazy big. Way bigger than a 400-800 or 500-1,000 because everyone is anteing $200 every hand. It costs you $3,600 just to sit at the table for a round. There's really only one bet that I regret. There's other stuff that could have gone differently. I'm sure the bulletin boards will be be on fire with people who are going to be brutal to me, but you see, I never claimed to be good at this. Maybe that will help them lighten up on me.

3) How big of a gamble was it to try to put a cartoon on prime-time TV? You told 60 Minutes you didn't think the show would go beyond 13 episodes, have you ever been happier with being wrong?
Generally, shows don't go beyond 13 episodes. It sounds controversial but really I was saying that to take the pressure off of everyone. I was just saying let's just go out and make 13 episodes that are really good and really funny. I mean, if you can find two smarter businessmen than Rupert Murdoch and Barry Diller and a producer with a better track record than Jim Brooks, be my guest. So to say that this was a gamble, I'd say really you'd put your money on that above a lot of other things. Most shows do fail. Now, whether you thought it was going to go 30 years, I don't know if anyone thought that. But it did, it will.

4) What do you think of The Simpsons' new opening sequence? Why do you think it took 20 years to change it?
I actually don't know what the new sequence is. In general, I'll say that they feel the freedom to experiment to keep the show fresh. But the reason it lasted 20 years was Matt Groening's idea to change it slightly to put in a new couch gag and to change what Bart writes on the board because it made it fresh every week which was a great idea that he had.

5) How did your relationship with the Howard Stern Show begin? If you had to create a show for any member of the Stern Show's cast of characters including the "Wack Pack" who would you pick?
I was a fan of the show from the day he started broadcasting in LA. I went with Drew Carey when he was doing publicity for the Drew Carey Show, that was the first time I was actually in the studio. That is the interesting thing about the show is that people who are fans of the show become friends of the show or become on-air personalities with the show. That's true of Artie Lange, Ralph, Richard and Sal and my girlfriend who has also become a part of the show. That's incredible. If you're a fan of the Drew Carey Show, you could sit in the audience and that would be fun and all but you're not going to get a chance to be a part of the show. That's what makes Howard great. I have developed shows for Artie Lange. I did, with my new show Sam's Game which is airing on Playboy in June, I had Artie and Ralph on my show so I guess I've already been in that situation. Alison Norris, Fred's wife, is a great actress. As far as doing anything with anyone in the Wack Pack, I mean, this shows the genius of Howard. These are people, whatever their talents, are of no use to anyone outside of Howard. If anyone other than Howard were interviewing them, I don't think they would be as interesting. Put them on with Howard and suddenly you have fascinating radio. It really is a testament to him that these people are entertaining. So I don't think it would work with anyone else.

6) Michael Vick is back in the news. As an avid dog lover and a fan of pro football what are thoughts on Vick's future?
I have my own dog foundation, I am a proud member of the PETA Vanguard Society. I was like the rest of the nation, well almost the rest of the nation, except for the NFL and NBA players who are avid dog fighters, I was outraged by Michael Vick. I am not a pro football fan anymore. I used to be crazy about the game but I was disgusted by this. I think it's rampant in the NFL, I think it's rampant in the NBA. At the same time, I don't know anyone who has played a bigger price for dog fighting. The guy's lost over $100 million, he's missed two years of his career. I've got his empathy test right here, he just seemed like he was coached to pass the empathy test. I guess he did. I think he's a piece of shit. I hope people turn out and boo him and express their feelings about him whenever he does get back out there. He is, however, entitled to play football.

7) What do you enjoy most about your work with the Sam Simon Foundation? What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of the Foundation?
Our mission statement is to save the lives of dogs to enrich the lives of people so I hope that we're helping people and dogs. So when we take a dog that has spent its life on a chain and has been mistreated and they don't have fur and they've got scars and they've never run around free in a park and you just see the transformation into happy, healthy animals that are so resilient and become canine heroes and visit retirement homes that's so rewarding. When I see a deaf person receive their hearing dog, the joy that I see in those people. Those two things are the rewards I get. I don't take any donations. I pay for it all myself. I do it for the pleasure it gets me. I don't do it because I feel like I'm helping anybody. I feel like I get more out of this than anyone else. Another program that we have that is the only one of its kind, it's a lot like our Free Spay Neuter clinic. When I did the 60 Minutes piece, I started getting a lot of letters from people asking me to send them checks because their dogs needed to have an operation. My reaction was, I don't know, maybe the dog needs an operation, but I don't know. So what I decided to do was take our mobile clinic and our staff of vets to do a day of free surgeries. We have a service that I believe is the only one of its kind. If you demonstrate low income, just with a pay stub, any operation your dog needs we will do it for you. I am really happy that people are using that service. If you want to know more you can just go to our Web site and schedule an appointment.

The highly-anticipated fifth season of High Stakes Poker, premieres this Sunday at 9 pm on GSN.