== SECTION II - SERIES BACKGROUND =====================================

2.1 - Creation of The Simpsons

Who is Matt Groening?

Matt Groening (MG) is the creator of The Simpsons, as well as Futurama and Life in Hell

Matt was born February 15th, 1954, in Portland, Oregon. He attended Evergreen State College in Washington State and graduated in 1977 at the age of 23. After college, Matt moved to Los Angeles with the intention of becoming a professional writer. His disappointing career in L.A. came to an end in 1980, with the unexpected success of his comic strip, Life in Hell. It was this comic strip that attracted the attention of James L. Brooks of Gracie Films, who in 1985 invited MG to develop an idea for a future project that later became the animated Simpsons shorts shown during The Tracey Ullman Show.

What exactly does he do for The Simpsons?

Matt Groening is officially known as the show's creative consultant, and has a hand in almost every phase of the production process, like one can if they're the creative consultant. However, it is stressed that the talented people employed by Gracie Films, Film Roman, et al. are responsible for the bulk of what happens. Additionally, he's an executive producer. Wikipedia provides a broader explanation of the duties of what an Executive Producer's duties are at:

His name appearing on all Simpsons merchandising is a trademark requirement, by agreement with the 20th Century Fox Film Corporation, who bought from him the rights and ownership of The Simpsons.

The distinctive font used in the show's credits (and for just-about all show related merchandise) is called "Matt". Slight variations have been used; somewhere in the middle of Season Seven, the font used in the credits became slightly squarer and larger.

All versions of the "Matt" font were specially designed in PostScript by Apple Computer employees, and are based on his own handwriting. Sorry, but they're proprietary.

However, look-alike fonts are available. One is based on MG's Life in Hell script; it is called Akbar. For those looking for a more "Simpsonesque" font, try downloading Cartoonist Simple.

Where did Matt Groening get the names for the Simpson family?

Homer and Margaret ("Marge") are the names of his parents (Mrs Simpson is Marjorie); the names of Matt Groening's sons are Homer and Abe. His siblings are, in birth order, Mark (unused so far), Patty, (then came Matt), Lisa, and Maggie (named Margaret like her mother but called Maggie).

Maggie Groening has written a series of children's books featuring Maggie Simpson, with illustrations provided by her famous older brother.

One astute L.I.S.A. reader has observed that Maggie Groening is a graduate of Reed College, noted for having students who were "ultra-smart, ultra-liberal, whiny vegetarians." Readers may speculate as to whether Lisa's character may have been influenced in any way by this.

The name Bart is simply an anagram for "brat", although on several occasions MG has said he is strongly influenced by both himself and his brother Mark.

The surname Simpson is a natural choice for the family as the name "Simpson" literally translates to "Son of a Simpleton".

There has also been debate on the group about Nathanael West's book Day of the Locust. It seems a character from the book is actually named Homer Simpson, and has exhibited characteristics with uncanny similarities. A film version starring Donald Sutherland came out in 1975, and was directed by John Schlesinger. It is unknown for sure whether MG knew of this coincidence when he named his character and whether or not it had any influence.

Incidentally, MG's mother's maiden name is Wiggum, and many of the secondary characters are named after streets in Portland, Oregon. Examples include Flanders, Van Houten, Quimby, and Lovejoy. In fact, some street signs in Portland for "NE FLANDERS ST." (NE = Northeast) were once vandalized so that they would read as "NED FLANDERS ST.

Mayor Quimby's nephew, Freddy, may have been named for Fred Quimby, who produced all of the Tex Avery cartoons for MGM. (Special thanks to Chris Gregory for pointing this out).

Visit the Who's Who? in Springfield page located at /guides/whoiswho.html for source and inspiration behind the general characters. It includes many references to the origin of character names and character influences.

How were the characters created?

Literally in about 15 minutes, in James L. Brooks' office. Matt basically sat down and drew what came to mind when given the task of coming up with a wacky, animated, dysfunctional family.

Brooks originally wanted a television vehicle for Life In Hell, but Groening did not want FOX to obtain the rights to his comic strip, so they opted to create something from scratch.

Why were the characters made yellow?

Former Director David Silverman explained this in a 1998 interview:

"I think [Gyorgi Peluci, color stylist] made the Simpsons yellow because Bart, Lisa and Maggie don't have a hairline, so they had to be yellow, otherwise Bart would look like he had a serated forehead if it was flesh-colored. And if they're yellow, you kind of get used to the fact that it's their hair and their skin colour, once the shock wears off."

Also according to Silverman, Peluci was the first person to color Marge's hair blue. MG decided that he liked it, so it stuck.


2.2 - The Tracey Ullman Show

What was the first Simpsons short, and when did it air?

America was first introduced to the Simpson family on April 19, 1987, with a short entitled Good Night. It involved Homer and Marge sending their worried kids to bed with good intentions which don't necessarily do the trick.

How many shorts are there in total?

48 were produced. A comprehensive list of each one, complete with plot and dialogue summaries, can be found at /guides/tracey.ullman.html.

Why do the characters look so different?

Keep in mind, they came first. Matt Groening's original drawings of the characters were much meaner and sharper, resembling something a lot closer to Life in Hell characters. The look and feel has changed and refined over the years, with the help of some fine tuning by animation directors Wes Archer and David Silverman. In the very last batch of Ullman shorts, the characters look very close to the version that made it into the half hour show.

Why does Lisa behave so differently? She was basically a female Bart.

Correct. This is because during the Ullman shorts, there really was not enough time and space for the characters to be fleshed out. Bart is pretty much the main focus of all the Ullman shorts, and as a result, he is the only character that really has any depth at this point. Lisa seems to be characterized as nothing more than the "annoying little sister." Likewise, Maggie is just the baby, although she displays the occasional bit of mischief.

Is it true that Maggie speaks in the shorts?

Yes, though it is generally limited to babbling or small talk.

I noticed that her pacifier sounds different, too.

It is different. Gabor Csupo, founder of Klasky-Csupo who animated the bumpers and the first three seasons of the half-hour series, provided the sucking sounds for the Ullman shorts. The more familiar sucking sound used nowadays and throughout the duration of the half-hour series was recorded by Matt Groening himself, and is replayed out of a synthesizer.

Why are Homer and Marge not given voice credits?

For some reason, voice credits were not given for the parents at all, because the actors who play them (Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner) were already part of the existing Ullman Show cast. In fact, during the early run of shorts, the parents were not even properly credited as Homer or Marge. Occasionally, they are referred to as "Mr and Mrs Simpson", even though Bart and Lisa had already established the practice of calling them Homer and Marge instead of Mom and Dad.

Do any other well-known characters from the half-hour series make appearances?

Grandpa Simpson, Krusty the Clown, Itchy and Scratchy, and the Happy Little Elves have all made appearances. They are all similar to their half-hour counterparts, except that Krusty has an off-camera voice and an on-camera voice.

Why does Homer's voice sound so different?

See related question in Section IV.

Are all the voices the same?

For the most part, yes. All the voices except Maggie are done by the same actors and were recorded in a makeshift "studio" off the side of The Tracey Ullman Show set on a portable tape recorder. Yeardley Smith generally provided the voice for Maggie, with Liz Georges occasionally handling the role.

Why was the "Babysitting Maggie" short censored?

In the scene cut, Maggie sticks a fork in a light socket and gets a small electric shock. FOX deemed that this was inappropriate due to the possibility that young children watching at home might copy this stunt.

Art would imitate life later, in Itchy & Scratchy & Marge, when Maggie herself would attack Homer with a mallet after watching a particularly violent Itchy and Scratchy short, prompting Marge to become her own cartoon censor.

Why did the shorts disappear during the last season of The Tracey Ullman Show?

The fourth (and final) season of the Ullman Show ran from late 1989 through early 1990. Production for the premiere season of the half-hour show had already begun in April and was running non-stop throughout the summer and fall. As attention was focused on producing the half-hour series, it was decided to discontinue producing the bumpers.

The only Simpsons short shown during the fourth-season was a rerun of Simpsons Xmas on December 17, 1989, presumably to promote the half-hour pilot which aired later that same night.

Interestingly enough, the bottom fell out of the Ullman Show ratings during that season and the show was cancelled.

I heard that Tracey Ullman actually filed a law suit against Fox. What became of that?

Ullman felt that she had ultimately deserved more credit for the success of the Simpsons as a series, because they had debuted on her show. She filed suit in October 1992, asking for $2.5 million of FOX's estimated $50 million (as of that time) in profit. "I breast-fed those little devils," she barked. Eventually the courts filed for the network, claiming $3.5 million had already been paid to Ullman in royalties for the four seasons her show was on the air, as well as an additional $58,000 in Simpsons royalties.

An article about the lawsuit can be found on at /other/articles/ullman.html.


2.3 - Transition to Half-Hour Primetime Series

What was the first episode?

The Simpsons is one of those series that don't have one specific first episode. Production wise, the first episode created was 7G01 Some Enchanted Evening (pushed over to the end of the first season because scenes were being re-animated). The first broadcast half hour was 7G08 Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire. The pilot episode to launch the series on Fox was 7G02 Bart the Genius.

Originally, FOX only planned for four episodes to air during the first season. James L. Brooks talked them into ordering thirteen.

When did each of these episodes air?

  • 7G08: December 17, 1989
  • 7G02: January 14, 1990
  • 7G01: May 13, 1990

2.4 - Series Timeline

Year     Event
1955 Homer born (05/10/1955)
1956 Marge born (Within 1 year of Homer)
1974-75 Homer & Marge graduate High School
1980-81 Homer & Marge wed; Homer gets job at SNPP; Bart is born
1983-84 The Simpsons move into Evergreen Terrace; Lisa is born
1989 Maggie is born; Homer & Marge's 10th Anniversary; Snowball II becomes family cat after death of Snowball I; Santa's Little Helper becomes family dog
2010 Lisa gets engaged; calls off wedding

According to the 1993 Simpsons Fun Calendar, Maggie was actually born on August 19, 1985, and Bart was born on December 17, 1979. These calendars are MG's productions, and thus can not follow the continual updating the writers impose upon the series. From MG's view, these dates are approximately correct, considering the first airings of The Tracey Ullman Show bumpers and the fact that MG has plainly stated the characters do not age. However, Homer's age has progressed from 35 to 38 to 39 in recent seasons, and Lisa has had her eighth birthday twice.

The Fun Calendar dates, however, are a little inconsistent with the UFA, another MG production which unfortunately is inconsistent with the series. In this, it is said that Bart was born on the April 1, 1980. This production appears to have been written before Season Three season was completed, and thus has great inconsistencies with Season Three episodes like I Married Marge. According to the Olympic events scheduled on her birthday in Lisa's First Word, Lisa was born on August 2, 1984. However, Homer also held up a newspaper on her birthday which puts the date closer to March.

More trickiness: Bart says he is two years and thirty eight days older than Lisa in My Sister, My Sitter, which would make Bart's birthday June 25, 1982.

NOTE: None of the above information may be relevant currently, as time has progressed to the point where the dates chosen would obviously no longer work (i.e. Bart being born in 1979 would mean he is now in his 20s). For all intents and purposes, it appears at this time that the production staff has chosen to ignore certain established continuity references beginning with Season Five, and as such the L.I.S.A. has chosen to reciprocate and ignore subsequent continuity where it interferes with previously established events. Therefore, the L.I.S.A. chooses to accept the "non-aging" principle and will always regard the characters' ages as they were originally written and designated.

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Copyright © 2011 by Bruce Gomes (See Sec 7.3)

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