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The Simpsons aired from December 1989 until ? on FOX.
Certain series defined how much 1990s television had changed ( for better or worse, depending on your point of view) from the squeaky-clean days of the 1950s and 1960s. Roseanne was one, Married...With Children another. Arguably, The Simpsons was the most subversive of them all. It got away with its anarchic message largely because it was a cartoon, the first hit animated series since the very different Flintstones in the 1960s,
The seemingly idyllic town of Springfield had all the important things a city should have-a mall, a prison, a dump site, a mountain of burning tires, toxic waste, and a nuclear power plant. The safety inspector at the plant was Homer Simpson ( voice of Dan Castellaneta), who wasn't too bright ( his boss Mr. Burns, referred to him as "bonehead"), spent his spare time guzzling beer at Moe's Tavern and bowling at Barney's new Bowlerama. Although Homer and his wife Marge ( Julie Kavner) had their disagreements , they did love each other and their three kids. Marge was the family peacemaker, a gentile, caring woman with an enormous blue beehive hairdo held together by a single bobby-pin. Maggie, the youngest child, an infant who had just started walking, was never seen without a pacifier in her mouth. A silent observer of all around her, she communicated through sign language. Her older sister Lisa ( Yeardley Smith), an eternally optimistic second grader and baritone prodigy, was the smartest one in the family, but nobody seemed to notice she was a straight A student.
And then there was Bart ( Nancy Cartwright), television's most popular underachiever. An obnoxious misfit with spiked hair who masked his intelligence with sarcasm, he tore around town on a skateboard, grossed out his friends at every opportunity, and drove his fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Krabappel ( Marcia Wallace), crazy. He was preoccupied with only one thing-being cool. Bart, whose name is an anagram for Brat, was the consumate preteen wiseguy, forever getting in trouble but somehow managing to maneuver his way out before real catastrophe struck. His two most popular catch phrases during the series early years-"Don't have a cow man!" and " Ay, caramba!"-were imortalized on Simpsons T-shirts along with others ("Smooth move, man!," " Underachiever, and proud of it man!," " I'm Bart Simpson! Who the hell are you?" " Eat my shorts," and " Make sure there are plenty of escape routes") that he probably never said-but certainly were in character.
In addition to the central family, the Simpsons had a huge cast of semi-regulars and recurring characters-family, friends, city officials, and local personalities. Among the most popular were Homer's father, Abraham ( Dan Castellaneta), who lived at the retirement home; Marge's twin older sisters, Patty and Selma ( Julie Kavner voived both roles), their next-door neighbors The Flanders ( Harry Shearer played Ned, Maggie Roswell played Maude); Mr. Burns ( Harry Shearer), Homer's despicable boss; Smithers ( Harry Shearer), Mr. Burns' assistant; Moe ( Hank Azaria), who ran Homer's favorite tavern; Apu ( Hank Azaria), the Kwik-E-Mart clerk; Milhouse( Pamela Hayden), Bart's best friend; Barney ( Dan Castellaneta), owner of the bowling alley who usually was found at Moe's getting drunk; Principal Skinner ( Harry Shearer), Bart and Lisa's school principal who lived with his mother Agnes ( Tress MacNeille); Otto ( Harry Shearer) the school bus driver and Bart's favorite TV personality, Krusty the Clown ( Dan Castellaneta). The real "cartoon violence " on The Simpsons took place on episodes of " The Itchy and Scratchy Show," a cat ( Scratchy) and mouse ( Itchy) cartoon on Krusty's show in which the mouse routinely mangeled, disemboweled or blew up the cat. In February 2000 Maude Flanders was killed off ( Maggie Roswell who had done the voice, had left the series)when she was hit by a balled-up T-shirt at the new racetrack, lost her balance and fell over the railing to her death. Phil Hartman also provided voice work for the Simpsons right up until his unexpected death in 1998.
Occasionally there were serious moments on The Simpsons. Bart had an epiphany when he realized he had really hurt Lisa's feelings, Homer and Bart brought home the sorriest dog from the dog track and made it the family pet ( it's name was Santa's Little Helper), Lisa uncovered political corruption in Washington D.C., Marge exposed Mr. Burns as Springfield's worst polluter. In certain areas the show's continuity was lacking-perhaps on purpose. The Simpsons' home address usually on Evergreen Terrace, varied from episode to episode, as did their home and business phone numbers, and the profusion of characters who were left -handed ( as was creator Matt Groenig) in early episodes were not always left-handed in later episodes. The Halloween episode , which each year parodied classic science fiction and/or horror movies , may well have been the most anticipated Simpsons event of the season.
The Simpsons were virtually unnoticed when it began as a series of short vignettes on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, but it became a sensation as a regular series two years later, eventually surpassing The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as television's longest running sitcom. In a TV world where most of the people were attractive and the kids too good to be true, Homer and his unruly brood were a welcome contrast. Children loved the show, and to the surprise of some, so did many adults who appreciated its satirical element. The result was a ratings and merchendising bonanza . There were Simpsons air fresheners, dolls, beach towels, toothbrushes, posters, hats, watches, bed linens, and scores of other products. Celebrities vied for the opportunity to do guest voices, much as they had competed to be guest villians on Batman 25 years earlier. Among those heard were Penny Marshall, Albert Brooks, Ringo Starr, Tony Bennett, Danny DeVito, Larry King, Cloris Leachman, Elizabeth Taylor, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson, and Johnny Carson.
Creator Matt Groenig swore the series was not autobiographical, despite the fact that his parents and two sisters had the same name as the Simpsons. A cartoonist who had been drawing the " Life in Hell" comic strip since 1977, Groenig was both gratified and amazed by the success of his animated blue-collar family. It was his decision for the Simpsons, unlike real people never to age. Although there were flashbacks and flash-forwards in some episodes, in general time stood still for them-Bart was doomed to spend his entire animated existence in fourth grade.
An Article from The New York Times
Prime-Time Cartoon of Unbeautiful People
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: February 21, 1990
On a Christmas special of ''The Simpsons'' last December, little Bart, the fourth grader, sneered when someone mentioned Santa Claus. ''Oh, please,'' the exasperated brat said. ''There's only one fat guy who brings us presents, and his name isn't Santa.'' All Bart wanted for Christmas was a tattoo. Clearly this show, which was making its debut as a weekly series on Fox Broadcasting a few weeks later - at 8:30 P.M. Sundays on Channel 5 - had a shot at being something refreshingly different, and not just as the only animated cartoon in prime time. The record so far: impressively on target.
The Simpson family was created by the cartoonist Matt Groening, whose newspaper strip ''Life in Hell,'' currently featuring the fez-crowned duo of Akbar and Jeff, is delightful. He created the Simpsons for brief segments on Fox's ''Tracey Ullman Show,'' and the family is just about everything that most television families are not. Mr. Groening calls them ''a hallucination of a sitcom.'' With popping eyes, bizarre hairdos and overbites that would make an orthodonist salivate, Mom, Dad and the three children nag, quarrel and make general nuisances of themselves. Like ''Roseanne,'' they are exuberantly blue collar but in no way as vulgar and sleazy as the ''Married . . . With Children'' gang. The understandably protective Mr. Groening sees the Simpsons as ''lovable - in a mutant sort of way.''
Actually, the characters come closest to the offbeat types that pop up weekly on the Ullman show. This is not a coincidence. The executive producers of ''The Simpsons'' are, in addition to Mr. Groening, James L. Brooks (''Terms of Endearment,'' ''Broadcast News,'' television's ''Mary Tyler Moore Show'') and Sam Simon (''Taxi''), both of whom perform the same function for Ms. Ullman. All three men obviously share a similarly skewed sense of humor.
Even some voices for ''The Simpsons'' are provided by regulars on ''The Tracey Ullman Show.'' Julie Kavner does Marge, the relentlessly loving mom who occasionally works as a roller-skating carhop, and Dan Castellaneta is Homer, the harried dad who insists on being grouchy, no doubt inspired by his job at a nuclear power plant that adorns the fictional community of Springfield (Mr. Groening was raised in Portland, Ore.). Homer's passions are eating Pork Rinds Lite and bowling.
Young Bart, who is more like his dad than either of them wants to concede, is the classic cutup and goof-off, addicted to pranks when he's not terrifying pedestrians with his skateboard. Bart's spike haircut suggests he has been profoundly influenced by Jughead in the old ''Archie'' comic books. Convinced that he was born to entertain, Bart winds up as the centerpiece of most episodes.
One had Bart inadvertently bloodying the nose of the school bully, Nelson, who had stomped on the cupcakes that Bart's kid sister, Lisa, was taking to her teacher. Pursued by Nelson, Bart cried to his parents, ''I paid the inevitable price for helping out my kid sister,'' whom he considered just a soppy teacher's pet anyway. Dad's advice: ''Fight dirty. Remember the fight Grandpa put up when they put him in the home?'' Enter, Gramps, now spending most of his time writing complaints to advertisers about depictions of the elderly on televsion.
Gramps introduces Bart to a Soldier of Fortune buff who devises a pincer movement to defeat the bully. (''Can't fail against a 10-year-old,'' he chortles.) With the battle raging, Gramps is delighted: ''I thought I'd never again hear screams of pain or see terror in men's eyes. Thank heavens for children!'' The half-hour ended with Bart warning that war is neither glamorous nor cool, ''with these exceptions: the Revolutionary War, World War II and the 'Star Wars' trilogy.''
Then there was the time that Bart, worried about his parents' being called into the principal's office (''What do we need a psychiatrist for?'' Homer wonders. ''We know our kid is a nut.''), switched his I.Q. test with that of the class smarty. Suddenly hailed as a genius, Bart is shipped off to a special school where the unctuous teacher explains that there is ''one rule: make your own rules.'' Pressed to give an example of a paradox, Bart comes up with ''damned if you do, damned if you don't.''
The show can fall flat. Last Sunday's episode about a family camping trip started off promisingly as a slick car dealer spotted the rubelike Simpsons approaching his camper display and murmured in fervent gratitude, ''Thank you, God.'' But the trip itself soon became merely outlandish, with Homer covered in pond slime and being mistaken for Big Foot. There is, admittedly, a fine line between being hilariously perceptive and just plain, even objectionably, silly. While habitually teetering on that line, ''The Simpsons'' has shown a remarkable ability to come down on the right side most of the time. Fourth Grader Is Born to Entertain THE SIMPSONS, created by Matt Groening; supervising animation director, Gabor Csupo; produced by Richard Sakai; James L. Brooks, Mr. Groening and Sam Simon, executive producers. Sunday At 8:30 P.M. Sunday on Fox.
An Article from The New York Times
Overacheiver - and Learning to Deal With It, Man
By LARRY ROHTER
Published: October 7, 1990
Not long after ''The Simpsons'' became the television sensation of the year and Bart Simpson T-shirts began turning up across America, Matt Groening, the syndicated cartoonist and the creator of the show, received an affectionate letter from Mrs. Hoover, his first-grade teacher back in Portland, Ore. ''She said she remembered me and that I was not a good listener,'' Mr. Groening remarked as he sat in his cluttered office at 20th Century Fox, a Bart Simpson pinata hanging in one corner near a pinball machine.
Over the years, Mr. Groening has heard that complaint many times. He didn't listen when his teachers told him to stop doodling and daydreaming in class. He didn't listen after college, when he was told cartooning was no occupation for a grown man. Most of all, he didn't listen when one television executive after another told him that an animated series could never survive in prime time.
Thanks to that contrariness, Mr. Groening (pronounced GREEN-ing) now finds himself presiding over a full-fledged if unlikely pop-culture phenomenon as the inventor of a family of cartoon misfits struggling desperately to appear normal and inevitably failing. ''The Simpsons,'' which grew out of a recurring sketch on the Fox Broadcasting Company's ''Tracey Ullman Show,'' will begin its second season on Fox this Thursday. The amiable, bearded Mr. Groening is taking a child's delight in every aspect of the program's success, from the Emmy Award it won this September to the criticism it provokes from offended authority figures.
''I've been waiting since I was a kid to have a chance to do a prime-time animated TV show, and I was surprised that I was the one to have to do it,'' he said as he tinkered with a talking Bart Simpson doll that will soon go on the market. ''I kept on expecting it to show up on the TV schedule every year, but it never did.''
For a man who just a few years ago was known only to readers of ''Life in Hell,'' a weekly syndicated cartoon featuring a pair of buck-toothed rabbits named Binky and Bongo who blunder their way through one existential dilemma after another, the overnight success of ''The Simpsons'' means there is a lot to absorb, most of it amusing. Bart Simpson's punch lines - ''Don't have a cow, man'' in particular - have passed into the language, and Mr. Groening has been besieged with offers to merchandise the images of Homer and Marge Simpson and their three maladjusted children.
''It's not our fault,'' said a laughing Mr. Groening, who is 36 years old, married and the father of a 1-year-old son named Homer, when asked about the proliferation of Simpson towels, toys, lunch boxes and clothes. ''I apologize to America. But a Bart Simpson air freshener that is smell-o-rific? That's one of those things which when they ask you, how can you not?
''Back when I was in college and studying more serious stuff, like philosophy and literature, I realized that I loved all this dumb crass trash culture that we're surrounded by,'' he continued. ''I wanted to participate on the lowest and the highest levels.
''So much of television and the rest of pop culture is about glamour and envy,'' he said. '' 'The Simpsons' isn't, and I love having us as an alternative to the rest of what you are bombarded by.''
For Mr. Groening and the creative team behind ''The Simpsons,'' the only cloud on the horizon is the program's new time slot, Thursdays at 8 P.M., directly opposite NBC's ''Cosby Show,'' the most popular television comedy of the 1980's. That sets up a direct confrontation between two very different visions of the American family, and the results thus far have been lopsided: when both shows were shown in reruns prior to the start of the new season last week, ''The Cosby Show'' won consistently and ''The Simpsons'' suffered a large drop in audience. (Further competition on Thursdays will come later this month when ''The Flash,'' a new CBS show based on the comic book character, returns to the 8 P.M. slot after an experimental run at 8:30.) ''Well, it's no fun,'' Mr. Groening said when questioned about the shift. ''The prospect is not something we are looking forward to. The specifics of it still confuse me, but I do detect that Cosby is going to hurt our ratings.''
Mr. Groening and the program's executive producer, the television veteran James L. Brooks, made it clear that they would have preferred the show to remain in its original Sunday-night time period, from which it became the first program on the fledgling fourth network to crack the Nielsen Top 10. But Fox needed a strong program to anchor an expansion of its programming to Thursday nights, and ''The Simpsons'' was chosen, despite the creators' protests.
''We have no control over it,'' Mr. Brooks said. ''We didn't volunteer; we were drafted.''
Should ''The Cosby Show'' prove an invincible competitor, a demand to be switched to another slot is not out of the question. ''If we start to feel like sacrificial lambs, we will bleat louder,'' Mr. Brooks said. ''We won't go like lambs to the slaughter.''
To retain the huge following ''The Simpsons'' acquired almost overnight, Mr. Groening and company have developed new char acters and story lines. In episodes to be broadcast this fall, Bart is hit by a car and experiences the afterlife, Homer meets a long-lost half-brother whose voice is supplied by Danny DeVito, and Marge's two disgruntled and gravel-voiced sisters get a moment in the spotlight.
''The first season of the show, we were basically working in the dark,'' Mr. Groening said. This year, he added, there is ''a conscious attempt not to repeat other shows, but we are also attempting not to repeat ourselves. In the first 13 shows there are some very offbeat stories with some hairpin turns.''
Among them is the episode ''Itchy Versus Scratchy Versus Marge,'' in which Mr. Groening pokes fun at those who argue that ''The Simpsons'' is vulgar and sets a bad example for America's youth. The episode is, Mr. Groening said, a ''sendup of all those ultraviolent cat-and-mouse cartoons. Marge writes letters of protest and takes on the cartoon makers. It's very funny when the cartoons are cleaned up, for it does indeed change society. It makes it better and kids stop being bad.''
Real life, as Mr. Groening has discovered, is much more complicated. From the start, his show has been criticized by education and parent groups - even former United States Secretary of Education William Bennett - largely because of Bart's jaundiced view of schooling and those who provide it. There are reports that principals at some schools have even forbidden pupils to wear their Bart Simpson ''Underachiever and Proud of It, Man'' T-shirts.
''It's the highest compliment, I guess,'' Mr. Groening, clearly amused, said of the complaints. ''I think it comes down to people who lie awake in bed worrying about other people having a good time. There is always somebody around to say, 'Wipe that insolent smirk off your face.'
''Bart is sort of like Groucho Marx, puncturing the pomposity of the situations he is in. I think everybody appreciates that except Margaret Dumont and William Bennett.
''When I was in fourth grade, I read a World War II prisoner-of-war book,'' he recalled, ''and I said, 'Yeah, this is like my grade school. There's guards, and you can't do anything.' It was just like 'The Simpsons.' '' To those who know Mr. Groening best, it is obvious that Bart's irreverent attitude, like his left-handedness, is largely derived from his creator. ''Matt is Alvin of Alvin and the Chipmunks, which is what Bart is, too,'' said the cartoonist and playwright Lynda Barry, a college classmate of Mr. Groening's at Evergreen State College in Washington and one of his closest friends. ''That was there even in high school and before. It's amusing that he's managed to take maximum advantage of his problems with authority figures.''
When he was a kid, Mr. Groening confessed, ''I basically wanted things to be livened up at school. So many of my classmates were bored and passive. I was bored and annoying, but I was also doing interesting stuff, and I thought that having my cartoons confiscated and ripped up was gratuitous.''
Mr. Groening encountered much the same stodginess during his early forays into the world of television. ''Just saying 'Rocky and Bullwinkle' was enough to get them nervous,'' he said. ''My feeling is that the reason 'The Simpsons' got on the air, among other things, is that finally there are network executives young enough to remember watching cartoons and enjoying them as kids.''
Though no longer a kid himself, Mr. Groening seems to have preserved his sense of amazement at the ordinary, and he derives considerable pleasure from harmless pranks, like sneaking references to Diane Arbus or Susan Sontag into the show. So when ''The Simpsons'' returns this week, he will, in all likelihood, be right in front of the tube with the show's millions of other fans, exactly as he was last season.
''Just seeing my drawings, which don't move and are very flat, animated is like a hallucination come to life,'' he said. ''To see the curve of my line move is just the most amazing thing. I used to get a thrill out of doing flip books back in grade school. But this, this is a different level.''
An Article from The New York Times
Review/Television; The Misadventures of the Simpsons
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: September 24, 1992
Some politicians might take exception to CBS's "Murphy Brown." A few might even dare to tackle ABC's "Roseanne," which has been mounting a persuasive challenge to the White House stand that the recession is not as bad as the press might have you believe. But only the foolhardy would go up against "The Simpsons," returning at 8 tonight on Fox for a fourth season and still the most radical show on prime time.
With its breezily dysfunctional family, "The Simpsons" can deftly skewer everything from nuclear energy and modern education to corporate greed and baseball nostalgia. Matt Groening, the show's creator, is a cartoonist with a pen dipped in seemingly fey, truly diabolical whimsy. Further proof is available in "Life in Hell," his syndicated newspaper comic strip starring Ali and Akbar, America's most endearingly odd couple.
Developed by James L. Brooks, Sam Simon and Mr. Groening from cartoon segments made for "The Tracey Ullman Show," "The Simpsons" first appeared to be only an animated show about a boy named Bart, the kind of irresistible brat whose nonconforming roots go back to Peck's Bad Boy and the Dead End Kids. Gradually, though, it became apparent that this wasn't just another children's show.
The animation is ingenious, filling the screen with far more detail than can be grasped in a single viewing. The scripts are consistently inventive, brimming with pop-culture allusions, satires and parodies. And the characters have been given perfectly on-target voices courtesy of Dan Castellaneta (Homer and Krusty the Clown), Julie Kavner (Marge), Nancy Cartwright (Bart) and Yeardley Smith (Lisa). Little Maggie has yet to utter her first word, but she does sigh impatiently in a new episode.
Tonight, the rituals of summer camp for youngsters, always good for an easy dose of sentimentality, are the stuff of a typical Simpsonian nightmare. It's the last day of school. Lisa, objecting to a B plus on her otherwise perfect report card, is told by a teacher that "everyone needs a blot on their permanent record."
After filling a blackboard with the observation that "this punishment is not boring and pointless," Bart sets about changing all the D's to A's on his report card, hoping that Homer will let him go with Lisa to Kamp Krusty. He refuses to pack a bathing suit, insisting that "the human body is a thing of beauty," but reconsiders when he spots hair on the back of pot-bellied Homer.
The bus departs, the children cheer and the parents break out the Champagne. The camp, of course, turns out to be a rip-off. Krusty, attending the tennis matches at Wimbledon, is seen only via videotape. His thuggish deputy was, Bart insists, throwing in a zinger for the Disney people, "in charge of Euro Krusty until it blew up." The children confront dirt floors, snakes and meals of gruel, assured that "9 out of 10 orphans can't tell the difference." Lisa writes her parents: "I no longer fear hell." Krusty eventually repents. ("They drove a truckload full of money up to my house," he says. "I'm not made of stone.") And there is a happy ending, in Tijuana, Mexico, of all places.
Next week, Marge, ignored by her family as they sit glued to the "Miss America Pageant," auditions for a local musical version of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and gets the lead role of Blanche DuBois. This show, "Oh! Streetcar," features lyrics along the lines of "Stella! You put me through hell-a!" Lisa is thrilled: "Wow! My mother, the actress. I feel like Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill." But Homer has misgivings, especially when Marge, now practicing her Southern drawl, seems to be paying less than full attention to family dinner. "For God's sake," she tells him, "you can pull the lid off your own can of pudding."
Meanwhile, Maggie is placed in the Ayn Rand School for Tots, described by the unctuous director as "the only day-care center in town that's not currently under investigation by the state." A Simpson to the bone, Maggie is soon leading a nap-time insurrection that unearths a book called "The Fountainhead Diet." Homer, still sulking about Marge, does feel bad about Blanche being "hauled to a nut house when all she needed was that big slob to show her some respect." Well, at least Homer is a lovable slob.
Name your problem. "The Simpsons" is bound to take it for a shrewdly whacky spin. Mr. Groening and company continue to be delightfully original and almost subversively provocative. Now, in television, that's uncommon enough to be startling. The Simpsons Fox, tonight at 8 (Channel 5 in New York)
Created by Matt Groening for Gracie Films in association with 20th Television; Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, executive story editors; John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti, Jeff Martin, Frank Mula, Richard Sakai, Richard Raynis, Conan O'Brien and David Silverman, producers; George Meyer, Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky, supervising producers; Phil Roman, animation executive producer; James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon, Al Jean and Mike Reiss, executive producers.
An Article from The New York Times
Will 'The Simpsons' Ever Age?
By DAVID CARR
Published: April 24, 2005
IF a person were to, for the sake of art or science, sit down and watch every episode of "The Simpsons" ever made, it would take him more than a week of no-sleep, back-to-back viewing in 350 half-hour increments.
In that marathon the viewer would learn that life on a street called Evergreen Terrace never really changes, that Bart, Lisa and Maggie, along with their creator, Matt Groening, will not grow up, and that the Simpsons, once viewed as the shock troops of cultural mortification, are a shining exemplar of family stability in the come and go world of television.
And even though some of its most ferocious fans suggest that it ran out of gas some time ago, the show remains in high gear, with 20 writers working on next year's season, searching for yet another joke that has yet to be told on "The Simpsons." An animated sitcom that seemed to lose some of its bite as it grew long in the tooth has been back in the news, with an episode on gay marriage earlier this year and later this season, a satirical, some would say sacrilegious, episode about the Simpsons' dalliance with Catholicism and another about the apocalypse. "The Simpsons," which had become as familiar as a pair of Homer's roomy trousers, has found a way to get its finger back in the eyes of viewers.
Mr. Groening, in spite of his own hints in previous interviews that the show might be running its course, has found a second wind. "I think the show has almost reached its halfway point, which means another 17 years," he said - and this of a show that is already the longest running now on television.
James L. Brooks, the veteran television producer who helped develop the series, said the episodes currently being worked for next year will be "vintage," in part because of the influx of new writing blood. And just in case that does not satisfy the apparently bottomless appetite for all things Simpson, Mr. Groening, along with Mr. Brooks and several of the show's longtime writers, are all hard at work in an office on the 20th Century Fox lot on the long-rumored Simpsons movie. "Part of the reason that we are still around is that there is a real emotional depth to these characters," said Mr. Groening, sitting in his office at 20th Century Fox earlier this month, a second-story hideaway on the lot that was denuded of the boxes of pop culture clutter - obscure world music CD's, knock-off "Simpsons" collectibles - that generally surround him in order to create enough space for an interview. "And I think there is a relative lightness of sprit over at the studio," he added, with a laugh. "They seem pretty happy over there."
With more than $1 billion in green kicked up by the yellow people of Springfield, there is little reason that Fox would not be in a good mood. Although through last week, "The Simpsons" was 68th out of all network shows, according to Neilsen Media Research, it still attracts almost 10 million viewers, many of them in the younger demographic groups that advertisers crave. They are apparently happy enough to give a party tomorrow night memorializing the 350th show, a seemingly random number, but one no other currently running show has achieved.
Mr. Groening, the series's creator; the series's actors; and the legions of guest stars will make a yellow-carpet arrival for a crew party that will include fortunetellers, caricaturists and air brush artists. And then the whole Simpsons' family will plop down in front of a big screen to watch "Don't Fear the Roofer," the 350th episode, with guest appearances by Ray Romano and the physicist Stephen Hawking. The episode will be broadcast next Sunday.
The party will be a rare break in a year-round schedule. Ten days ago, Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart, was at the microphone recording on the Marge Simpson Stage - the Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell stages are elsewhere in the building - recording additional tracks for an episode that will be broadcast later this season. Pain, the leitmotif of life as a Simpson, is getting another workout.
Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow," she said, in the helium-inflected voice of American's favorite word scramble for the word "brat" as she watched an animation of Bart being serially mauled by a rotating mattress. The painful fun of making "The Simpsons" has yet to wear off. "The Simpsons," a show Mr. Groening conceived in 15 minutes before a pitch meeting with Fox - in the rush, he used the names of his family for the characters - has outlived "Friends," "Seinfeld" and "Cheers." What began as an animated sideshow to break up the live-action sketches for Tracey Ullman's show became its own show in December 1989 and has gone on to become a maypole for American culture.
"I always thought the show would be a hit," Mr. Groening said. "At the time Fox was brand-new and willing to experiment. To this day, I don't think it could get on any other network." Looking very much like the tidied up ex-hippie he is - mod glasses, slight paunch - Mr. Groening, 51, pointed out that "The Simpsons" might be the only sitcom that has never had to deal with program notes from studio executives, an exalted status arranged by Mr. Brooks, one of the show's other godfathers."We always say to ourselves that we will know when to call it a day and there have been times when we have seriously considered it," Mr. Brooks said. "But I think we are all feeling great about the show right now." Getting new rubber on an old tire is no small effort - the show is always in danger of self-parody. An episode of "South Park" once suggested that every possible comedic riff had already been done on "The Simpsons." But Mr. Groening and Al Jean, an executive producer, have been around since the beginning and both ardently and insist that the current season will have its share of classic episodes.
"We all take very seriously how beloved the show is, and we don't want to be the ones who let it slip," Mr. Jean said. The table read, a rehearsal with actors present, on this particular Thursday seemed to go very well. A room with about 50 people was divided among writers, actors and people from on and off the lot who clamor for a chair. "My Fair Laddy" tells the story of Lisa's attempt to transform Groundskeeper Willie, the brutish Scottish janitor at Springfield Elementary, into a proper gentleman as her Pygmalion-esque experiment for the annual science fair.
The table read had the feel and sound of an old-time radio drama, though with more updated cultural references. Owing to his time in mock stirrups with "Spamalot," Hank Azaria was piped in by phone, as was Yeardley Smith, but the rest of the cast was there. The episode belongs principally to Dan Castellaneta, who plays Homer, Groundskeeper Willie, Krusty the Clown and five other characters in just this episode and who shifts octaves, inflections and accents in the time it would take most civilians to clear their throat. In the middle of the read Mr. Castellaneta kicks into a version of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" from "My Fair Lady," which becomes "Wouldn't It Be Adequate," coming from the shack-dwelling, Scottish maintenance man.
"Matching socks for both my feet, dining on untainted meat, a toilet what still has its seat, oh, wouldn't it be adequate," he sang. Mr. Groening, who sat in the middle chair making notes on the script, emitted some of the loudest guffaws.
Mr. Groening has embraced the show's success with childlike and mercenary relish, happily producing a legion of books and licensing thousands of ancillary products - a three-foot inflatable replica of a can of Duff beer is available. He still draws his weekly comic strip "Life in Hell" because he likes having a solitary pursuit, but clearly enjoys collaborating as well with the show's writers - many of whom where kids themselves when Bart first stepped on the block.
"I get to work with writers who write funnier than I do, animators who draw better than I do and network executives who dress better than I do," Mr. Groening said. "I'm in a great mood."
Correction: May 8, 2005, Sunday:
An article on April 24 about "The Simpsons" referred incorrectly to a record it holds. It is the longest-running comedy now on television - not the longest-running show.
An Article from The New York Times
'Simpsons' Animates Gay Nuptials, and a Debate
By SHARON WAXMAN
Published: February 21, 2005
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 20 - In the ongoing culture wars over whether gays should have the right to marry, an animated question reared its head on Sunday prime-time television: as goes "The Simpsons," does the nation go, too?
In an episode titled "There's Something About Marrying," a longtime character on Fox's 15-year hit - it was Marge Simpson's sister Patty Bouvier, a closely held secret until the 8 p.m. broadcast - came out of the closet while Homer Simpson conducted dozens of same-sex weddings after small-town Springfield legalized the unions in a bid to increase tourism. As television's longest-running situation comedy, "The Simpsons" is no stranger to hot-button social, religious and political issues, mocking wardrobe malfunctions, Hollywood liberals and born-again Christians, among other targets.
But when a show as mainstream and popular as this takes on one of the most divisive issues in American society, it is certain to attract attention. Bookmakers in the United States and England were taking bets as to which character would be revealed as homosexual, and whether there would be a kiss - a nod, perhaps, to the popular programming gimmick of having lesbian characters lock lips during sweeps periods like the current one.
But mostly, television experts, fans and advocates for gay marriage ruminated over the larger significance of the moment.
"The issue was mainstream to some degree, but now that they've deigned it worthy of the show it is interwoven into the fabric of popular culture," said Ray Richmond, a television columnist for The Hollywood Reporter and co-editor of the anthology "The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family."
He added, " 'The Simpsons' bestows upon something a pop culture status it never had before, simply by virtue of being ripe for a joke."
(BetUS.com posted odds on the kiss at 7 to 5, and laid odds on Patty as the favorite to come out of the closet.)
Not unexpectedly, culture warriors were swift to weigh in, both for and against the cartoon's treatment of the issue.
"It's saying to those who demonize homosexuality, or what they call the homosexual agenda, anything from 'Lighten up' to 'Get out of town,' " said Marty Kaplan, associate dean of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication and host of a media show on the talk radio network Air America. "It sounds as though they're saying that what the religious right calls 'the homosexualist agenda,' as if it were creeping Satanism, is: these people are your neighbors in the Springfield that is America."
Indeed, in some ways the Simpsons' fictional hometown, Springfield, has become a surrogate for mainstream, small-town America, with Homer its bumbling working-class hero. The closest parallel may well be the endearing though intolerant Archie Bunker, who became a symbol of working-class America in the 1970's show "All in the Family."
L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Parents Television Council, criticized "The Simpsons" for addressing the issue of gay marriage, though he cautioned that he had not seen the episode. A parental advisory preceded the broadcast.
"At a time when the public mood is overwhelmingly against gay marriage, any show that promotes gay marriage is deliberately bucking the public mood," he said.
"I'd rather them not do it at all," he added. "You've got a show watched by millions of children. Do children need to have gay marriage thrust in their faces as an issue? Why can't we just entertain them?"
The show's writers could not be reached for comment, and Fox declined to comment.
Since debuting in 1989, "The Simpsons" has commonly skewered the most sensitive topics of social, religious, political and cultural debate. The culture, in turn, has returned the favor. "The Simpsons" has been featured in at least one university philosophy course, in which Homer was used as a tool to understand Aristotle, Kant and Nietzsche, and in a mathematical course to explore topics like calculus and Riemannian geometry.
The show, now in its 16th season, still garners strong ratings, while reruns of episodes from past years are broadcast continually on Fox. It has become a billion-dollar franchise for the network, spawning lucrative DVD packages, books and consumer merchandise.
An Article from The New York Times
Questions for Matt Groening
Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON
Published: July 22, 2007
The Simpsons Movie, opening on Friday, reminds us of your substantial role in giving masterpiece status to cartoons and animation. Do you see yourself as an A-level artist? No. Cartooning is for people who can't quite draw and can't quite write. You combine the two half-talents and come up with a career.
How much of the movie is hand-drawn? We used a combination of cheap labor and computers.
What does that mean? You outsourced the film to animators in China? No. When I say cheap, I mean there's no amount of money that an animator can be paid they deserve our eternal gratitude. I would give them back massages if they would take them.
One highlight of 20th-century art is surely Marge Simpson's blue beehive hairdo. That was inspired by a combination of my own mother's hairstyle in the 1960s and, of course, The Bride of Frankenstein.
Marge's hair also puts one in mind of Queen Nefertiti and makes her seem regal beside her husband. Any woman would seem regal in comparison to Homer.
In its 18 years on Fox, The Simpsons has taken more than a few swipes at Rupert Murdoch, the network's politically conservative owner. Do the two of you ever hang out? Not really, but he's been gracious every time I've met him. He played himself on the show, and we wrote the line, I'm Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire tyrant, and this is my skybox, as his entrance line. He performed it with great zeal.
Would you like to see him buy The Wall Street Journal? I think he owns enough.
In your film, a character named President Arnold Schwarzenegger occupies the Oval Office. How did that happen? We needed a president that would make people laugh. And Schwarzenegger was the obvious choice.
You're known to be a fairly active Democrat. I've rarely voted for a winner in my political life, with the exception of Al Gore.
For all its supposedly subversive humor, The Simpsons is basically pro-family and celebrates the consolations of domestic togetherness. The show is celebrating the people who drive you crazy, and that's basically been it from the very beginning.
It's unimaginable that Marge and Homer will ever divorce. No, they love each other they're nuts about each other. I guess there is a little bit of wish fulfillment on the part of the writers. We want it to work out for somebody.
Your own family has not remained intact. Is there anything to say about your divorce? The demise of marriage and the breaking up of a family is a big drag for everyone.
Do you enjoy fatherhood? It's a blast. My sons are 16 and 18. We enjoy so much of the same garbage.
What did your dad do for a living when you were growing up in Portland, Ore.? He did single-panel gag cartoons in magazines, the kind featuring starving men crawling across the desert. Later, he turned to surf movies. That's where he made his mark.
Your movie has a premiere this weekend in a 200-seat theater in Springfield, Vt., winner of a national contest among 14 identically-named towns. I'll be there.
In what state is the Simpsons's fictional Springfield located? Certainly not Vermont. You'll find out in the movie. We actually reveal the states that Springfield borders on.
Can you tell me now? Maine, Kentucky and I can't remember what the others are. The point is that Springfield is in your heart.
Why did you decide on a small-town setting instead of the big city? Big cities are harder to draw.
To watch clips of The Simpsons go to https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=simpsons+tv+show+full+episode
For more on The Simpsons go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Simpsons
For the Simpsons Archives go to http://www.simpsonsarchive.com/
For Tim's TV Showcase go to https://web.archive.org/web/20090303230957/http://www.timstvshowcase.com/simpsons.html
For The Simpsons on Facebook go to https://www.facebook.com/TheSimpsons/
For an article on The Simpsons go to https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2007/08/simpsons200708
For some TV Reviews go to https://www.avclub.com/c/tv-review/the-simpsons
For some Simpsons-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/shows/simpsons-the
For two great reviews of The Simpsons go to http://www.museum.tv/eotv/simpsonsthe.htm and https://web.archive.org/web/20080222053818/http://www.televisionheaven.co.uk/simpsons.htm
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Keywords: The Simpsons