The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom which was created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. It is a satirical parody of the middle class American lifestyle epitomized by its titular family, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. The show is set in the fictional town of Springfield, and it lampoons many aspects of the human condition, as well as American culture, society as a whole, and television itself.
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 first Fox series to land in the Top 30 ratings in a season (1992-1993).
Since its debut on December 17, 1989, the show has broadcast 422 episodes and the twentieth season commenced airing in on September 28, 2008. The Simpsons Movie, a feature-length film, was released in theaters worldwide on July 26 and July 27, 2007, and has grossed approximately US$526.2 million worldwide to date.
The Simpsons has won dozens of awards since it debuted as a series, including 24 Emmy Awards, 26 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 it was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Simpsons is the longest-running American sitcom and the longest-running American animated program. Homer's annoyed grunt "D'oh!" has been adopted into the English lexicon, while The Simpsons has influenced many adult-oriented animated sitcoms.
The Simpson family first appeared as shorts in The Tracey Ullman Show on April 19, 1987. Groening submitted only basic sketches to the animators and assumed that the figures would be cleaned-up in production. However, the animators merely re-traced his drawings, which led to the crude appearance of the characters in the initial short episodes.
In 1989, a team of production companies adapted The Simpsons into a half-hour series for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The team included what is now the Klasky Csupo animation house. Jim Brooks negotiated a provision in the contract with the Fox network that prevented Fox from interfering with the show's content. Groening said his goal in creating the show was to offer the audience an alternative to what he called "the mainstream trash" that they were watching. The half-hour series premiered on December 17, 1989 with "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire", a Christmas special. "Some Enchanted Evening" was the first full-length episode produced, but it did not broadcast until May 1990 because of animation problems.
The Simpsons was the Fox network's first TV series to rank among a season's top 30 highest-rated shows. The show's success prompted Fox to expand its schedule to a new night (Thursday) and put it head-to-head against the number one ranked The Cosby Show which ultimately hurt the ratings of The Simpsons. In 1992, Tracey Ullman filed a lawsuit against Fox, claiming that her show was the source of the series' success. The suit said she should receive a share of the profits of The Simpsons—a claim rejected by the courts.
The show was controversial from its beginning. The rebellious lead character at the time, Bart, frequently received no punishment for his misbehavior, which led some parents and conservatives to characterize him as a poor role model for children. At the time, then-President George H. W. Bush said, "We're going to strengthen the American family to make them more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons." Several U.S. public schools even banned The Simpsons merchandise and t-shirts, such as one featuring Bart and the caption "Underachiever ('And proud of it, man!')". Despite the ban, The Simpsons merchandise sold well and generated US$2 billion in revenue during the first 14 months of sales.
The Simpsons' writing team consists of sixteen writers who propose episode ideas at the beginning of each December. 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. The leader of these sessions is George Meyer, who has developed the show since Season One. According to long-time writer Jon Vitti, Meyer usually invents the best lines in a given episode, even though other writers may receive script credits. Each episode takes six months to produce so the show rarely comments on current events. However, episodes occasionally mention planned events, such as the Olympics or the Super Bowl.
Credited with sixty episodes, John Swartzwelder is the most prolific writer on The Simpsons' staff. 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. 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. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, writers of the film Superbad will write an episode and Rogen will voice a character in it.
The Simpsons has six main cast members. Dan Castellaneta performs Homer Simpson, Abraham Simpson, Krusty the Clown, Barney Gumble and other adult, male characters. Julie Kavner speaks the voices of Marge Simpson and Patty and Selma, as well as several minor characters. Nancy Cartwright performs the voices of Bart Simpson, Ralph Wiggum and other children. Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson, is the only cast member who regularly voices only one character, although she occasionally plays other episodic characters. There are two male actors who do not voice members of the title family but play a majority of the male townspeople; Hank Azaria voices recurring characters such as Moe, Chief Wiggum, and Apu, and Harry Shearer provides voices for Mr. Burns, Smithers, Principal Skinner, Ned Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy, and Dr. Hibbert. With the exception of Harry Shearer, every main cast member has won an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance.
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. The series creator Groening supported the actors in their action. However, 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. The strike was resolved a month later and their salaries were increased to something between $250,000 and $360,000 per episode. 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. The dispute was soon resolved, and the actors' salary was raised to $400,000 per episode.
In addition to the main cast, Pamela Hayden, Tress MacNeille, Marcia Wallace, Maggie Roswell, and Russi Taylor voice supporting characters. From 1999 to 2002, Maggie Roswell's characters were voiced by Marcia Mitzman Gaven. Karl Wiedergott has appeared in minor roles, but does not voice any recurring characters. Repeat "special guest" cast members include Albert Brooks, Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Joe Mantegna, and Kelsey Grammer.
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". The Simpsons holds the world record for "Most Guest Stars Featured in a Television Series".
The show has been dubbed into several other languages, including Japanese, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. It is also one the few programs dubbed in both French and Quebec French. 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.
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, who continue to animate the show as of 2008.
In Season 14, production switched from traditional cel animation to digital ink and paint. The first episode to experiment with digital coloring was "Radioactive Man" in 1995. Animators used digital ink and paint during production of the Season 12 episode "Tennis the Menace", but Gracie Films delayed the regular use of digital ink and paint until two seasons later. The already completed "Tennis the Menace" was broadcast as made.
The Simpsons are a typical family who live in a fictional "Middle American" town of Springfield. 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, a baby who rarely speaks, but communicates by sucking on a pacifier. The family owns a dog, Santa's Little Helper, and a cat, Snowball II. 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 (slight differences in animation style notwithstanding).
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.
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. 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. 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.
Some commentators say the show is political in nature and susceptible to a left-wing bias. Al Jean admitted in an interview that "We [the show] are of liberal bent." The writers often evince an appreciation for liberal ideals, but the show makes jokes across the political spectrum. The show portrays government and large corporations as callous entities that take advantage of the common worker. 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. 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.
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. The series' distinctive theme song was composed by musician Danny Elfman in 1989, after Groening approached him requesting a retro style piece. This piece, which took two days to create, has been noted by Elfman as the most popular of his career.
One of the most distinctive aspects of the opening is that several segments are changed from episode to episode. Bart writes something different on the school chalkboard, Lisa might play a different solo on her saxophone and a different visual gag accompanies the family as they enter their living room to sit on the couch.
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. 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. 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.
The show uses catchphrases, and most of the primary and secondary characters have at least one each. 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. 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.
A number of neologisms that originated on The Simpsons have entered the popular vernacular. 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. 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. 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 director of The Simpsons told Castellaneta to shorten the noise, and it went on to become the well-known exclamation in the TV series. The phrase has even been used (in a Homer Simpson context) in international productions, such as a 2008 episode of the UK television series, Doctor Who.
Other Simpsons expressions that have entered popular use include "excellent" (drawn out as a sinister "eeeexcelllent…" in the style of Charles Montgomery Burns), Homer's triumphant "Woohoo!" and Nelson Muntz's mocking "HA-ha!" Groundskeeper Willie's description of the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" was used by conservative National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg in 2003, after France's opposition to the proposed invasion of Iraq. The phrase quickly spread to other journalists. "Cromulent", a word used in "Lisa the Iconoclast" has since appeared in the Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary of English. "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. "I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords", was used by Kent Brockman in "Deep Space Homer" and has seeped into popular culture to describe a number of events. Variants of Brockman's utterance are used to express mock submission, usually for the purpose of humor. It has been used in media, such as New Scientist magazine. The dismissive term "Meh" has also been popularized by the show.
The Simpsons has also influenced live-action shows like Malcolm in the Middle, which debuted January 9, 2000 in the time slot after The Simpsons. Malcolm in the Middle featured the use of sight gags and did not use a laugh track like most sitcoms. Ricky Gervais has called The Simpsons a major influence on his British comedy The Office, which also dispenses with a laugh track.
The Simpsons has won dozens of awards since it debuted as a series, including 24 Emmy Awards, 26 Annie Awards and a Peabody Award. 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. In that same issue, Time included Bart Simpson in the Time 100, the publication's list of the century's 100 most influential people. 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. 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, and 2005's 100 Greatest Cartoons, with Homer Simpson voted into first place in 2001's 100 Greatest TV Characters. Homer would also place ninth on Entertainment Weekly's list of the "50 Greatest TV icons". In 2002, The Simpsons ranked #8 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time; in 2007 it was included in TIME's list of the "100 Best TV Shows of All Time"; in 2008 the show was placed in first on Entertainment Weekly's "Top 100 Shows of the Past 25 Years"; and Empire named it the greatest TV show of all time.
The year 2007 marked the twentieth anniversary of The Simpsons franchise. With its twentieth year (2008–2009), the series will be equal with Gunsmoke's U.S. primetime, scripted television record of 20 produced seasons. 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.
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, and a top-15 list by The Simpsons' own writers. 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.
The Simpsons managed 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., the nineteenth season had an average of 7.7 million viewers. 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."
The popularity of The Simpsons has made it a billion-dollar merchandizing industry. 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.
Numerous Simpson-related publications have been released over the years. So far, nine comic book series have been published by Bongo Comics since 1993. The Simpsons and Bart Simpson comics are also reprinted in the United Kingdom, under the same titles, with various stories from the other Bongo series reprinted in the main Simpsons comic. The comics have also been collected in book form; many other Simpsons books such as episode guides have also been published.
Collections of original music featured in the TV series have been released on the albums Songs in the Key of Springfield and Go Simpsonic with The Simpsons. Several songs have been recorded with the purpose of a single or album release and have not been featured on the show. The best known single is "Do the Bartman", which was co-written by Michael Jackson, and became an international success, topping the UK Singles Chart for three weeks, and being certified gold by the BPI. In the United Kingdom, "Deep, Deep Trouble" was released as a follow up to "Do The Bartman". The albums The Simpsons Sing the Blues and The Yellow Album contained cover versions of songs, as well as some originals.
As a promotion for the 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".
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. It officially opened May 15, 2008 in Florida and May 19, 2008 in Hollywood. 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. 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. Harry Shearer decided not to participate in the ride, so none of his characters have vocal parts. James L. Brooks, Matt Groening and Al Jean, collaborated with the Universal Studios creative team, Universal Creative, to help develop the ride. The six minute ride uses 80-foot IMAX screens and Sony Projectors. There are 24 ride cars, each seating eight people, and approximately 2000 people can ride it per hour. The animation in the ride uses computer generated 3D animation rendered by Blur Studio and Reel FX, rather than the traditional 2-D animation seen on The Simpsons. The Universal Studios Florida version of the ride hosted its one millionth rider on July 14, 2008, reaching the milestone faster than any other attraction in the resort.
After winning a Fox and USA Today competition, Springfield, Vermont hosted the film's world premiere. The Simpsons Movie grossed a combined total of $74 million in its opening weekend in the United States, taking it to the top of the box office, and set the record for highest grossing opening weekend for a film based on a television series, surpassing Mission Impossible II. It opened at the top of the international box office, taking $96 million from seventy-one overseas territories — including $27.8 million in the United Kingdom, making it Fox's second highest opening ever in that country. In Australia, it grossed AU$13.2 million, the biggest opening for an animated film and third largest opening weekend in the country. To date, the film has a worldwide gross of $526,622,545.