December 17, 1989: The prime time sitcom cartoon, The Simpsons, premieres. Matt Groening first got the idea in James L. Brook’s office. Brook wanted to animate Groening’s Life in Hell comic strip launched in 1977. This was going to interfere with publishing rights. (Groening continues weekly publication of the work even now.) Instead, he pitched an idea for a dysfunctional middle-class family. He used the names of his own family, substituting Bart for Matt. The first short ran on April 19, 1987 on The Tracey Ullman Show. Groening supplied crude drawings as basic sketches and Klasky Csupo was the animator. Georgie Peluse was the colorist and decided to make them all yellow.
Fox Broadcasting Co., producer of both Tracey Ullman and The Simpsons, took the cartoon to the prime time slot after the success of the shorts. Homer and Marge, with their three children began working together in the short “Good Night” and moved to prime time with “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” Homer, voice by Dan Castellaneta, is the hapless father. Marge, Julie Kavner, is the ever patient and practical wife and mother. Bart, Nancy Cartwright, is the saucy, sassy, brother. Lisa, Yeardly Smith, is the extremely intelligent daughter while Maggie, various voices, is the pacifier addicted baby.
The Simpsons became the longest running animated series on February 9, 1997 when it surpassed The Flintstones. The Simpsons then became the longest running sitcom in 2004 when it outlasted The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-66). The show finished its 19th season with 420 episodes, which doesn’t come near the almost 2,000 episodes for the Japanese anime, Sazae-San. The 2008-2009 season ties the sitcom with Gunsmoke, on the air for 20 years. However, Gunsmoke filmed 635 episodes, a number not to be reached until the 29th season for The Simpsons.
Nothing is without controversy. Issues stemmed from show content and Tracey Ullman sued for a percentage of the profits and lost her case. There has been some loss of quality noted over the years. Regardless, merchandising continues and DVDs and video games have hit the markets. There is a Simpsons ride at Universal Studios in Orlando and Hollywood. A feature length film was released on July 27, 2007 and has grossed over a half billion dollars worldwide. Cowabunga.
“Scully: Homer, we’re going to ask you a few simple yes or no questions. Do you understand?
Homer: Yes. (lie detector blows up)”
“Homer: Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”
“Bart: I am through with working. Working is for chumps.
Homer: Son, I’m proud of you! I was twice your age when I figured that out.”
“Homer: Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals … except the weasel.” – all from The Simpsons
This article first appeared at examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: The Simpsons is now in its 25th season (now longer than Gunsmoke) and there have been over 525 episodes. Each show has a running time of 21-24 minutes and the show is distributed by 20th Century Fox Television and airs on the Fox Network. The format changed in 2009 from 480/576i (4:3 SDTV) to 720p (16:9 HDTV) and the sound changed from Dolby Surround 2.0 to 2.1 surround sound. Time magazine named The Simpsons as the 20th century’s best television series and a few weeks later, the family got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. D’oh has made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary while both cromulent and embiggen are listed as words at dictionary.com. Other words credited as stemming from the show are meh, yoink, and craptacular. There are also phrases that came into popular usage that originated with The Simpsons. In October, Fox renewed the show for another year, so there will be a 26th season coming up. Well, d’oh.
Also on this day: Wilbur and Orville – In 1903, the brothers take the Wright Flyer up to the skies.
Decree – In 1807, Napoleon I issued the Milan Decree.
Hot Time in the Old Town – In 1837, the Tsar’s home in St. Petersburg, the Winter Palace, caught fire.