Simpsons, The


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

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About

The Simpsons, longest-running cartoon on American prime-time network television, chronicles the animated adventures of Homer Simpson and his family. Debuting on the FOX network in 1989, critically acclaimed, culturally cynical and economically very successful, The Simpsons helped to define the satirical edge of prime-time television in the early 1990s and was the single most influential program in establishing FOX as a legitimate broadcast television network.

The Simpsons' household consists of five family members. The father, Homer, is a none-too-bright safety inspector for the local nuclear power plant in the show's fictional location, Springfield. A huge blue beehive hairdo characterizes his wife, Marge, often the moral center of the program. Their oldest child, Bart, a sassy 10-year-old and borderline juvenile delinquent, provided the early focus of the program. Lisa, the middle child, is a gifted, perceptive-but-sensitive saxophone player. Maggie is the voiceless toddler, observing all while constantly sucking on her pacifier. Besides The Simpsons clan, other characters include Moe the bartender; Mr. Burns, the nasty owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant; and Ned Flanders, The Simpsons' incredibly pious neighbor. These characters and others, and the world they inhabit, have taken on a dense, rich sense of familiarity. Audiences now recognize relationships and specific character traits that can predict developments and complications in any new plot.

The Simpsons is the creation of Matt Groening, a comic strip writer/artist who until the debut of the program was mostly known for his syndicated newspaper strip "Life in Hell." Attracting the attention of influential writer-producer and Gracie Films executive James L. Brooks, Groening developed the cartoon family as a series of short vignettes featured on the FOX variety program The Tracey Ullman Show beginning in 1987. A Christmas special followed in December 1989, and then The Simpsons became a regular series.

Despite its family sitcom format, The Simpsons draws its animated inspiration more from Bullwinkle J. Moose than Fred Flintstone. Like The Bullwinkle Show, two of the most striking characteristics of The Simpsons are its social criticism and its references to other cultural forms. John O'Connor, television critic for The New York Times, has labeled the program "the most radical show on prime time" and indeed, The Simpsons often parodies the hypocrisy and contradictions found in social institutions such as the nuclear family (and nuclear power), the mass media, religion and medicine. Homer tells his daughter Lisa that it is acceptable to steal things "from people you don't like." Reverend Lovejoy lies to Lisa about the contents of the Bible to win an argument. Krusty the Clown, the kidvid program host, endorses dangerous products to make a quick buck. Homer comforts Marge about upcoming surgery with the observation that "America's health care system is second only to Japan's ... Canada's ... Sweden's ... Great Britain's...well, all of Europe."

The critical nature of the program has been at times controversial. Many elementary schools banned Bart Simpson T-shirts, especially those with the slogan, "Underachiever, and Proud of It." U.S. President George Bush and former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett publicly criticized the program for its subversive and anti-authority nature.

In addition to its ironic lampoons, it is also one of the most culturally literate entertainment programs on prime time. Viewers may note references to such cultural icons as The Bridges of Madison County, Ayn Rand, Susan Sontag and the film, Barton Fink, in any given episode. These allusions extend far beyond explicit verbal notations. Cartoon technique allows free movement in The Simpsons, and manipulation of visual qualities, often mimicking comic strip perspectives and cinematic manipulation of space creates an extraordinary sense of time, place, and movement. On occasion The Simpsons has reproduced the actual camera movements of the films it models. At other times the cartoonist's freedom and ability to visualize internal psychological states such as memory and dream have produced some of the program's most hilarious moments.

The unique nature of The Simpsons reveals much about the nature of the television industry. Specifically, the existence of the show illustrates the relationship of television's industrial context to its degree of content innovation. It was a program that came along at the right place, the right time, and appealed to the right demographic groups. Groening has said that no other network besides FOX would have aired The Simpsons, and in fact conventional television producers had previously turned down Groening's programming ideas. The degree of competition in network television in the late 1980s helped to open the door, however. Network television overall found itself in an increased competitive environment in this period because of cable television and VCRs. The FOX network, specifically, was in an even more precarious economic position than the Big Three. Because FOX was the new, unestablished network, attempting to build audiences and attract advertisers, the normally restrictive nature of network television gatekeeping may have been loosened to allow the program on the air. In addition, the championing of The Simpsons by Brooks, an established producer with a strong track record, helped the program through the industrialized television filters that might have watered down the program's social criticism. Finally, the fact that the program draws young audiences especially attractive to advertisers also explains the network's willingness to air such an unconventional and risky program. The "tween" demographic, those between 12 and 17, is an especially key viewing group for The Simpsons as well as a primary consumer group targeted by advertisers.

The Simpsons was a watershed program in the establishment of the FOX network. The cartoon has been the FOX program most consistently praised by television critics. It was the first FOX program to reach the Top 10 in ratings, despite the network's smaller number of affiliates compared to the Big Three. When FOX moved The Simpsons to Thursday night in 1990, it directly challenged the number one program of the network establishment at the time, The Cosby Show. Eventually, The Simpsons bested this powerful competitor in key male demographic groups. The schedule change, and the subsequent success, signaled FOX's staying power to the rest of the industry, and for viewers it was a powerful illustration of the innovative nature of FOX programming when compared to conventional television fare.

The Simpsons is also noteworthy for the enormous amount of merchandising it sparked. Simpsons T-shirts, toys, buttons, golf balls and other licensed materials were everywhere at the height of Simpsonsmania in the early 1990s. At one point retailers were selling approximately one million Simpsons T-shirts per week.

The Big Three networks attempted to copy the success of the prime-time cartoon, but failed to duplicate its innovative nature and general appeal. Programs like Capital Critters, Fish Police and Family Dog were all short-lived on the webs.

-Matthew P. McAllister

CAST (voices)

Homer Simpson.................................. Dan Castellaneta

Marge Simpson ...........................................Julie Kavner

Bartholomew J. "Bart" Simpson............ Nancy Cartwright

Lisa Simpson........................................ Yeardley Smith

Mrs. Karbappel ......................................Marcia Wallace

Mr. Burns
Principal Skinner
Ned Flanders
Smithers
Otto the School Bus Driver
  (and Others)..........................................Harry Shearer

Moe
Apu
Chief Wiggins
Dr. Nick Riviera.......................................... Hank Azaria

PRODUCERS   

Larina Adamson, Sherry Argaman, Joseph A. Boucher, James L. Brooks, David S. Cohen, Jonathan Collier, Gabor Csupo, Greg Daniels, Paul Germain, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ken Keeler, Harold Kimmel, Jay Kogen, Colin A.B.V. Lewis, Jeff Martin, Ian Maxtone-Graham, J. Michael Mendel, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Frank Mula, Conan O'Brien, Bill Oakley, Margo Pipkin, Richard Raynis, Mike Reiss, David Richardson, Jace Richdale, Phil Roman, David Sachs, Richard Sakai, Bill Schultz, Mike Scully, David Silverman, Sam Simon, John Swartzwelder, Ken Tsumura, Jon Vitti, Josh Weinstein, Michael Wolf, Wallace Wolodarsky

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

FOX

December 1989-August 1990   Sunday 8:30-9:00

August 1990--   Thursday 8:00-8:30

FURTHER READING

Berlant, Lauren. "The Theory of Infantile Citizenship." Public Culture: Bulletin of the Society for Transnational Cultural Studies (Chicago), Spring 1993.

Coe, Steve. "Fox Hoping Simpsons Will Boost Slow Start." Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.), 8 October 1990.

Corliss, Richard. "Simpsons Forever!" Time (New York), 2 May 1994.

Elder, Sean. "Is TV the Coolest Invention Ever Invented? Subversive Cartoonist Matt Groening Goes Prime Time." Mother Jones (Boulder, Colorado), December 1989.

Freeman, Mike. "Fox Affils Deal for Radical Dude: Simpsons Pricing Appears to Remain Apace of Big-Ticket '80s Sitcoms." Broadcasting & Cable (Washington, D.C.) 1 March 1993.

Henry, Matthew. "The Triumph of Popular Culture, Situation Comedy, Postmodernism and The Simpsons." Studies in Popular Culture (Louisville, Kentucky), October 1994.

Larson, Mary Strom. "Family Communication on Prime-time Television." Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media (Washington, D.C.), Summer 1993.

McConnell, Frank. "'Real' Cartoon Characters: The Simpsons." Commonweal (New York), 15 June 1990.

Ozersky, Josh. "TV's Anti-families: Married....With Malaise." Tikkun (Oakland, California), January-February 1991.

Rebeck, Victoria A. "Recognizing Ourselves in The Simpsons." Christian Century (Chicago), 27 June 1990.

Waters, Harry F. "Family Feuds." Newsweek (New York), 23 April 1990.

Zehme, Bill. "The Only Real People on TV" Rolling Stone (New York), 28 June 1990.

Highlights
Nancy Cartwright on "Bart Simpson's" catchphrases
00:29
Al Jean on The Simpsons' effect on popular culture
01:03
Hank Azaria on being cast as "Moe Szyslak" and other characters on The Simpsons and working with Sam Simon on developing the voices
05:39
Yeardley Smith on "Lisa Simpson" being the moral compass and heart and soul of The Simpsons
03:42
Sam Simon on creating the world of The Simpsons
02:49
Alf Clausen on attending the cast recordings for The Simpsons
01:02
Who talked about this show

Hank Azaria

View Interview
Hank Azaria on playing "Moe Szyslak" on The Simpsons
02:24
Hank Azaria on being cast as "Moe Szyslak" and other characters on The Simpsons and working with Sam Simon on developing the voices
05:39
Hank Azaria on what attracted him to The Simpsons and the state of FOX when it was launched
02:49
Hank Azaria on working with James L. Brooks on The Simpsons
01:34
Hank Azaria on playing "Apu Nahasapeemapetilon" on The Simpsons
04:45
Hank Azaria on playing "Jeff Albertson a.k.a. The Comic Book Guy," "Snake," and "Lou the Cop" on The Simpsons
03:25
Hank Azaria on playing "Kirk Van Houten" and "Professor Frink," who was based on Jerry Lewis, on The Simpsons
02:28
Hank Azaria on playing "Dr. Nick Riviera" and "Disco Stu" on The Simpsons and improving lines on the show
04:17
Hank Azaria on characters he wishes he could have done on The Simpsons and his favorite character
01:56
Hank Azaria on the production on an episode of The Simpsons
04:11
Hank Azaria on censorship issues on The Simpsons
01:56
Hank Azaria on winning Emmy awards for his work in The Simpsons
02:06
Hank Azaria on playing "Frank Grimes" on The Simpsons episode "Homer's Enemy" and other favorite episodes of his
03:54
Hank Azaria on the cultural impact of The Simpsons
04:02
Hank Azaria on the guest stars of The Simpsons
02:46
Hank Azaria on keeping The Simpsons fresh for himself; on the cast's contract negotiations 
02:43
Hank Azaria on the legacy of The Simpsons
01:51

James L. Brooks

View Interview
James L. Brooks on The Simpsons' audience, the hidden jokes that appeal to different audiences, and catchphrases
02:21
James L. Brooks on the development of The Tracey Ullman Show and the genesis of The Simpsons
02:46
James L. Brooks on the development and specific characters of The Simpsons
13:58
James L. Brooks on how much he enjoys The Simpsons
00:31
James L. Brooks on the format of The Tracey Ullman Show and the genesis of The Simpsons
01:20
James L. Brooks on how stories were written on The Simpsons
01:28
James L. Brooks on working with Matt Groening and Sam Simon on The Simpsons
02:47
James L. Brooks on working with Matt Groening and Al Jean on The Simpsons
02:56
James L. Brooks on the cultural aspects of The Simpsons  and how the quality of the series is kept up
05:53
James L. Brooks on his favorite Simpsons episodes and the show's legacy
02:48

Nancy Cartwright

View Interview
Nancy Cartwright on the process of recording the show
02:35
Nancy Cartwright on coming in to audition for "Lisa Simpson" of The Simpsons, then part of The Tracey Ullman Show, and leaving with the role of "Bart Simpson"
09:31
Nancy Cartwright on auditioning for The Simpsons, originally part of the Tracey Ullman Show; on working on the show
52:53
Nancy Cartwright on winning Emmys for, castmates of, and the legacy of The Simpsons
12:58

Dan Castellaneta

View Interview
Dan Castellaneta on The Simpsons episode "Lisa's Pony" for which he won an Emmy for Oustanding Voiceover Performance; on Homer's parenting skills
Dan Castellaneta on The Simpsons episode "Who Shot Mr. Burns"?
Dan Castellaneta on The Simpsons episode "Mr. Plow"
Dan Castellaneta on the legacy of The Simpsons and what is says about American families
Dan Castellaneta on how The Simpsons came about; why he agreed to work on the Tracey Ullman Show interstitial; how the early version of the show was very dark
Dan Castellaneta on The Simpsons episode "Stark Raving Dad" which featured Michael Jackson
Dan Castellaneta on The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror" episodes which ran every Halloween
Dan Castellaneta on The Simpsons popularity in countries outside the U.S.
Dan Castellaneta on the cultural impact of The Simpsons on culture, on comedy, and on the field of animation
Dan Castellaneta on The Simpsons episode "Homer versus New York" and the timing of airing that show after 9/11
Dan Castellaneta on his Simpsons castmembers Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer

Alf Clausen

View Interview
Alf Clausen on becoming involved with The Simpsons
05:05
Alf Clausen on Matt Groening's vision for the music forThe Simpsons
01:30
Alf Clausen on working with the different showrunners of The Simpsons
01:23
Alf Clausen on Danny Elfman's theme song for The Simpsons and composing for the end credits
02:38
Alf Clausen on his duties as composer for The Simpsons
05:47
Alf Clausen on scoring the parody episodes of The Simpsons
02:28
Alf Clausen on the quick turnaround time for scoring The Simpsons
02:38
Alf Clausen on keeping the music for The Simpsons fresh and the challenges of scoring the show
03:11
Alf Clausen on writing original songs for The Simpsons
03:30
Alf Clausen on his process creating the songs for The Simpsons
04:30
Alf Clausen on working with the musical guest stars on The Simpsons
02:14
Alf Clausen on his favorite songs from The Simpsons
01:45
Alf Clausen on working with his sons on The Simpsons
02:39
Alf Clausen on the process of recording music for The Simpsons
06:12
Alf Clausen on the use of a full orchestra, the instruments used, and conducting the music on The Simpsons
03:34
Alf Clausen on the song "We Put the Spring in Springfield" from The Simpsons episode "Bart After Dark"
02:05
Alf Clausen on the song "You're Checking In" from The Simpsons episode "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson"
01:55
Alf Clausen on the 500th episode of The Simpsons and favorite episodes of the show
01:47
Alf Clausen on winning Emmys for his involvement in The Simpsons
00:26
Alf Clausen on being involved with several record albums based on The Simpsons
02:51
Alf Clausen on the notion of retiring from The Simpsons
01:20
Alf Clausen on attending the cast recordings for The Simpsons
01:02
Alf Clausen on how the advent of digital music affected his work on The Simpsons
04:05
Alf Clausen on his proudest career highlights including "The Simpsons Take the Bowl"
02:01
Alf Clausen on career regrets 
00:55
Alf Clausen on the process of tweaking a score for The Simpsons
04:23
Alf Clausen on producing The Simpsons albums 
03:37

Gerald Fried

View Interview
Composer Gerald Fried on getting royalty checks from The Simpsons for quoting his music from Star Trek's "Amok Time" for Bart's anger scenes
00:32

Leonard Goldberg

View Interview
Leonard Goldberg on the genesis of The Simpsons and the role James L. Brooks played in getting it made
05:04

Ron Howard

View Interview
Ron Howard on how the narrative structure of Arrested Development was inspired in part by The Simpsons
01:27

David Isaacs

View Interview
Ken Levine and David Isaacs on writing for The Simpsons
05:34

Al Jean

View Interview
Al Jean on The Simpsons' effect on popular culture
01:03
Al Jean on the legacy of The Simpsons
01:52
Al Jean on becoming involved with writing The Simpsons
01:56
Al Jean on the animation style of The Simpsons
03:50
Al Jean on developing The Simpsons
02:26
Al Jean on the town of Springfield on The Simpsons
01:21
Al Jean on establishing the tone of The Simpsons
04:01
Al Jean on the early years of The Simpsons at FOX
01:55
Al Jean on the opening credits of The Simpsons
01:39
Al Jean on the names of The Simpsons characters and Matt Groening's involvement
01:41
Al Jean on the voices and catchphrases of The Simpsons
02:09
Al Jean on Julie Kavner as "Marge Simpson" on The Simpsons
01:32
Al Jean on Nancy Cartwright as "Bart Simpson" on The Simpsons
01:43
Al Jean on the catchphrases of The Simpsons
02:41
Al Jean on broadcast standards and The Simpsons
02:54
Al Jean on the various side characters on The Simpsons
02:14
Al Jean on how The Simpsons characters have changed over the years
03:18
Al Jean on writing for "Lisa Simpson" and basing Simpsons stories on his real life
02:29
Al Jean on the writing process for The Simpsons
03:54
Al Jean on writing the Halloween episodes of The Simpsons
01:10
Al Jean on the production process of The Simpsons
02:23
Al Jean on being a showrunner on The Simpsons
02:37
Al Jean on the voiceover sessions for The Simpsons
00:32
Al Jean on working with Matt Groening, James L. Brooks and Sam Simon on The Simpsons
04:28
Al Jean on replacing Sam Simon as showrunner on The Simpsons
02:38
Al Jean on changing animation studios in season four of The Simpsons
01:06
Al Jean on leaving The Simpsons in season five and creating The Critic
03:50
Al Jean on how technology has changed the animation process of The Simpsons
02:07
Al Jean on Simpsons ancillary products and Emmy Awards for The Simpsons
04:15
Al Jean on The Simpsons episode "A Streetcar Named Marge"
01:11
Al Jean on The Simpsons episode "Blame it on Lisa"
00:43
Al Jean on The Simpsons episode "There's Something About Marrying"
01:55
Al Jean on The Simpsons' 500th episode
01:07
Al Jean on his favorite episodes of The Simpsons and guest stars on the show
02:39
Al Jean on the songs of The Simpsons
01:18
Al Jean on keeping The Simpsons fresh
01:40
Al Jean on how the audience of The Simpsons has evolved over the years; on the longevity of the show
01:26
Al Jean on the then-future of The Simpsons and cast negotiations
02:04

Larry King

View Interview
Larry King on his guest-appearances on The Simpsons as himself
01:14

Jack LaLanne

View Interview
Jack LaLanne on doing a voiceover on The Simpsons
00:37

Stan Lee

View Interview
Stan Lee on voicing his character on The Simpsons
00:17

Ken Levine

View Interview
Ken Levine and David Isaacs on writing for The Simpsons
05:34

Kurt Loder

View Interview
Kurt Loder on playing himself in various projects, including The Simpsons
01:57

Phil Roman

View Interview
Animation executive Phil Roman on the production of The Simpsons
17:52

Sam Simon

View Interview
Sam Simon on the beginning of The Simpsons
01:00
Sam Simon on making The Simpsons a series
03:52
Sam Simon on creating the world of The Simpsons
02:49
Sam Simon on the development of The Simpsons and the look of the show
03:29
Sam Simon on writing for The Simpsons
01:44
Sam Simon on his animation experience helping him with The Simpsons
00:56
Sam Simon on audience and network reaction to The Simpsons
02:08
Sam Simon on censorship issues on The Simpsons
04:36
Sam Simon on the development of the characters on The Simpsons
01:37
Sam Simon on the various elements of The Simpsons and the voiceover process
03:11
Sam Simon on his favorite Simpsons character for which to write
03:29
Sam Simon on his working relationship with Matt Groening on The Simpsons
04:38
Sam Simon on his favorite episode of The Simpsons
03:53
Sam Simon on leaving The Simpsons and becoming Executive Producer on The Simpsons
02:48
Sam Simon on the decision not to move The Simpsons forward in time
01:48

Yeardley Smith

View Interview
Yeardley Smith on her voice, auditioning for "Lisa Simpson," and why she doesn't do other characters on The Simpsons
03:07
Yeardley Smith on how she got the audition for "Lisa Simpson" (when The Simpsons was a feature on The Tracey Ullman Show)
04:30
Yeardley Smith on her audition for "Lisa Simpson" and how she originally was brought in to read for "Bart Simpson"
05:38
Yeardley Smith on the original incarnation of The Simpsons, which were bumpers before commercials of The Tracey Ullman Show
03:21
Yeardley Smith on her relationship to "Lisa Simpson": "she's a magical little character"
03:36
Yeardley Smith on how "Lisa Simpson" has evolved over time
05:03
Yeardley Smith on The Simpsons spinning off from The Tracey Ullman Show, and its immediate success
02:25
Yeardley Smith on the criticism of The Simpsons when it debuted
02:19
Yeardley Smith on her relationship with her castmates on The Simpsons and how she feels about salary negotiations
04:51
Yeardley Smith on times she has spoken up on behalf of "Lisa Simpson" to The Simpsons writers when she disagreed with them
02:19
Yeardley Smith on Paul and Linda McCartney's guest appearance on The Simpsons, and how they made the writers promise that "Lisa" would remain a vegetarian for the rest of the series
01:33
Yeardley Smith on the voice she uses for "Lisa Simpson" and performing the character
02:37
Yeardley Smith on The Simpsons' production schedule
04:29
Yeardley Smith on working with her castmates on The Simpsons and recording the show
04:08
Yeardley Smith on Michael Jackson guest starring on The Simpsons
02:13
Yeardley Smith on guest stars on The Simpsons
01:02
Yeardley Smith on Dustin Hoffman guest starring on The Simpsons on the episode "Lisa's Substitute"
02:14
Yeardley Smith on censorship issues (or the lack thereof) on The Simpsons
03:47
Yeardley Smith on the worldwide popularity of The Simpsons
02:00
Yeardley Smith on the longevity of The Simpsons
01:59
Yeardley Smith on The Simpsons impact on other animated and comedy series
01:09
Yeardley Smith on "the Simpson" family as a family role model
00:33
Yeardley Smith on how The Simpsons has changed since it started as part of The Tracey Ullman Show
01:29
Yeardley Smith on fans of The Simpsons, and people who now write on the show who grew up watching it
01:39
Yeardley Smith on her feelings about the quality of The Simpsons, as it has been on for so long and how the show continues to stay relevant
01:15
Yeardley Smith on a suggestion she made for an episode of The Simpsons, which was about microfinance
02:51
Yeardley Smith on winning an Emmy in 1992 for playing "Lisa Simpson" on The Simpsons
04:25
Yeardley Smith on where she sees The Simpsons going in the future
02:54
Yeardley Smith on how much longer she would want to do The Simpsons
00:29
Yeardley Smith on the cultural impact of The Simpsons
02:03
Yeardley Smith on her feelings about "Lisa Simpson" and the best part about playing her
02:55
Yeardley Smith on "Lisa Simpson" being the moral compass and heart and soul of The Simpsons
03:42
Yeardley Smith on the legacy of The Simpsons
01:57

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