The Simpsons is an American animated television series created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical parody of a working-class American lifestyle epitomized by its family of the same name which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. The show is set in the fictional city of Springfield, and lampoons American culture, society, television and many aspects of the human condition.
Since its debut on December 17, 1989 the show has broadcast over 700 episodes and is currently on its thirty-second season, which premiered on September 27, 2020. The Simpsons Movie, a feature-length film, was released in theaters worldwide on July 26 and July 27, 2007, and grossed US$527 million worldwide.
The Simpsons has won dozens of awards since it debuted as a series, including 27 Primetime Emmy Awards, 27 Annie Awards and a Peabody Award.
The Tracey Ullman Shorts
Groening conceived of the idea for the Simpsons in the lobby of James L. Brooks's office. Brooks had asked Groening to pitch an idea for a series of animated shorts, which Groening initially intended to present as his Life in Hell series. However, when Groening realized that animating Life in Hell would require the rescinding of publication rights for his life's work, he chose another approach and formulated his version of a dysfunctional family. He named the characters after his own family members, substituting "Bart" for his own name.
The Simpson family first appeared as shorts in The Tracey Ullman Show on April 19 1987. Groening submitted only basic sketches to the animators and assumed that the figures would be cleaned-up in production. However, the animators merely re-traced his drawings, which led to the crude appearance of the characters in the initial short episodes. The animation was produced domestically at Klasky Csupo, with Wesley Archer, David Silverman, and Bill Kopp being animators for the first season. After season one it was animated by Archer and Silverman. Gyorgyi Peluce was the colorist and the person who decided to make the characters yellow.
The actors who voiced the characters would later reprise their roles in The Simpsons. Dan Castellaneta performed the voices of Homer Simpson, Abraham Simpson, and Krusty the Clown. Homer's voice sounds different in the shorts compared to most episodes of the half-hour show. In the shorts, his voice is a loose impression of Walter Matthau, whereas it is more robust and humorous on the half-hour show, allowing Homer to cover a fuller range of emotions. Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, and Yeardley Smith performed the voices of Marge, Bart, and Lisa Simpson respectively. While most of the characters' personalities are similar to what they are in the series, Lisa is portrayed as a female version of Bart without the intelligent nature that she possesses in the half-hour series.
The shorts were featured on the first three seasons on The Tracey Ullman Show. By the fourth and last season of The Tracey Ullman Show the first season of the half-hour show was on the air. In the two first seasons the shorts were divided into three or four parts, but in the third season they were played as a single story. Tracey Ullman would later file a lawsuit, claiming that her show was the source of The Simpsons success and therefore should receive a share of the show's profit. Eventually the courts ruled in favor of the network.
The half-hour show
The first season
In 1989, a team of production companies adapted The Simpsons into a half-hour series for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The team included what is now the Klasky Csupo animation house. Jim Brooks negotiated a provision in the contract with the Fox network that prevented Fox from interfering with the show's content. Groening said his goal in creating the show was to offer the audience an alternative to what he called "the mainstream trash" that they were watching. The half-hour series premiered on December 17, 1989 with "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire", a Christmas special.
The series was originally set to debut in the fall of 1989 with the episode "Some Enchanted Evening", which was meant to introduce the main characters. However, during the first screening of the episode, the producers discovered that the animation was so appalling that 70% of the episode needed to be redone. The producers considered aborting the series if the next episode ("Bart the Genius") turned out as bad, but it only suffered from easily fixable problems. The producers convinced Fox to move the debut to December 17, and aired "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" as the first episode of the series.
The Simpsons was the Fox network's first TV series to rank among a season's top 30 highest-rated shows. Its success prompted Fox to reschedule the series to compete with The Cosby Show, a move that hurt the ratings of The Simpsons. In 1992, Tracey Ullman filed a lawsuit against Fox, claiming that her show was the source of the series' success. The suit said she should receive a share of the profits of The Simpsons—a claim rejected by the courts.
The first season won one Emmy Award, and received four additional nominations. Although television shows are limited to one episode a category, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was considered a separate special, and nominated alongside "Life on the Fast Lane" for Outstanding Animated Program; "Life on the Fast Lane" won the award. "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was also nominated for "Outstanding Editing in a Miniseries or Special", while "The Call of the Simpsons" was nominated for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Comedy Series or a Special". The main theme song, composed by Danny Elfman, was nominated for "Outstanding Achievement in Main Title Theme Music".
The show was controversial from its beginning. The rebellious lead character at the time, Bart, frequently received no punishment for his misbehavior, which led some parents and conservatives to characterize him as a poor role model for children. At the time, then-current President George H. W. Bush said, "We're going to strengthen the American family to make them more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons." Several US public schools even banned The Simpsons merchandise and t-shirts, such as one featuring Bart and the caption "Underachiever ('And proud of it, man!')". Despite the ban, The Simpsons merchandise sold well and generated US$2 billion in revenue during the first 14 months of sales.
The second season
"Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish" was the first episode produced for the season, but "Bart Gets an "F"" aired first because Bart was popular at the time and the producers had wanted to premiere with a Bart themed episode. The second season featured a new opening sequence, which was shortened by fifteen seconds from its original length of roughly 1 minute, 30 seconds. The opening sequence for the first season showed Bart stealing a "Bus Stop" sign; whilst the new sequence featured him skateboarding past several characters who had been introduced during the previous season. Starting with this season, there were three versions of the opening: a full roughly 1 minute 15 second long version, a 45 second version and a 25 second version. This gave the show's editors more leeway.
Due to the show's success, over the summer of 1990, the Fox network decided to switch The Simpsons timeslots. It would move from 8:00 PM on Sunday night to the same time on Thursday where it would compete with The Cosby Show, the number one show at the time. Many of the producers, including James L. Brooks, were against the move because The Simpsons had been in the top 10 while airing on Sunday and they felt the move would destroyed its ratings. All through the summer of 1990, several news outlets published stories about the supposed "Bill vs. Bart" rivalry. The Cosby Show beat The Simpsons every time during the second season and The Simpsons fell out of the top 10. It would not be until the third season episode "Homer at the Bat" that The Simpsons would beat The Cosby Show in the ratings.
New Orleans controversy
During the fourth season they released the episode "A Streetcar Named Marge". The musical within the episode contains a controversial song about New Orleans, which describes the city as a "home of pirates, drunks and whores", among other things. Jeff Martin, the writer of the episode, had meant the song to be a parody of the opening number in Sweeney Todd, which speaks of London in unflattering terms. Al Jean later explained that two Cajun characters were supposed to walk out of the theater in disgust, but none of the voice actors could provide a convincing Cajun accent.
Before the premiere of the fourth season, the producers sent two episodes to critics: "Kamp Krusty" and "A Streetcar Named Marge". A New Orleans critic viewed "A Streetcar Named Marge" and published the song lyrics in his newspaper before the episode aired. Many readers took the lyrics out of context, and New Orleans' Fox affiliate, WNOL, received about one hundred complaints on the day the episode aired. Several local radio stations also held on-air protests in response to the song.
The Simpsons' producers rushed out a chalkboard gag for "Homer the Heretic", which aired a week after "A Streetcar Named Marge". It read, "I will not defame New Orleans." The gag was their attempt to "apologize" for the song and hopefully bring the controversy to an end. "We didn't realize people would get so mad," said Al Jean. "It was the best apology we could come up with in eight words or less." The issue passed quickly, and a person in a Bart Simpson costume even served as Krewe of Tucks Grand Marshal at the 1993 New Orleans Mardi Gras.
In 2002, the Rio de Janeiro tourist board found the season 13 episode "Blame It on Lisa" so offensive to the Brazilian people that they threatened to sue the producers. The board's exact word were "What really hurt was the idea of the monkeys, the image that Rio de Janeiro was a jungle ... It's a completely unreal image of the city". The producers' apologized and the issue did not go any further, but was international news for awhile. The episode was forbidden in Brazil.
In Season 14, production switched from traditional cel animation to digital ink and paint. The first episode to experiment with digital coloring was "Radioactive Man" in 1995. Animators used digital ink and paint during production of the Season 12 episode "Tennis the Menace", but Gracie Films delayed the regular use of digital ink and paint until two seasons later. The already completed "Tennis the Menace" was broadcast as made.
Season 23 cancellation threat
20th Century Fox Television released a statement on October 4, 2011, saying: "23 seasons in, The Simpsons is as creatively vibrant as ever and beloved by millions around the world. We believe this brilliant series can and should continue, but we cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model. We are hopeful that we can reach an agreement with the voice cast that allows The Simpsons to go on entertaining audiences with original episodes for many years to come." The problem was that The Simpsons was probably worth more cancelled than on air. A 17-year-old syndication deal with TV stations prohibits Fox from selling The Simpsons to cable networks. Fox cannot break this deal unless production of episodes stop.
For more seasons to be produced after Season 23, the studio requested that the cast members accept a 45% cut of their salaries. The actors were willing to take a pay cut, but wanted a percentage of the back-end payments instead. Harry Shearer offered a 70% cut in exchange for back-end percentages at one point, but the studio was unwilling to make any sort of deal that involved back-end percentages. Finally, the studio and cast made a deal, in which the cast would take a 30% pay cut, down to just over $300,000 an episode, prolonging the show to its 25th season. Not just the cast, but the animators, writers, post-production crew and show runner Al Jean all took pay cuts.
20th Century Fox, Gracie Films, and Film Roman produced an animated The Simpsons film that was released on July 27, 2007. The production staff of The Simpsons had entertained the thought of a film since early in the series, but production never came together. Groening felt a feature length film would allow them to increase the show's scale and animate sequences too complex for a TV series. The film was directed by David Silverman and written by a team of Simpsons writers comprising of Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, Al Jean, George Meyer, Mike Reiss, John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti, David Mirkin, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, and Ian Maxtone-Graham. Work continued on the screenplay from 2003 onwards and did not cease, taking place in the small bungalow where Matt Groening first pitched The Simpsons in 1987. The writers spent six months discussing a plot, and each pitched a "half-assed" idea. Groening read about a town that had to get rid of pig faeces in their water supply, which inspired the plot of the film. Having eventually decided on the basic outline for the film, the writers then separated it into seven sections. Jean, Scully, Reiss, Swartzwelder, Vitti, Mirkin, and Meyer wrote twenty five pages each, with the group meeting one month later to merge the seven sections in to one "very rough draft." The script went through one hundred revisions. Groening described his desire to also make the film dramatically stronger than a TV episode, as "we wanna really give you something that you haven't seen before. There are moments you actually forget that you're watching a cartoon and that is difficult when you have characters as ugly as the Simpsons." The film was originally planned for release in summer 2006, but Al Jean stated at San Diego's Comic-Con International 2004 that the producers were taking their time, to make sure that the film was perfect.
Production of the film occurred alongside continued writing of the series despite long-time claims by those involved in the show that a film would enter production only after the series had concluded. There had been talk of a possible feature-length Simpsons film ever since the early seasons of the series. James L. Brooks originally thought that the story of the episode "Kamp Krusty" was suitable for a film, but encountered difficulties in trying to expand the script to feature-length. For a long time, difficulties such as lack of a suitable story and an already fully engaged crew of writers delayed the project.
After winning a Fox and USA Today competition, Springfield, Vermont hosted the film's world premiere. The Simpsons Movie grossed a combined total of $74 million in its opening weekend in the US, taking it to the top of the box office, and set the record for highest grossing opening weekend for a film based on a television series, surpassing Mission Impossible II. It opened at the top of the international box office, taking $96 million from seventy-one overseas territories — including $27.8 million in the United Kingdom, making it Fox's second highest opening ever in that country. In Australia, it grossed AU$13.2 million, the biggest opening for an animated film and third largest opening weekend in the country. As of November 23, 2007 the film has a worldwide gross of $525,267,904.
In July 2007, convenience store chain 7-Eleven converted 11 of its stores in the United States and one in Canada into Kwik-E-Marts to celebrate the release of The Simpsons Movie. Prior to July, the promotion had long been known but the locations were kept a secret until the morning of July 1, when the 12 stores were made over with industrial foam, vinyl and actual Kwik-E-Mart signs. These 12 locations, as well as the majority of other North American 7-Elevens, sold products found in The Simpsons, such as Buzz Cola, Krusty-O's, Squishees, pink frosted "Sprinklicious doughnuts" and other Simpsons-themed merchandise. It was decided that Duff Beer would not be sold due to the movie being rated PG-13, and the promoters wanted to have "good, responsible fun," though it was noted that it was a tough decision. The promotion resulted in a 30% increase in profits for the changed 7-Eleven stores. The conversions lasted through early August, when the stores were converted back to 7-Elevens.
- Fresh Air interview with Matt Groening
- The Simpsons: America's First Family
- Matt Groening's Baby Turns 10; Animation Magazine, Vol. 14, #1 - January 2000
- The David Silverman Interview at MSNBC
- The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family"
- He's Homer, but This Odyssey Is His Own; Los Angeles Times July 06 1999
- Eat my shorts!; Entertainment Weekly October 23, 1992
- '3rd Degree: Harry Shearer' at [http://www.lacitybeat.com/ Los Angeles: City Beat
- Toon Terrific; Entertainment Weekly March 12, 1993
- Commentary for "Some Enchanted Evening"
- TV Ratings: 1989–1990 at ClassicTVHits.com
- Matt Groening: Interview at The A.V. Club
- Emmy Awards official site
- Is The Simpsons still subversive? at
- America's First Family; The Times Magazine April 15, 2000
- Commentary for "Bart Gets an "F""
- Commentary for "Homer at the Bat"
- "The Cajun Controversy"
- "'Simpsons' takes a shot at Crescent City"; The Times-Picayune October 01 1992
- "Fox apologizes for 'Simpsons'"; The Times-Picayune October 02 1992
- "Bart chalks up apology for New Orleans song"; The Times-Picayune October 08 1992
- "For Silver Celebration, Tucks 'Lov-A-Da Music"; The Times-Picayune February 21, 1993
- Commentary for the episode "Whacking Day"
- A Salute to the Simpsons at License Mag
- Insidetv.ew.com - 'Simpsons' studio says show cannot continue without cutting costs
- Deadline.com - Would 'The Simpsons' Be Worth More Dead Or Alive?
- Reuters.com - "Simpsons" deadline for voice actors looms
- Deadline.com - 'Simpsons' Co-Star Speaks Out On Contract Negotiation Stalemate
- HollywoodReporter.com - 'The Simpsons' Renewed for Two More Seasons
- TVGuide.com - The Simpsons Executive Producer Al Jean on How the Show Was Saved
- Homer going to bat in '07 at Variety.com
- The Creators of The Simpsons Movie! at Comingsoon.net
- D'oh! They're Still Tinkering With Homer at The New York Times
- "The 12 steps to making a Simpsons movie"; Total Film Issue 130 Summer 2007
- The Simpsons' big screen test at This Is London
- Homer's Odyssey at Entertainment Weekly
- Groening: 'Simpsons Movie' will be emotional at Digital Spy
- A Simpsons Movie in 2006? at ICV2.com
- Simpsons Film Confirmed at [http://www.icv2.com/ ICV2.com
- Commentary for "Kamp Krusty"
- Matt Groening interview with The A.V. Club (page 3) at The A.V. Club
- Simpsons launch hits Springfield at BBC News
- Weekend Box Office July 27–29, 2007 at Box Office Mojo
- Raking in the d'oh! at Entertainment Weekly
- "Simpsons Movie" rules foreign box office at Reuters
- Simpsons Movie Breaks Records at IGN
- The Simpsons Movie at Box Office Mojo
- 7-Eleven Becomes Kwik-E-Mart for 'Simpsons Movie' Promotion at FOX News
- D'oh! 'Simpsons' limits tie-in partners at The Hollywood Reporter
- Fadza! Damn yoo Fadza! at Jenn Dolari's LiveJournal blog