America’s longest-running sitcom began its regular schedule 30 years this week, and it’s surprising how little the cast has aged. The Simpsons came from the mind of Matt Groening, best-known in those days as the creator of comic series Life in Hell. After a start as a series of shorts and a single episode that ran in December of 1989, the family went on air to stay on January 14, 1990. Here are five things you forgot (or maybe didn’t know) about The Simpsons.
1. The Simpsons Is Technically a Spin-Off
When the Fox Network launched its original line of prime-time programming in 1987, the first two sitcoms were Married . . . With Children and the eponymous sketch comedy series The Tracey Ullman Show. Ullman producer James L. Brooks invited Groening to pitch a series of animated shorts for the show; Groening originally intended to pitch Life in Hell, but he feared for his future ownership and pitched a new idea based on his own family instead. Ullman cast members Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner voiced Homer and Marge, respectively. The Simpsons would appear in 48 shorts on the series (which won 11 Emmys during its run) before spinning off into their own show.
2. The Animation Went from Crude to Smooth
The original shorts feature a much cruder version of the animation we’ve become accustomed to because the artists traced the character designs off of Groening’s original sketches. The look was refined over the course of the shorts. The final, smoother style would later be used for Groening’s subsequent series Futurama and Disenchantment.
3. The First Episode That Wasn’t and Other Delays
The first stand-alone episode of The Simpsons that aired created a little bit of a confusion. The series officially debuted on December 17, 1989 with the Christmas-themed episode “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” It was supposed to have been the eighth episode to run if the show had run in order. But when the first scheduled episode, “Some Enchanted Evening,” came back from animation, the producers thought it looked horrible. The shows went back to be fixed, and “Roasting” was pulled to the front and given the December date. A month later, the regular run began with episode “Bart the Genius,” the originally scheduled second episode. Other episodes ran out of order during the first season, with “Some Enchanted Evening” finally airing as the thirteenth episode and season finale.
4. They Had a Hit Album in That First Year
Just before the first anniversary of the airing of “Roasting,” Geffen Records dropped The Simpsons Sing the Blues, an album featuring the cast doing songs produced by the likes of Michael Jackson and DJ Jazzy Jeff and featuring musicians like B.B. King. While it’s a bit of a curious cultural relic today, it was a massive hit upon release. The disc hit #3 on the Billboard Album Chart in the U.S., and the first single “Do the Bartman” (with backing vocals by Jackson) went Top 40 in the States and #1 in 13 other countries. The album ultimately went Double Platinum in the U.S., selling in excess of two million copies. The close ties that Jackson had to the recording are a bit ironic today, as the only episode excluded from the 30 seasons available on Disney+ is “Stark Raving Dad,” which featured a voice-acting turn from the singer; the episode was pulled after the documentary “Leaving Neverland” revisited sexual misconduct allegations leveled at the singer, who passed in 2009.
5. Its List of Accolades Just Keeps Going
The Simpsons is not only the longest-running sitcom in network TV history, it’s also the longest-running scripted prime time series. At 30 seasons and counting and 692 episodes in the can (as of January 12, 2020), it has a seven-season (and nearly 400-episode) lead on South Park. The only other shows in the neighborhood are Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (still running in its 21st season, with 468 episodes so far) and Gunsmoke (20 seasons and 635 episodes). The series has a heavily burdened award shelf, with 34 Emmys, 34 Annie (the International Animated Film Association) Awards, and a Peabody Award. In 2009, The Simpsons became the only TV series to receive a set of stamps from the U.S. Postal Service while still on the air.
Featured image: Entertainment Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo.