The Simpsons smile for the camera. L-R: Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Marge, Homer.


Original Medium: TV animation
Produced by: Gracie Films
First Appeared: 1987
Creator: Matt Groening
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The Simpsons started in 1987, as a set of animated interstitial clips — that is, as dividers between individual sketches — on The Tracey Ullman Show. They proved more …

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… popular than the live-action portions of the show, and in 1989, were spun off into a series of their own — one that has long outlasted the show where it was born.

By that time, it had been so long since American broadcast networks had aired an animated series in prime time, most people had forgotten that The Flintstones started there. Like its prime-time predecessor, The Simpsons has sparked a host of animated followers. Also like The Flintstones, it has shown that it has more staying power than those that came after it.

The series was created by Matt Groening (rhymes with "paining", not "moaning"), who had already achieved a following for his newspaper strip, Life in Hell. Groening claims to have outlined the entire scenario in about 15 minutes, while waiting to see the Ullman show's producer. If so, then in terms of material success, it must have been the most productive quarter hour of his life, because the characters, who constitute what is possibly the world's most dysfunctional intact family, struck such a responsive chord in the public that they, far more than his earlier cartooning efforts, have brought Groening fame and fortune. Perhaps not very many people can identify with Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa or baby Maggie Simpson — but almost anybody can feel superior to them.

The Simpsons has a vast cast of characters, and consequently a vast number of voice actors (tho most play multiple roles). Major ones include Dan Castellaneta (Rugrats, Cow & Chicken) as Homer, Julie Kavner (who, aside from some "face acting" roles, is best known for this show) as Marge, Nancy Cartwright (Kim Possible, Animaniacs) as Bart and Yeardley Smith (We're Back: A Dinosaur's Story) as Lisa.

Groening says the name of Springfield, the fictional location of the series, was chosen only partly because it could be located anywhere in America. The main reason is because that was the name of the town in the 1950s sitcom Father Knows Best, of which The Simpsons is the exact polar opposite. Groening also says Homer Simpson's middle initial, J, was chosen as an homage to Rocky & Bullwinkle, both of whom have J as their middle initial (as, incidentally, do Elmer Fudd, the frog in One Froggy Evening, and any number of other cartoon characters).

Rather than trust his characters to licensees, in 1993, Groening formed his own company, Bongo Comics, to publish The Simpsons in comic book form. Since then, in addition to the main Simpsons series, Bongo has published comic book versions of Radioactive Man (Bart's favorite comic book character), Krusty the Clown (the Simpson kids' favorite TV show), Itchy and Scratchy (their favorite cartoon, a cat and mouse pair even more violent than Tom & Jerry), Bartman (Bart's superhero secret identity), and several other aspects of the show. As might be expected when the show's creator is the publisher, all are strictly faithful to the TV show, and are often just as funny. In 1999, the Simpsons comics franchise was extended to a Sunday-only newspaper strip.

Since the characters in The Simpsons don't age, the show itself is now older than Bart Simpson. And from the look of things, it's going to get a lot older before it's through.


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