The Simpsons

The Simpsons
The Simpsons
Simpsons FamilyPicture.png
Clockwise from top left: Marge, Homer, Bart, Santa's Little Helper (dog), Snowball II (cat), Lisa, and Maggie in the center.
Genre Sitcom
Created by Matt Groening
Developed by James L. Brooks
Matt Groening
Sam Simon
Voices of Dan Castellaneta
Julie Kavner
Nancy Cartwright
Yeardley Smith
Hank Azaria
Harry Shearer
(Complete list)
Theme music composer Danny Elfman
Opening theme "The Simpsons Theme"
Composer(s) Alf Clausen
Country of origin United States
Language(s) English
No. of seasons 23
No. of episodes 491 (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Al Jean
Ian Maxtone-Graham
John Frink
James L. Brooks
Matt Groening
Matt Selman
Sam Simon
Running time 21–24 minutes
Production company(s) Gracie Films
20th Century Fox Television
Distributor 20th Television
Original channel Fox
Picture format SD: 4:3, 480i/576i (1989–2009)
HD: 1.78:1, 1080i (2009–present)
Audio format Stereo
Dolby Surround 2.0
5.1 Surround Sound
Original run December 17, 1989 (1989-12-17) – present
Preceded by The Simpsons shorts
Related shows The Tracey Ullman Show
External links

The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical parody of a middle 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 town of Springfield and parodies American culture, society, television and many aspects of the human condition.

The family was conceived by Groening shortly before a pitch for a series of animated shorts with the producer James L. Brooks. Groening created a dysfunctional family and named the characters after members of his own family, substituting Bart for his own name. The shorts became a part of The Tracey Ullman Show on April 19, 1987. After a three-season run, the sketch was developed into a half-hour prime time show and was an early hit for Fox, becoming the network's first series to land in the Top 30 ratings in a season (1989–1990).

Since its debut on December 17, 1989, the show has broadcast 491 episodes and the twenty-third season started airing on September 25, 2011. The Simpsons is the longest-running American sitcom, the longest-running American animated program, and in 2009 it surpassed Gunsmoke as the longest-running American primetime, scripted television series. The Simpsons Movie, a feature-length film, was released in theaters worldwide on July 26 and July 27, 2007, and grossed over $527 million.

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. Time magazine's December 31, 1999 issue named it the 20th century's best television series, and on January 14, 2000 the Simpson family was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Homer's exclamatory catchphrase "D'oh!" has been adopted into the English language, while The Simpsons has influenced many adult-oriented animated sitcoms.



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.[1] He named the characters after his own family members, substituting "Bart" for his own name, adapting an anagram of the word "brat".[2]

The Simpson family as they first appeared in The Tracey Ullman Show.

The Simpson family first appeared as shorts in The Tracey Ullman Show on April 19, 1987.[3] 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.[2] One of the earliest jobs of the Klasky Csupo company was creating animated sequences for The Tracey Ullman Show, on which the characters first appeared.[4] The animation was produced domestically at Klasky Csupo,[5] with Wes Archer, David Silverman, and Bill Kopp being animators for the first season.[6] Colorist Gyorgyi Peluce was the person who decided to make the characters yellow.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8] The half-hour series premiered on December 17, 1989 with "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire", a Christmas special.[9] "Some Enchanted Evening" was the first full-length episode produced, but it did not broadcast until May 1990, as the last episode of the first season, because of animation problems.[10] 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[11]—a claim rejected by the courts.[12]


Executive producers and showrunners

List of showrunners throughout the series' run:

Matt Groening and James L. Brooks have served as executive producers during the show's entire history, and also function as creative consultants. Sam Simon, described by former Simpsons director Brad Bird as "the unsung hero" of the show,[13] served as creative supervisor for the first four seasons. He was constantly at odds with Groening, Brooks and Gracie Films and left in 1993.[14] Before leaving, he negotiated a deal that sees him receive a share of the profits every year, and an executive producer credit despite not having worked on the show since 1993.[14][15] A more involved position on the show is the showrunner, who acts as head writer and manages the show's production for an entire season.[6]


Al Jean (left) is the current executive producer of the show and David Mirkin (right) is a former executive producer and has been a part of the writing staff since 1994.

The first team of writers, assembled by Sam Simon, consisted of John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti, George Meyer, Jeff Martin, Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky.[16] Newer Simpsons' writing teams typically consist of sixteen writers who propose episode ideas at the beginning of each December.[17] The main writer of each episode writes the first draft. Group rewriting sessions develop final scripts by adding or removing jokes, inserting scenes, and calling for re-readings of lines by the show’s vocal performers.[18] Until 2004,[19] George Meyer, who had developed the show since the first season, was active in these sessions. According to long-time writer Jon Vitti, Meyer usually invented the best lines in a given episode, even though other writers may receive script credits.[18] Each episode takes six months to produce so the show rarely comments on current events.[20]

Part of the writing staff of The Simpsons in 1992. Back row, left to right: Mike Mendel, Colin ABV Lewis (partial), Jeff Goldstein, Al Jean (partial), Conan O'Brien, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Mike Reiss, Ken Tsumura, George Meyer, John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti (partial), CJ Gibson and David M. Stern. Front row, left to right: Dee Capelli, Lona Williams, and unknown.

Credited with sixty episodes, John Swartzwelder is the most prolific writer on The Simpsons' staff.[21] One of the best-known former writers is Conan O'Brien, who contributed to several episodes in the early 1990s before replacing David Letterman as host of the talk show Late Night.[22] English comedian Ricky Gervais wrote the episode "Homer Simpson, This Is Your Wife", becoming the first celebrity to both write and guest star in an episode.[23] Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, writers of the film Superbad, wrote the episode "Homer the Whopper", with Rogen voicing a character in it.[24]

At the end of 2007 the writers of The Simpsons went on strike together with the rest of the Writers Guild of America, East. The show's writers had joined the guild in 1998.[25]

Voice actors

The Simpsons has six main cast members: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer. Castellaneta performs Homer Simpson, Grampa Simpson, Krusty the Clown, Barney Gumble and other adult, male characters.[26] Julie Kavner speaks the voices of Marge Simpson and Patty and Selma, as well as several minor characters.[26] Castellaneta and Kavner had been a part of The Tracey Ullman Show cast and were given the parts so that new actors would not be needed.[27] Cartwright performs the voices of Bart Simpson, Nelson Muntz, Ralph Wiggum and other children.[26] Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson, is the only cast member who regularly voices only one character, although she occasionally plays other episodic characters.[26] The producers decided to hold casting for the roles of Bart and Lisa. Smith had initially been asked to audition for the role of Bart, but casting director Bonita Pietila believed her voice was too high,[28] so she was given the role of Lisa instead.[29] Cartwright was originally brought in to voice Lisa, but upon arriving at the audition, she found that Lisa was simply described as the "middle child" and at the time did not have much personality. Cartwright became more interested in the role of Bart, who was described as "devious, underachieving, school-hating, irreverent, [and] clever".[30] Matt Groening let her try out for the part instead, and upon hearing her read, gave her the job on the spot.[31] Cartwright is the only one of the six main Simpsons cast members who had been professionally trained in voice acting prior to working on the show.[32] Azaria and Shearer do not voice members of the title family, but play a majority of the male townspeople. Azaria, who has been a part of the Simpsons regular voice cast since the second season,[33] voices recurring characters such as Moe Szyslak, Chief Wiggum and Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. Shearer provides voices for Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Principal Skinner, Ned Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy and Dr. Hibbert.[26] With the exception of Shearer, every main cast member has won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance.[34] However, Shearer was nominated for the award in 2009.[35]

With one exception, episode credits list only the voice actors, and not the characters they voice. Both Fox and the production crew wanted to keep their identities secret during the early seasons and, therefore, closed most of the recording sessions while refusing to publish photos of the recording artists.[36] However, the network eventually revealed which roles each actor performed in the episode "Old Money", because the producers said the voice actors should receive credit for their work.[37] In 2003, the cast appeared in an episode of Inside the Actors Studio, doing live performances of their characters' voices.

Up until 1998, the six main actors were paid $30,000 per episode. In 1998 they were involved in a pay dispute with Fox. The company threatened to replace them with new actors, even going as far as preparing for casting of new voices, but series creator Groening supported the actors in their action.[38] The issue was soon resolved and, from 1998 to 2004, they were paid $125,000 per episode. The show's revenue continued to rise through syndication and DVD sales, and in April 2004 the main cast stopped appearing for script readings, demanding they be paid $360,000 per episode.[39][40] The strike was resolved a month later[41] and their salaries were increased to something between $250,000[42] and $360,000 per episode.[43] In 2008, production for the twentieth season was put on hold due to new contract negotiations with the voice actors, who wanted a "healthy bump" in salary to an amount close to $500,000 per episode.[43] The negotiations were soon completed, and the actors' salary was raised to $400,000 per episode.[44]

Main cast members
Dan Castellaneta cropped.jpg Julie Kavner.jpg Nancy Cartwright.jpg Yeardleysmithcomiccon - Cropped.jpg Hankazaria05.jpg Harry Shearer at RT4.jpg
Dan Castellaneta Julie Kavner Nancy Cartwright Yeardley Smith Hank Azaria Harry Shearer
Homer, Grampa, Barney, Krusty, Groundskeeper Willie, Mayor Quimby, Hans Moleman and others Marge, Patty and Selma Bart, Nelson, Ralph, Todd Flanders, and others Lisa Moe, Chief Wiggum, Apu, Comic Book Guy, Carl, Cletus, Professor Frink, Dr. Nick and others Mr. Burns, Smithers, Ned Flanders, Rev. Lovejoy, Kent Brockman, Dr. Hibbert, Lenny, Principal Skinner, Otto, Rainier Wolfcastle and others.

In addition to the main cast, Pamela Hayden, Tress MacNeille, Marcia Wallace, Maggie Roswell, and Russi Taylor voice supporting characters.[26] From 1999 to 2002, Roswell's characters were voiced by Marcia Mitzman Gaven. Karl Wiedergott has also appeared in minor roles, but does not voice any recurring characters.[45] Repeat "special guest" cast members include Albert Brooks, Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Joe Mantegna, and Kelsey Grammer.[46] Following Hartman's death in 1998, the characters he voiced were retired.[1]

Episodes will quite often feature guest voices from a wide range of professions, including actors, athletes, authors, bands, musicians and scientists. In the earlier seasons, most of the guest stars voiced characters, but eventually more started appearing as themselves. Tony Bennett was the first guest star to appear as himself, appearing briefly in the season two episode "Dancin' Homer".[47] The Simpsons holds the world record for "Most Guest Stars Featured in a Television Series".[48]

The show has been dubbed into several other languages, including Japanese, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. It is also one of the few programs dubbed in both French and Quebec French.[49] The Simpsons has been broadcast in Arabic, but due to Islamic customs, numerous aspects of the show have been changed. For example, Homer drinks soda instead of beer and eats Egyptian beef sausages instead of hot dogs. Because of such changes, the Arabized version of the series met with a negative reaction from the life-long Simpsons fans in the area.[50]


Animation director David Silverman, who helped define the look of the show.[6]

Several different U.S. and international studios animate The Simpsons. Throughout the run of the animated shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show, the animation was produced domestically at Klasky Csupo.[5] With the debut of the series, because of an increased workload, Fox subcontracted production to several international studios, located in South Korea.[5] These are AKOM,[51] Anivision,[52] Rough Draft Studios,[53] USAnimation,[54] and Toonzone Entertainment.[55] A subcontractor connection to the North Korean SEK studio has been suspected but not confirmed.[56] Artists at the U.S. animation studio, Film Roman, draw storyboards, design new characters, backgrounds, props and draw character and background layouts, which in turn become animatics to be screened for the writers at Gracie Films for any changes to be made before the work is shipped overseas. The overseas studios then draw the inbetweens, ink and paint, and render the animation to tape before it is shipped back to the United States to be delivered to Fox three to four months later.[57]

For the first three seasons, Klasky Csupo animated The Simpsons in the United States. In 1992, the show's production company, Gracie Films, switched domestic production to Film Roman,[58] who continue to animate the show as of 2010. In Season 14, production switched from traditional cel animation to digital ink and paint.[59] 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.[60]

The series began high-definition production in Season 20; the first episode, "Take My Life, Please", aired February 15, 2009. The move to HDTV included a new opening sequence.[61] Matt Groening called it a complicated change because it affected the timing and composition of animation.[62]


The Simpsons sports a vast array of secondary and tertiary characters.

The Simpsons are a typical family who live in a fictional "Middle American" town of Springfield.[63] Homer, the father, works as a safety inspector at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, a position at odds with his careless, buffoonish personality. He is married to Marge Simpson, a stereotypical American housewife and mother. They have three children: Bart, a ten-year-old troublemaker; Lisa, a precocious eight-year-old activist; and Maggie, the baby of the family who rarely speaks, but communicates by sucking on a pacifier. The family owns a dog, Santa's Little Helper, and a cat, Snowball V, renamed Snowball II in "I, (Annoyed Grunt)-Bot".[64] Both pets have had starring roles in several episodes. Despite the passing of yearly milestones such as holidays or birthdays, the Simpsons do not physically age and still appear just as they did at the end of the 1980s. Although the family is dysfunctional, many episodes examine their relationships and bonds with each other and they are often shown to care about one another.[65]

The show includes an array of quirky characters: co-workers, teachers, family friends, extended relatives, townspeople and local celebrities. The creators originally intended many of these characters as one-time jokesters or for fulfilling needed functions in the town. A number of them have gained expanded roles and subsequently starred in their own episodes. According to Matt Groening, the show adopted the concept of a large supporting cast from the comedy show SCTV.[66]


The Simpsons takes place in the fictional American town of Springfield in an unknown and impossible-to-determine U.S. state. The show is intentionally evasive in regard to Springfield's location.[67] The name "Springfield" is a common one in America and appears in 22 states.[68] Springfield's geography, and that of its surroundings, contain coastlines, deserts, vast farmland, tall mountains, or whatever the story or joke requires.[69] Groening has said that Springfield has much in common with Portland, Oregon, the city where he grew up.[70]


The Simpsons uses the standard setup of a situational comedy, or sitcom, as its premise. The series centers on a family and their life in a typical American town,[63] serving as a satirical parody of a working class American lifestyle.[71] However, because of its animated nature, The Simpsons' scope is larger than that of a regular sitcom. The town of Springfield acts as a complete universe in which characters can explore the issues faced by modern society. By having Homer work in a nuclear power plant, the show can comment on the state of the environment.[72] Through Bart and Lisa's days at Springfield Elementary School, the show's writers illustrate pressing or controversial issues in the field of education. The town features a vast array of media channels—from kids' television programming to local news, which enables the producers to make jokes about themselves and the entertainment industry.[73]

Some commentators say the show is political in nature and susceptible to a left-wing bias.[74] Al Jean admitted in an interview that "We [the show] are of liberal bent."[75] The writers often evince an appreciation for liberal ideals, but the show makes jokes across the political spectrum.[76] The show portrays government and large corporations as callous entities that take advantage of the common worker.[75] Thus, the writers often portray authority figures in an unflattering or negative light. In The Simpsons, politicians are corrupt, ministers such as Reverend Lovejoy are indifferent to churchgoers, and the local police force is incompetent.[77] Religion also figures as a recurring theme. In times of crisis, the family often turns to God, and the show has dealt with most of the major religions.[78]


Opening sequence

Extended couch gags, such as one featuring a large stage show, have been used to fill time in shorter episodes.

The Simpsons' opening sequence is one of the show's most memorable hallmarks. Most episodes open with the camera zooming through the show's title towards the town of Springfield. The camera then follows the members of the family on their way home. Upon entering their house, the Simpsons settle down on their couch to watch television. The opening was created by David Silverman, the first task he did when production began on the show.[79] The series' distinctive theme song was composed by musician Danny Elfman in 1989, after Groening approached him requesting a retro style piece. This piece has been noted by Elfman as the most popular of his career.[80]

One of the most distinctive aspects of the opening is that three of the segments change from episode to episode: Bart writes different things on the school chalkboard,[79] Lisa plays different solos on her saxophone, and different gags accompany the family as they enter their living room to sit on the couch.[81] On February 15, 2009, a new opening credit sequence was introduced to accompany the switch to HDTV. The sequence had all of the features of the original opening, but added numerous details and characters.[82]

Halloween episodes

Bart introducing a segment of "Treehouse of Horror IV" in the manner of Rod Serling's Night Gallery.

The special Halloween episode has become an annual tradition. "Treehouse of Horror" first broadcast in 1990 as part of season two and established the pattern of three separate, self-contained stories in each Halloween episode.[83] These pieces usually involve the family in some horror, science fiction, or supernatural setting and often parody or pay homage to a famous piece of work in those genres.[84] They always take place outside the normal continuity of the show. Although the Treehouse series is meant to be seen on Halloween, in recent years, new installments have premiered after Halloween due to Fox's current contract with Major League Baseball's World Series.[85]


The show's humor turns on cultural references that cover a wide spectrum of society so that viewers from all generations can enjoy the show.[86] Such references, for example, come from movies, television, music, literature, science, and history.[86] The animators also regularly add jokes or sight gags into the show's background via humorous or incongruous bits of text in signs, newspapers, and elsewhere.[87] The audience may often not notice the visual jokes in a single viewing. Some are so fleeting that they become apparent only by pausing a video recording of the show.[87] Kristin Thompson argues that The Simpsons uses a "...flurry of cultural references, intentionally inconsistent characterization, and considerable self-reflexivity about television conventions and the status of the programme as a television show."[88]

One of Bart's early hallmarks were his prank calls to Moe's Tavern owner Moe Szyslak in which Bart calls Moe and asks for a gag name. Moe tries to find that person in the bar, but soon realizes it is a prank call and angrily threatens Bart. These calls were based on a series of prank calls known as the Tube Bar recordings. Moe was based partly on Tube Bar owner Louis "Red" Deutsch, whose often profane responses inspired Moe's violent side.[89] As the series progressed, it became more difficult for the writers to come up with a fake name and to write Moe's angry response, and the pranks were dropped as a regular joke during the fourth season.[90][91] The Simpsons also often includes self-referential humor.[92] The most common form is jokes about Fox Broadcasting.[93] For example, the episode "She Used to Be My Girl" included a scene where a Fox News van drove down the street while displaying a large "Bush Cheney 2004" banner and playing Queen's "We Are the Champions", in reference to the 2004 presidential election.[94][95]

The show uses catchphrases, and most of the primary and secondary characters have at least one each.[96] Notable expressions include Homer's annoyed grunt "D'oh!", Mr. Burns' "Excellent..." and Nelson Muntz's "Ha-ha!". Some of Bart's catchphrases, such as "¡Ay, caramba!", "Don't have a cow, man!" and "Eat my shorts!" appeared on t-shirts in the show's early days.[97] However, Bart rarely used the latter two phrases until after they became popular through the merchandising. The use of many of these catchphrases has declined in recent seasons. The episode "Bart Gets Famous" mocks catchphrase-based humor, as Bart achieves fame on the Krusty the Clown Show solely for saying "I didn't do it."[98]

Influences on culture


A number of neologisms that originated on The Simpsons have entered popular vernacular.[99][100] Mark Liberman, director of the Linguistic Data Consortium, remarked, "The Simpsons has apparently taken over from Shakespeare and the Bible as our culture's greatest source of idioms, catchphrases and sundry other textual allusions."[100] The most famous catchphrase is Homer's annoyed grunt: "D'oh!" So ubiquitous is the expression that it is now listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, but without the apostrophe.[101] Dan Castellaneta says he borrowed the phrase from James Finlayson, an actor in early Laurel and Hardy comedies, who pronounced it in a more elongated and whining tone. The staff of The Simpsons told Castellaneta to shorten the noise, and it went on to become the well-known exclamation in the television series.[102]

Groundskeeper Willie's description of the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" was used by National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg in 2003, after France's opposition to the proposed invasion of Iraq. The phrase quickly spread to other journalists.[100][103] "Cromulent" and "Embiggen", words used in "Lisa the Iconoclast", have since appeared in the's 21st Century Lexicon,[104] and scientific journals respectively.[100][105] "Kwyjibo", a fake Scrabble word invented by Bart in "Bart the Genius", was used as one of the aliases of the creator of the Melissa worm.[106] "I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords", was used by Kent Brockman in "Deep Space Homer" and has become a common variety of phrase.[107] Variants of Brockman's utterance are used to express mock submission, usually for the purpose of humor.[108] It has been used in media, such as New Scientist magazine.[109] The dismissive term "Meh", believed to have been popularized by the show,[100][110] entered the Collins English Dictionary in 2008.[111] Other words credited as stemming from the show include "yoink" and "craptacular".[100]

The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations includes several quotations from the show. As well as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys", Homer's lines, "Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is never try", from "Burns' Heir" (season five, 1994) as well as "Kids are the best, Apu. You can teach them to hate the things you hate. And they practically raise themselves, what with the Internet and all", from "Eight Misbehavin'" (season 11, 1999), entered the dictionary in August 2007.[112]


The Simpsons was the first successful animated program in American prime time since Wait Till Your Father Gets Home in the 1970s.[113] During most of the 1980s, US pundits considered animated shows as appropriate only for children, and animating a show was too expensive to achieve a quality suitable for prime-time television. The Simpsons changed this perception.[5] The use of Korean animation studios for tweening, coloring, and filming made the episodes cheaper. The success of The Simpsons and the lower production cost prompted US television networks to take chances on other animated series.[5] This development led US producers to a 1990s boom in new, animated prime-time shows, such as South Park, Family Guy, King of the Hill, Futurama, and The Critic.[5] "The Simpsons created an audience for prime-time animation that had not been there for many, many years", said Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. "As far as I'm concerned, they basically re-invented the wheel. They created what is in many ways—you could classify it as—a wholly new medium."[114] South Park later paid homage to The Simpsons with the episode "Simpsons Already Did It".[115] In Georgia, the animated television sitcom The Samsonadzes, launched in November 2009, has been noted for its very strong resemblance with The Simpsons, which its creator Shalva Ramishvili has acknowledged.[116][117][118]

The Simpsons has also influenced live-action shows like Malcolm in the Middle, which featured the use of sight gags and did not use a laugh track unlike most sitcoms.[119][120] Malcolm in the Middle debuted January 9, 2000 in the time slot after The Simpsons. Ricky Gervais has called The Simpsons a major influence on his British comedy The Office, which also dispenses with a laugh track.[121] Fellow British sitcom Spaced was, according to its director Edgar Wright, "an attempt to do a live-action The Simpsons."[122]

Reception, legacy and achievements

Early success

The Simpsons was the Fox network's first television series to rank among a season's top 30 highest-rated shows.[123] While later seasons would focus on Homer, Bart was the lead character in most of the first three seasons. In 1990, Bart quickly became one of the most popular characters on television in what was termed "Bartmania".[124][125][126][127] He became the most prevalent Simpsons character on memorabilia, such as T-shirts. In the early 1990s, millions of T-shirts featuring Bart were sold;[128] as many as one million were sold on some days.[129] Believing Bart to be a bad role model, several American public schools banned T-shirts featuring Bart next to captions such as "I'm Bart Simpson. Who the hell are you?" and "Underachiever ('And proud of it, man!')".[130][131][132] The Simpsons merchandise sold well and generated $2 billion in revenue during the first 14 months of sales.[130] Because of his popularity, Bart was often the most promoted member of the Simpson family in advertisements for the show, even for episodes in which he was not involved in the main plot.[133]

Due to the show's success, over the summer of 1990 the Fox Network decided to switch The Simpsons' time slot so that it would move from 8:00 p.m. ET on Sunday night to the same time on Thursday, where it would compete with The Cosby Show on NBC, the number one show at the time.[134][135] Through the summer, several news outlets published stories about the supposed "Bill vs. Bart" rivalry.[129][134] "Bart Gets an F" (season two, 1990) was the first episode to air against The Cosby Show, and it received a lower Nielsen ratings, tying for eighth behind The Cosby Show, which had an 18.5 rating. The rating is based on the number of household televisions that were tuned into the show, but Nielsen Media Research estimated that 33.6 million viewers watched the episode, making it the number one show in terms of actual viewers that week. At the time, it was the most watched episode in the history of the Fox Network,[136] and it is still the highest rated episode in the history of The Simpsons.[137]

The Simpsons has been praised by many critics, being described as "the most irreverent and unapologetic show on the air."[138] In a 1990 review of the show, Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly described it as "the American family at its most complicated, drawn as simple cartoons. It's this neat paradox that makes millions of people turn away from the three big networks on Sunday nights to concentrate on The Simpsons."[139] Tucker would also describe the show as a "pop-cultural phenomenon, a prime-time cartoon show that appeals to the entire family."[140]

Run length achievements

On February 9, 1997, The Simpsons surpassed The Flintstones with the episode "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show" as the longest-running prime-time animated series in the United States.[141] In 2004, The Simpsons replaced The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952 to 1966) as the longest-running sitcom (animated or live action) in the United States.[142] In 2009, The Simpsons surpassed The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet's record of 435 episodes and is now recognized by Guinness World Records as the world's longest running sitcom (in terms of episode count).[143][144] In October 2004, Scooby-Doo briefly overtook The Simpsons as the American animated show with the highest number of episodes.[145] However, network executives in April 2005 again cancelled Scooby-Doo, which finished with 371 episodes, and The Simpsons reclaimed the title with 378 episodes at the end of their seventeenth season.[146] In May 2007, The Simpsons reached their 400th episode at the end of the eighteenth season. While The Simpsons has the record for the number of episodes by an American animated show, other animated series have surpassed The Simpsons.[147] For example, the Japanese anime series Sazae-san has over 3,000 episodes to its credit.[147]

In 2009, Fox began a year-long celebration of the show titled "Best. 20 Years. Ever." to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the premiere of The Simpsons. One of the first parts of the celebration is the "Unleash Your Yellow" contest in which entrants must design a poster for the show.[148] The celebration ended on January 10, 2010 (almost twenty years after "Bart the Genius" aired on January 14, 1990) with The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special - In 3-D! On Ice!, a documentary special by documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock that examines the "cultural phenomenon of The Simpsons".[149][150]

As of the twenty-first season (2009–2010), The Simpsons became the longest-running American primetime, scripted television series, having surpassed Gunsmoke. However, Gunsmoke's episode count of 635 episodes far surpasses The Simpsons, which would not reach that mark until its approximate 29th season, under normal programming schedules.[142][151] In October 2011, Fox announced that The Simpsons had been renewed for a 24th and 25th season, which means the show will reach over 550 episodes.[152]


The Simpsons have been awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The Simpsons has won dozens of awards since it debuted as a series, including 27 Primetime Emmy Awards,[48] 27 Annie Awards[153] and a Peabody Award.[154] In a 1998 issue celebrating the 20th century's greatest achievements in arts and entertainment, Time magazine named The Simpsons the century's best television series.[155] In that same issue, Time included Bart Simpson in the Time 100, the publication's list of the century's 100 most influential people.[156] Bart was the only fictional character on the list. On January 14, 2000, the Simpsons were awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[157] Also in 2000, Entertainment Weekly magazine TV critic Ken Tucker named The Simpsons the greatest television show of the 1990s. Furthermore, viewers of the UK television channel Channel 4 have voted The Simpsons at the top of two polls: 2001's 100 Greatest Kids' TV shows,[158] and 2005's The 100 Greatest Cartoons,[159] with Homer Simpson voted into first place in 2001's 100 Greatest TV Characters.[160] Homer would also place ninth on Entertainment Weekly's list of the "50 Greatest TV icons".[161] In 2002, The Simpsons ranked #8 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time,[162] and in 2007 it was included in TIME's list of the "100 Best TV Shows of All Time".[163] In 2008 the show was placed in first on Entertainment Weekly's "Top 100 Shows of the Past 25 Years".[164] Empire named it the greatest TV show of all time.[165] In 2010, Entertainment Weekly named Homer "the greatest character of the last 20 years."[166]

Criticism and controversy

Bart's rebellious nature, which frequently resulted in no punishment for his misbehavior, led some parents and conservatives to characterize him as a poor role model for children.[167][168] In schools, educators claimed that Bart was a "threat to learning" because of his "underachiever and proud of it" attitude and negative attitude regarding his education.[169] Others described him as "egotistical, aggressive and mean-spirited".[170] In a 1991 interview, Bill Cosby described Bart as a bad role model for children, calling him "angry, confused, frustrated". In response, Matt Groening said, "That sums up Bart, all right. Most people are in a struggle to be normal he thinks normal is very boring, and does things that others just wished they dare do."[171] On January 27, 1992, then-President George H. W. Bush said, "We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons."[130] The writers rushed out a tongue-in-cheek reply in the form of a short segment which aired three days later before a rerun of "Stark Raving Dad" in which Bart replied, "Hey, we're just like the Waltons. We're praying for an end to the Depression, too."[172][173]

Various episodes of the show have generated controversy. The Simpsons visit Australia in "Bart vs. Australia" (season six, 1995) and Brazil in "Blame It on Lisa" (season 13, 2002) and both episodes generated controversy and negative reaction in the visited countries.[174] In the latter case, Rio de Janeiro's tourist board – who claimed that the city was portrayed as having rampant street crime, kidnappings, slums, and monkey and rat infestations – went so far as to threaten Fox with legal action.[175] Groening was a fierce and vocal critic of the episode "A Star Is Burns" (season six, 1995) which featured a crossover with The Critic. He felt that it was just an advertisement for The Critic, and that people would incorrectly associate the show with him. When he was unsuccessful in getting the episode pulled, he had his name removed from the credits and went public with his concerns, openly criticizing James L. Brooks and saying the episode "violates the Simpsons' universe." In response, Brooks said "I am furious with Matt, [...] he's allowed his opinion, but airing this publicly in the press is going too far. [...] his behavior right now is rotten."[176][177] "The Principal and the Pauper" (season nine, 1997) is one of the most controversial episodes of The Simpsons. Many fans and critics reacted negatively to the revelation that Seymour Skinner, a recurring character since the first season, was an impostor. The episode has been criticized by Groening and by Harry Shearer, who provides the voice of Skinner. In a 2001 interview, Shearer recalled that after reading the script, he told the writers, "That's so wrong. You're taking something that an audience has built eight years or nine years of investment in and just tossed it in the trash can for no good reason, for a story we've done before with other characters. It's so arbitrary and gratuitous, and it's disrespectful to the audience."[178]

The show has reportedly been taken off the air in several countries. China banned it from prime-time television in August 2006, "in an effort to protect China's struggling animation studios."[179] In 2008, Venezuela barred the show from airing on morning television as it was "unsuitable for children".[180] The same year, Russia moved to ban the show, alongside Family Guy and South Park, "and replace them with programmes teaching children to be patriotic."[181]

Criticism of declining quality

Critics' reviews of early Simpsons episodes praised the show for its wit, realism, and intelligence.[8][182] In the late 1990s, around the airing of season ten, the tone and emphasis of the show began to change. Some critics started calling the show "tired".[183] By 2000, some long-term fans had become disillusioned with the show and pointed to its shift from character-driven plots to what they perceived as an overemphasis on zany antics.[184][185][186] The BBC noted "the common consensus is that The Simpsons' golden era ended after season nine",[187] while Todd Leopold of CNN, in an article looking at its perceived decline, stated "for many fans [...] the glory days are long past."[186] Jim Schembri of the Sydney Morning Herald, despite claiming that the show was "a cultural touchstone for at least two - possibly three - generations of couch potatoes", stated that the show suffered a drastic decline in its recent seasons, which he attributed to its abandonment of character-driven storylines in favour of celebrity cameo appearances and pop culture references; "The central tragedy of The Simpsons is that it has gone from commanding attention to merely being attention seeking. It began by proving that cartoon characters don't have to be caricatures; they can be invested with real emotions. Now the show has in essence fermented into a limp parody of itself. Memorable story arcs have been sacrificed for the sake of celebrity walk-ons and punchline-hungry dialogue."[188] Author Douglas Coupland described claims of declining quality in the series as "hogwash", saying "The Simpsons hasn't fumbled the ball in fourteen years, it's hardly likely to fumble it now."[189] Mike Scully, who was showrunner during seasons nine through twelve, has been the subject of criticism.[190][191] Chris Suellentrop of Slate wrote that "under Scully's tenure, The Simpsons became, well, a cartoon. [...] Episodes that once would have ended with Homer and Marge bicycling into the sunset now end with Homer blowing a tranquilizer dart into Marge's neck. The show's still funny, but it hasn't been touching in years."[190] When asked in 2007 how the series' longevity is sustained, Scully joked, "Lower your quality standards. Once you've done that you can go on forever."[192]

In 2003, to celebrate the show's 300th episode "Barting Over", USA Today published a pair of Simpsons related articles: a top-ten episodes list chosen by the webmaster of The Simpsons Archive fansite,[193] and a top-15 list by The Simpsons' own writers.[194] The most recent episode listed on the fan list was 1997's "Homer's Phobia"; the Simpsons' writers most recent choice was 2000's "Behind the Laughter". In 2004, Harry Shearer criticized what he perceived as the show's declining quality: "I rate the last three seasons as among the worst, so Season Four looks very good to me now."[195] In response, Dan Castellaneta stated "I don't agree, [...] I think Harry's issue is that the show isn't as grounded as it was in the first three or four seasons, that it's gotten crazy or a little more madcap. I think it organically changes to stay fresh."[196]

Despite the criticism, The Simpsons manages to maintain a large viewership and attract new fans. While the first season enjoyed an average of 13.4 million viewers per episode in the U.S.,[123] the twenty-first season had an average of 7.2 million viewers.[197] In an April 2006 interview, Matt Groening said, "I honestly don't see any end in sight. I think it's possible that the show will become too financially cumbersome... but right now, the show is creatively, I think, as good or better than it's ever been. The animation is incredibly detailed and imaginative, and the stories do things that we haven't done before. So creatively there's no reason to quit."[198]

Other media

Comic books

Numerous Simpson-related comic books have been released over the years. So far, nine comic book series have been published by Bongo Comics since 1993.[199] The first comic strips based on The Simpsons appeared in 1991 in the magazine Simpsons Illustrated, which was a companion magazine to the show.[200] The comic strips were popular and a one-shot comic book titled Simpsons Comics and Stories, containing four different stories, was released in 1993 for the fans.[201] The book was a success and due to this, the creator of The Simpsons, Matt Groening, and his companions Bill Morrison, Mike Rote, Steve Vance and Cindy Vance created the publishing company Bongo Comics.[201] Issues of Simpsons Comics, Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror and Bart Simpson have been collected and reprinted in trade paperbacks in the United States by HarperCollins.[202][203][204]


A Seattle 7-Eleven store transformed into a Kwik-E-Mart as part of a promotion for The Simpsons Movie.

20th Century Fox, Gracie Films, and Film Roman produced The Simpsons Movie, an animated film that was released on July 27, 2007.[205] The film was directed by long-time Simpsons producer David Silverman and written by a team of Simpsons writers comprising 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.[205] 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.[205] 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 he encountered difficulties in trying to expand the script to feature-length.[206] For a long time, difficulties such as lack of a suitable story and an already fully engaged crew of writers delayed the project.[198]


Collections of original music featured in the series have been released on the albums Songs in the Key of Springfield, Go Simpsonic with The Simpsons and The Simpsons: Testify.[207] Several songs have been recorded with the purpose of a single or album release and have not been featured on the show. The album The Simpsons Sing the Blues was released in September 1990 and was a success, peaking at #3 on the Billboard 200[208] and becoming certified 2x platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.[209] The first single from the album was the pop rap song "Do the Bartman", performed by Nancy Cartwright and released on November 20, 1990. The song was written by Michael Jackson, although he did not receive any credit.[210] The Yellow Album was released in 1998, but received poor reception and did not chart in any country.

The Simpsons Ride

In 2007, it was officially announced that The Simpsons Ride, a simulator ride, would be implemented into the Universal Studios Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.[211] It officially opened May 15, 2008 in Florida[212] and May 19, 2008 in Hollywood.[213] In the ride, patrons are introduced to a cartoon theme park called Krustyland built by Krusty the Clown. However, Sideshow Bob is loose from prison to get revenge on Krusty and the Simpson family.[214] It features more than 24 regular characters from The Simpsons and features the voices of the regular cast members, as well as Pamela Hayden, Russi Taylor and Kelsey Grammer.[215] Harry Shearer decided not to participate in the ride, so none of his characters have vocal parts.[216]

Video games

Numerous video games back on the show have been produced. Some of the early games include Konami's arcade game The Simpsons (1991) and Acclaim Entertainment's The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants (1991).[217][218] More modern games include The Simpsons Road Rage (2001), The Simpsons Hit & Run (2003) and The Simpsons Game (2007).[219][220][221] Electronic Arts, who produced The Simpsons Game, have owned the exclusive rights to create video games based on the show since 2005.[222] In 2010 they released a game called The Simpsons Arcade for the iPhone.[223] Two Simpsons pinball machines have been produced; one that was available briefly after the first season, and another that is still available for purchase.[224]


The popularity of The Simpsons has made it a billion-dollar merchandizing industry.[130] The title family and supporting characters appear on everything from t-shirts to posters. The Simpsons has inspired special editions of well-known board games, including Clue, Scrabble, Monopoly, Operation, and The Game of Life, as well as the trivia games What Would Homer Do? and Simpsons Jeopardy!. Several card games such as trump cards and The Simpsons Trading Card Game have also been released. Many official or unofficial Simpsons books such as episode guides have been published. Many episodes of the show have been released on DVD and VHS over the years. When the first season DVD was released in 2001, it quickly became the best-selling television DVD in history, although it was later overtaken by the first season of Chappelle's Show.[225] In particular, seasons one through twelve have been released on DVD in the U.S. (Region 1), Europe (Region 2) and Australia/New Zealand/Latin America (Region 4) with more seasons expected to be released in the future.[226]

In 2003, about 500 companies around the world were licensed to use Simpsons characters in their advertising.[227] As a promotion for The Simpsons Movie, twelve 7-Eleven stores were transformed into Kwik-E-Marts and sold The Simpsons related products. These included "Buzz Cola", "Krusty-O" cereal, pink doughnuts with sprinkles, and "Squishees".[228]

In 2008 consumers around the world spent $750 million on merchandise related to The Simpsons, with half of the amount originating from the United States. By 2009 20th Century Fox increased merchandising efforts.[229] On April 9, 2009, the United States Postal Service unveiled a series of five 44 cent stamps featuring Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie, to commemorate the show's twentieth anniversary.[230] The Simpsons is the first television series still in production to receive this recognition.[231][232] The stamps, designed by Matt Groening, were made available for purchase on May 7, 2009.[233] Approximately one billion were printed.[234]


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Further reading

  • Brown, Alan; Chris Logan (2006). The Psychology of The Simpsons. Dallas, Texas: Benbella Books. ISBN 1-932100-70-9. 
  • Gray, Jonathan (2006). Watching with The Simpsons: Television, Parody, and Intertextuality. Abingdon: Routledge. ISBN 0-4153-6202-4. 
  • Irwin, William; Mark T. Conrad, Aeon Skoble (1999). The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer. Chicago: Open Court. ISBN 0-8126-9433-3. 
  • Keller, Beth L. (1992). The Gospel According to Bart: Examining the Religious Elements of The Simpsons. Regent University. ISBN 0-8126-9433-3. 
  • Keslowitz, Steven (2003). The Simpsons And Society: An Analysis Of Our Favorite Family And Its Influence In Contemporary Society. Hats Off Books. ISBN 1-58736-253-8. 
  • Pinsky, Mark I (2001). The Gospel According to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World's Most Animated Family. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 0-664-22419-9. 
  • Pinsky, Mark I.; Samuel F. Parvin (2002). The Gospel According to the Simpsons: Leaders Guide for Group Study. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 0-664-22590-X. 

External links

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Survivor: All-Stars
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The Simpsons
American Dad!
Succeeded by
Grey's Anatomy

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