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The Simpsons: What's next after twenty years?
I remember growing up and hearing about a show called Gunsmoke. I never watched it, but I was always told that it was the longest running show on primetime at 20 years.
It has just been passed by The Simpsons. I remember when I first saw them. They were crude cartoons on The Tracy Ullman show, then was first released as a Christmas special in 1989, and it officially became a series in January of 1990, and I doubt that Fox had any hope for it. At the time, the idea of an animated prime time series was an incredible risk, as it had not been done for quite some time.
I was a senior in high school, and word of mouth was quickly turning The Simpsons into the next big thing. This was before the Internet was on every personal computer, and the show became controversial due to its depiction of a dysfunctional family. Many conservative groups protested the behavior of Bart Simpson, who was beginning to adorn many T-shirts saying that he was proud to be an “under-achiever”. This only served to build the show’s increasing popularity.
Fox made a bold move by switching The Simpsons from a Sunday night time-slot to a Thursday at 8:00 time-slot, which had previously been ruled by The Cosby Show for almost a decade. Some have said that sticking The Simpsons in that slot effectively killed Cosby when it left the airwaves in 1992 after about eight seasons.
I never thought that The Simpsons would last longer than four seasons. I had always equated it with a Flash-in-the-pan fad that we would barely remember, like the Spice Girls or other Boy Bands from the nineties. To this day, I turn on The Simpsons and wonder “why is this show still on?”
I think I can see two reasons why it lasted so long. The first is because the characters are so well developed. Each one, from Apu, to Mr. Burns, to Barney Gumble, are more than side characters that could easily have their own spinoff show. Not that they should, of course. In time, The Simpsons Springfield has become its own world.
Another reason why the show has lasted so long is due to its ability to satire. Episodes of The Simpsons will often take a current trend and parody it in some form of the other that is not too preachy. Since trends change all the time, there will always be satirical fodder for The Simpsons.
Perhaps The Simpsons are timeless. In fact, as long as there are animators that can draw them, they can always remain the same ages that they have been since their first appearance. The characters’ looks and personality have changed subtly over the years so that it has become major in comparing the before and after, but this happens to every cartoon character.
Of course, the voices of The Simpsons are quite distinctive, and could not possibly be replaced. Fortunately, computer technology is getting better and better, and I’ve heard that Roger Ebert’s voice has been put on a computer after his vocal surgery. Surely the same could be done with the voices of The Simpsons.
In short, The Simpsons could easily go on until the end of time. It could even go into 3D CG animate format. This leads us to the question: should it?