first conceived of the Simpsons in the lobby of James L. Brooks'
office. He had been called in to pitch a series of animated shorts,
and had intended to pitch his Life in Hell series. Upon realizing
that he would need to rescind his publication rights for his life's
work, and needing to create a new idea from scratch, he hurriedly
sketched out his version of a dysfunctional family. He named the
characters after his own family, with Bart being an anagram of brat.
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.
The family was crudely
drawn, because Groening only handed over sketches to the animators,
believing that they would clean them up, but instead they would just
trace over his drawings. Some of the shorts, including "Good
Night," were later included in the "The Simpsons 138th
Episode Spectacular" episode.
In 1989, The Simpsons was
adapted into a half-hour series for the Fox network by a team of
production companies that included what is now the Klasky Csupo
animation house. Groening has been quoted as saying that his goal in
creating the show was to "offer an alternative to the audience,
and show them there's something else out there than the mainstream
trash that they are presented as the only thing." The first full
length episode shown was "Simpsons Roasting on an Open
Fire," in place of the intended first episode, "Some
The latter was rejected
after the creators saw the poor quality of the final animation that
was returned to them. They had the episode reanimated, and Fox aired
"Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" first.
The Simpsons was one of the
first true hit TV series for the Fox network; it was the first Fox
show to appear in the top thirty highest-rated shows of the season.
The show had several episodes watched by over 20 million people and
on occasion over 30 million people. Ullman filed a lawsuit, claiming
that her show was the source of the The Simpsons stand-alone show
success and therefore should receive a share of the show's profit.
Eventually the courts ruled in favor of the network.
It also sparked
controversy, as Bart Simpson was portrayed as a rebel who caused
trouble and got away with it. Parents' groups and conservative
spokespersons felt that a character like Bart provided a poor role
model for children. George H. W. Bush railed, "We're going to
keep trying to strengthen the American family. To make them more like
The Waltons and less like The Simpsons." The Simpsons t-shirts,
among others, one featuring Bart with the legend "Underachiever
('And proud of it, man!')" and other merchandise were banned
from some public schools in several areas of the United States. The
Simpsons merchandise, however, sold very well. During the first 14
months it generated $2 billion worldwide.
With one exception, all
episodes list only the voice actors and not the characters they
voice. Fox and the production crew wanted to keep the identities a
secret during the first seasons, and therefore closed most of the
recording sessions and refused to publish photos. They eventually
revealed which characters the actors did in the episode "Old Money."
are six main cast members on The Simpsons. Dan Castellaneta performs
the voices of Homer Simpson, his dad Abraham Simpson, and Krusty the
Clown, among others. Julie Kavner performs the voices of Marge
Simpson, her sisters Patty and Selma, and mother Jacqueline Bouvier.
She rarely plays other one-shot characters. She has been known to
refuse to perform Marge's voice in public, to maintain the mystique
of the character. Nancy Cartwright performs the voice of Bart Simpson
and other children from the school that he attends; most notably
Nelson Muntz and Ralph Wiggum. Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa
Simpson, is the only main cast member who regularly voices only one
character; though she occasionally voices one-shot characters. The
two male actors who don't voice members of the title family play a
majority of the other male townspeople. Hank Azaria voices dozens of
recurring characters including Moe, Chief Wiggum, and Apu. Harry
Shearer performs perhaps the largest array of regulars, including Mr.
Burns, Smithers, Principal Seymour Skinner, Ned Flanders and many others.
Along with the main cast,
there are also several regular guest cast members. Pamela Hayden
occasionally voices women on the show, but more often provides the
voices of male children, including Milhouse Van Houten, Rod Flanders
and Jimbo Jones. Tress MacNeille voices Agnes Skinner, among other
minor characters. Russi Taylor voices numerous school children; most
notably Martin Prince, Sherri and Terri and Üter. Marcia Wallace
voices Edna Krabappel. Until her death, Doris Grau played Lunchlady
Doris. Maggie Roswell voices Helen Lovejoy, Miss Hoover, Luann Van
Houten, and the late Maude Flanders. After the 1999 season, until the
2002 season, she did not appear because of a pay dispute. During this
time she was replaced by Marcia Mitzman Gaven. Recurring special
guest cast members include Albert Brooks, Jon Lovitz, Karl
Wiedergott, the late Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks and Kelsey Grammer (all
of whom have voiced several characters, except Hooks and Grammer).