Hillary Atkin

A Toast to the 20th Anniversary of ‘The Simpsons’

Jan 8, 2010

The record books are re-arranging the rankings, moving “Gunsmoke” down a notch and elevating “The Simpsons.”

Yes, Sunday night at 8 p.m. marks a special moment in television history: “The Simpsons” will officially celebrate its 20th anniversary, becoming the longest-running scripted primetime show ever.

Many people may not recall that the animated yellow family made its debut as interstitials on Fox’s "The Tracey Ullman Show” in 1989. The series itself premiered on the fledgling Fox network in January 1990, thanks to Barry Diller’s foresight and green light.

Not only did the show become a runaway hit, but creator Matt Groening’s crudely drawn Simpson family — dad Homer, mom Marge, kids Bart and Lisa and baby Maggie — almost instantly became pop culture icons.

In addition to the anniversary episode, viewers will get an extra treat Sunday night at 8:30 p.m.: an original hour-long documentary directed by Morgan Spurlock called "The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special in 3-D on Ice.”

It’s not in 3-D and it’s not on ice, but Spurlock (of “Super Size Me” fame) and his crew traveled around the world to shoot it, exploring the international love affair with all things Simpson. “There’s a whole brand new audience,” the director told me. “It’s become multigenerational. We wouldn’t have had other animated shows on primetime if not for ‘The Simpsons.’ They’ve really changed the game.”

(You can check out a preview clip and hear the amusing “Homer Simpson Mr. Plow Theme Song” created by Moby here.)

Alongside the series, “The Simpsons” is an incredibly profitable business enterprise all to itself, raking in millions of dollars from licensing and merchandising.

If you didn’t ever have a Bart T-shirt or know someone who did, you must have been under a rock these past two decades.

And don’t forget the movie, the ride, the DVDs, the Stephen Hawking toy, the games, the U.S. postage stamps—and Marge’s Playboy cover last November to promote the cleverly-named episode "The Devil Wears Nada."

D’oh. Congratulations, Simpsons enterprise, and may you have many more seasons of bringing the funny.

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