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The History of the Simpsons

The Simpson family first appeared in animated form as shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show, with the first short "Good Night" airing on April 19, 1987. Matt Groening admits the reason that they were so crudely drawn in the beginning was because he could not draw well and the animators did nothing more than just trace over his drawings. The shorts were never aired by the BBC in the UK, though some of them, including "Good Night," were included in a Simpsons anniversary episode. The Simpsons was converted, by a team of production companies that included what is now the Klasky-Csupo animation house, into a series for the Fox Network in 1989 and has run as a weekly show on that network ever since.

The Simpsons was the first true TV series hit for Fox; it was the first Fox show to appear in the top twenty highest-rated shows of the time. It also sparked controversy, as Bart Simpson was portrayed as a rebellious troublemaker who caused trouble and got away with it. Parents' groups and conservative spokespersons felt that a cartoon character like Bart Simpson provided a poor role model for children. When a Simpsons T-shirt was marketed featuring Bart and the logo "Underachiever ('And proud of it, man!')", Simpsons T-shirts and other merchandise were banned from public schools in several areas of the United States.

The outcry against Bart was reflected in the second season opener, featuring an episode called Bart Gets an F where Bart's school wants to make him repeat the fourth grade. In this episode, the school counsellor quotes the controversial T-shirt by stating, "He is an underachiever... and proud of it."

In September 1990, Barbara Bush said in an interview for People magazine that The Simpsons was the dumbest thing she had ever seen. Six years later, an episode had George and Barbara Bush move to Springfield and leave after George gets involved in a feud with the Simpson family (in a style reminiscent of Dennis the Menace and Mr. Wilson). Mr. and Mrs. Bush were both portrayed by voice actors. One of the Simpsons DVD sets includes a special feature that presents an exchange of letters between the First Lady and show staff. In another address, Mr. Bush said that America needed to be closer to The Waltons than to The Simpsons, causing Bart to say they were a lot like the Waltons, since they were both praying for an end to the Depression.

The writers have shown a love for cameo appearances by celebrities and extended pastiches of contemporary and classic movies, as well as subtle visual jokes.

On February 9, 1997 The Simpsons surpassed The Flintstones as the longest-running prime time animated series in America, however it has not yet beaten several Japanese anime series such as Sazae-san (which has been running since 1969) and Doraemon (running since 1979). In January 2003, it was announced that the show had been renewed by Fox through 2005  meaning it has replaced The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952 to 1966) as longest-running sitcom (animated or live-action) ever in the United States. In 2004, the series was renewed through its 19th season and if it survives until 2009, it will tie (or will have beaten if The Tracey Ullman Show shorts are counted) Gunsmoke's record as the longest-running prime time series (of any genre) in U.S. television history. Some take the view that The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet should continue to be counted as the longest-running sitcom as The Simpsons is animated not live-action although this view is declining as more authorities unambiguously credit The Simpsons as television's longest-running sitcom.

In its 1998 issue celebrating the greatest achievements in arts and entertainment of the 20th Century, TIME magazine named The Simpsons the century's best television series. In that same issue, Bart Simpson was named to the Time 100, the publication's list of the century's 100 most influential people. He was the only fictional character on the list.

Since the series originated as part of The Tracey Ullman Show, it is also considered the longest running and most successful spin-off of all time.

Over the years, virtually every Simpsons character has appeared on a magazine cover, ranging from TIME to Christianity Today and even Airliners.

The Simpsons has won dozens of awards since it debuted as a series, including 21 Emmy Awards, 22 Annie Awards, a Peabody and numerous others. On January 14, 2000 the Simpsons were awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The voice actors have been involved in much-publicized pay disputes with Fox on more than one occasion. In 1998, the voice actors stopped working, forcing 20th Century Fox TV to increase their salary from $30,000 per episode to $125,000. The actors were supported in their action by series creator Matt Groening. [1] As the revenue generated by the show continued to increase through syndication and DVD sales, six actors (playing over 50 characters)  Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer  stopped showing up for script readings in April 2004 after weeks of unsuccessful negotiations with Fox. They asked for $360,000 per episode, or $8 million for a 22-episode season. On May 2, 2004, the actors resolved their dispute with Fox after having their demands met. The universally reported claim that this dispute was in fact a full-blown strike is denied by Harry Shearer. [2]

From season 9, the show has drawn criticism from some fans for straying too far from its comedic structure, for becoming too "mainstream," and changing character personalities without explanation. Some consider its parody of the prequel Star Wars trilogy in the episode Co-Dependent's Day being very harsh considering the show's own "downfall". These attacks have been countered by less hardcore fans stating that the show was always more or less mainstream, and nonsensical personality changes and the structural changes were done in a spirit of creative experimentation, and has not damaged the show (see Criticism).


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