NEW YORK – The end of The Simpsons may be on the horizon.
The show's creator, Matt Groening, says he's close to saying goodbye to the world's favorite four-fingered family.
"I think we are closer to winding it up," Groening told London's Financial Times. "It becomes increasingly difficult as the years go by to keep on not only surprising the audience, but surprising ourselves," he said.
"Although if we win the Emmy for best animation show, that gives us another couple of years to run it into the ground," he says.
One way or the other the show is going to have to end, Groening says.
"Because animation is such an intensely painstaking process, it wears people out, and audiences are always looking for surprises. When any character is as stupid as Homer Simpson, it's hard to keep surprising the audience."
Groening also says he's upset that Fox stopped production on his Simpsons' follow-up Futurama.
"They [Fox] haven't really supported it. I think it's a worthy companion to The Simpsons and we're really proud of it. But Fox gave it a bad [time] slot and zero promotion for the last three years."
Network sources insist Futurama has not been formally canceled and it has enough episodes in post-production to keep the show going through spring 2003.
Fox officials said yesterday they see no end to The Simpsons in sight.
"We love the show, we love Matt and The Simpsons are staying on Fox forever," a network spokesperson said. Fox is a division of News Corp., which also owns The Post.
Groening admits to having a troubled relationship with the network and says that despite making millions of dollars for Fox, there is only "a trace of a smile in their faces when I walk into a room."
The Simpsons will enter into its 14th season next fall and there's been talk of a full-length feature film — but only when the writers figure out a way to turn it into something they can't possibly do on TV.
"The idea of doing of a Simpsons movie is quite daunting to us because we basically pack a feature length movie's worth of incidents and jokes and side gags into a single half hour episode of the show so how do you pad it out to an hour and a half?" Groening told the BBC.
"The bags of money that have been dangled in front of our faces are very enticing, but again coming back to the creative thing, we haven't figured out the exact way to do pursue this. However, we are starting to talk about it seriously and I imagine there will be a Simpsons movie sooner rather than later," he says.