The Simpsons,” created by cartoonist Matt Groening (and named for the members of his immediate family—except for Bart, which is an anagram for Brat), first appeared in 1987 as a series of 30-second spots produced for the Emmy Award-winning variety series “The Tracey Ullman Show.” “The Simpsons” premiered as a half-hour comedy series January 14, 1990. Acclaimed by critics and fans alike as one of television’s truest and most hilarious portraits of the American family, the series received the 1990, 1991, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2001 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Animated Program.
The Simpsons, who live in the community of Springfield, include Homer, a father who gives bad advice and works as the safety inspector at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant; Marge, a loving, nurturing mother and wife who tries to keep peace in the family; Bart, a hell-raising 10-year-old; Lisa, a smart, philosophical 8-year-old, who loves to play the saxophone; and Maggie, the baby, who communicates by sucking her pacifier.
“The Simpsons,” steeped in irreverence, enjoys a far more colorful history and has had a greater impact on the nation than most television series. The show has given us such phrases as “Aye carumba!,” “D’oh!,” “Eat my shorts!” and “Don’t have a cow, man!,” which have become a part of everyday language for countless individuals.
Perhaps the greatest compliment the series has received through the years is the political controversy it has sparked and continues to spark. Former Vice President Dan Quayle is one who is painfully aware of the controversy. While visiting an elementary school in New Jersey (6/15/92), the then-Vice President corrected a young student’s spelling of the word “potato” by adding an “e” to the end of it, only to find that he was wrong and the student was right. The opening credits of the June 25, 1992 episode of “The Simpsons” featured Bart, as always, writing a single phrase over and over again on the blackboard as punishment for some unknown prank. This time, Bart was writing “Potato, not potatoe.” And according to Matt Groening, “The whole thing was Bart’s idea.”
Of course, the show has taken it on the chin as well, politically speaking. Former First Lady Barbara Bush remarked in an interview which ultimately appeared in People magazine (September, 1990) that “The Simpsons” was “the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.” Marge Simpson, a devoted wife and mother herself, sat down and wrote Mrs. Bush a letter, giving the First Lady a piece of her mind. Surprisingly, Mrs. Bush responded within two weeks’ time, asking for Marge’s forgiveness for “a loose tongue.”
Even the President himself couldn’t resist getting in on the act. In a speech to the National Religious Broadcasters convention (1/27/92), then-President George Bush said “The nation needs to be closer to the Waltons than the Simpsons.” This time, Groening replied “Hey, the Simpsons are just like the Waltons. Both families are praying for the end of the Depression.” His response ran in newspapers across the country.
Controversy continued to nip at the heels of “The Simpsons.” In January of 1994, a group of parents in Greenwood, S.C., protested the school board’s approval of the name Springfield Elementary for a school scheduled to be built there, even though the board had allowed local students to choose the name in a creative writing contest. The parents accused Bart Simpson of being a bad role model and said that the district should not honor his name. The school board, initially unaware of the name’s television counterpart, held firm; the name has become final.
“The Simpsons” has a number of good deeds to its credit as well, but probably none more unexpected than the case of an Auburn, Washington, boy whose mother credits “The Simpsons” with saving her son’s life. Karen Beneze says that 8-year-old Alex and his 10-year-old brother, Chris, were alone at home when Alex began choking on an orange. Chris performed the Heimlich maneuver on his brother, dislodging the orange and returning Alex’s breathing to normal. Karen claims her son used the technique because he had seen an episode which opens with Homer Simpson choking on a doughnut. Oddly, the Heimlich maneuver was not actually performed in the show. Homer managed to cough up the donut on his own while his co-workers stood by, looking at a poster depicting the steps of the life-saving technique.
Naturally, animated characters depend upon voices to help bring them to life, and the Simpsons are no exception. The voices behind these characters include Dan Castellaneta as Homer, Julie Kavner as Marge, Nancy Cartwright as Bart, Yeardley Smith as Lisa, Harry Shearer as Burns and Hank Azaria as Apu. Throughout its thirteen year history, “The Simpsons” has attracted nearly as many celebrity guest voices to its ranks. These famous guest voices have included Mel Gibson, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul McCartney, Michelle Pfeiffer, Paul Newman, Johnny Carson, Richard Gere, Bette Midler, The Who, Winona Ryder, Danny DeVito, Glenn Close, ‘N Sync and Bob Hope.
The series has spawned an abundance of merchandise bearing the likenesses of Groening’s creations. One would have to look far and wide to find a place where there is not a Simpsons mug, beach towel, t-shirt, board game, wristwatch, puzzle, notebook, pencil, or backpack with Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie proudly telling the world that the owner is a certified Simpsons fan. There was even a platinum (sales of greater than one million copies) recording entitled “The Simpsons Sing the Blues,” which gave birth to two music videos (“Do the Bartman” and “Deep, Deep Trouble”) and put the family on the musical charts. In 1997, Rhino Records released “Songs in the Key of Springfield,” original music from the television series, on CD. And in the literary field, Harper Collins released “The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family,” a best-selling companion book to the television series.
In June of 1998, Time magazine voted Bart Simpson as one of “The 100 Most Influential People of the Century.” Later that year, “The Simpsons” received its fifth Emmy Award as Outstanding Animated Program, having won the award previously in 1990, 1991, 1995 and 1997. The show is now the longest-running primetime animated series in history and currently the longest running sitcom on television.
In June of 1999, the New York Times stated, “Thanks to a flawless cast and brilliantly consistent writing, ‘The Simpsons’ is, quite simply, the best show on television.”
In December of 1999, Time magazine proclaimed “The Simpsons” the best show of the 20th Century.
“The Simpsons” is executive produced by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening and Al Jean. “The Simpsons” is a Gracie Films Production in association with Twentieth Century Fox Television.