It would be very easy to overwhelm you in information here as addressing the history of the Simpsons naturally entails a very broad and potentially rich amount of information -- after all when you consider that the television show created by Matt Groening was first aired on December 17, 1989 (making it one of the oldest and most enduring animated television shows today) and that it is still in full production, with lots of original ideas still left to be communicated to the faithful fan base... that is something to be celebrated!
In fact that alone provides an amazing amount and variety of potential information. Add to that the wide array of additional products that are related to the multi-media empire that is The Simpsons, from movies and DVD collections, action figure lines, models, shirts and other clothing, gifts, collectibles, memorabilia, comics, graphic novels, bedroom sheet and curtain sets, key chains, mugs, posters, school supplies, backpacks and book bags, cell phone cases -- and games -- and the list is almost endless.
We are not going to go there however, instead I thought it would be a good idea to cover some areas of interest that will likely be a surprise for most of you, and reveal information you were not previously aware of...
Did you know that you can purchase very realistic street signs for the streets that appear in the Springfield of The Simpsons? You can! And the reason that they appear so realistic is that they are made by the same company that makes real street signs for cities all over the USA and Canada, which is actually rather disturbing if you think about it.
Did you know that at the present time there are no fewer than 40 different lines of action-figure / dolls for The Simpsons? The number is so high because they differ slightly based upon regional and national interpretations of the characters as well as languages.
Did you know that one of the most common forms of Simpsons contraband are fake copies of Bart Simpson action figures, with the vast majority being manufactured in China -- some of them on the very same production lines in the very same factories that make genuine licensed versions?!
The distinction that separates each of the doll "lines" is the language for the words printed on the T-Shirts that the Bart Dolls wear -- with the most common tag line being "Eat My Shorts, Man!" and at last count that Bart Simpson Doll with that T-Shirt bearing that phrase appears in the native language for over 20 countries!
The huge selection of legitimate and properly licensed Simpsons' items is so large that even trying to summarize them here would take up more pages than this entire guide uses and then some, and that would only scratch the surface -- and do not get me started on the illegal contraband products... Just saying.
All that aside, the fact is that The Simpsons has somehow managed to become part of the popular culture in almost every nation in the world that offers commercial television broadcasting services to its citizens.
In a survey that was undertaken last year via the world wide web random people from 46 countries were asked to name the Vice President of the United States, and the same people where then asked to name all of family members of The Simpsons.
They all knew who Bart Simpson was, but only a relative handful could identify Joe Biden -- even when they were shown his photograph!
The Simpsons in Video Game Format
The history of the game treatments for The Simpsons goes back almost as far as the show itself, with the first game appearing in 1991.
The following list represents the legitimate games that have been released, begging the question: how many of these games have you played?
- The Simpsons Arcade Game, Konami 1991, IBM PC
- Bart vs. the Space Mutants, Acclaim 1991, NES, Genesis, Amiga
- Bart's House of Weirdness, Konami 1991, IBM PC
- Bart Simpson's Escape from Camp Deadly, Acclaim 1991, Gameboy
- Bart vs. the World, Acclaim 1991, NES
- Bart vs. the Juggernauts, Acclaim 1992, Gameboy
- Bartman Meets Radioactive Man, Acclaim 1992, SNES
- Bart's Nightmare, Acclaim 1992, SNES
- The Itchy & Scratchy Game, Acclaim 1992, Genesis
- Krusty's Fun House, Acclaim 1992, NES/SNES
- Virtual Bart, Acclaim 1994, SNES
- Itchy & Scratchy in Miniature Golf Madness, Acclaim 1994, Gameboy
- Bart & the Beanstalk, Acclaim 1995, Gameboy
- The Simpsons Cartoon Studio, Fox Interactive 1996, Windows PC
- Virtual Springfield, Fox Interactive 1997, Windows PC
- The Simpsons Bowling, Konami 2000, Arcade
- Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror, THQ 2001, Gameboy Color
- The Simpsons Wrestling, Activision 2001, PlayStationRoad Rage, Electronic Arts 2001, PS2, GameCube, Xbox
- The Simpsons Skateboarding, Electronic Arts 2002, PS2
- Road Rage, THQ 2003, GBA
- Hit & Run, Fox Interactive 2003, Windows, Xbox, GameCube, PS2
- The Simpsons Game, Electronic Arts 2007, Xbox 360, NDS, Wii, PS2, PS3, PSP
- Minutes to Meltdown, EA Mobile 2007, Mobile Platforms
- Itchy and Scratchy Land, EA Mobile 2009, Mobile Platforms
- The Simpsons Arcade, EA Mobile 2009, Mobile Platforms
- Tapped Out, EA Mobile 2012, iOS
And there you have it, the complete history of the licensed games... There were more than a few unlicensed games, including one made in India that totally nails the voice of Apu but sadly has everyone else sound like him as well...
It should not be difficult to imagine that when Tapped Out first released there was a lot of excitement about it. It was a freemium grinder, sure, but it looked like there was a lot of enthusiasm on the team at EA Mobile, and fans felt like there was a lot to be happy about with it.
For one thing it nearly gives the player the feeling that they are living in Springfield -- and for another it challenges them to tap into their knowledge of the show in order to faithfully rebuild the city within -- a very powerful incentive that is loaded with immediate gratification.
When it ran into trouble with the servers, and got pulled from distribution, the word passed like wildfire and the reaction from gamers was not what you could characterize as patient or tolerant...
There was another issue with the servers that required a two-day shutdown even before the game was put back up for sale online, and even then, it seemed that in the months of trouble the team behind the game had somehow lost its direction.
As released, the game appeared to only have 18 and then 20 levels -- fans were convinced that there was supposed to be a 21st level (and there was) but the problems that seemed to plague the game appeared to be big enough to derail it.
Fortunately for the faithful, out of nowhere the game reappeared, and it suddenly began to receive the level of support that was previously expected -- and the new levels were released, as well as two complete updates, with the most recent update featuring the classic Simpsons' Halloween content that true fans know and love!
While it remains to be seen if the ramped-up support levels that the game is now receiving will be maintained, there is every reason to think so, and taking the Jesuit view, why not enjoy it while we can? Why not indeed!
The True Bit O' History of The Simpsons
I know most of this because I have some mates who work in the industry, and at the last E3 some of this was fodder for conversation at one of the dinners when it developed that one of the regulars in our group had gone over to the dark side and was now employed as a creative writer at FOX.
Still I thought you might enjoy knowing the truth behind how The Simpsons came to be, so here you go:
The birth of The Simpsons did not take place in a meeting room in Foggy Bottom, it was not funded by the Government Intelligence Oversight Committee as a blank line budget item, rather it was a creative pimp event that was sparked in 1987 when producer Jimmie Brooks, who previously contributed to the success of shows like Taxi and The Mary Tyler Moore Show was hired to produce The Tracy Ullman Show (TUS) for FOX.
When TUS was getting its logistics treatment by the production staff one of the major issues that cropped up was the need for some method to segue smoothly between the different skits that appeared in each half-hour show, because some of the skits were simply too short to use the accepted method of dividing them, which was to go to commercial.
That being the case, Brooks sat down with his staff of writers to knock around some different ideas, and one of the ideas that they hit upon was to somehow adapt the comics of then emerging genius and creative creature Matt Groening.
For the seven of you reading this who are not aware of it, Groening was the creative genius behind the cartoon strip Life in Hell. Born Matthew Abram Groening on 15 February, 1954 in Portland, Oregon, in these United States of America, he gives his occupation on tax forms and business licenses as a Cartoonist, even though the bulk of his income derives from his animation businesses, and in addition to The Simpsons, he is well known as the creator of the animated television show Futurama, the aforementioned comic strip Life in Hell, and his personal publishing house that is otherwise known as Bongo Comics.
As an aside the fact that he was born in Oregon explains a lot about his unique character and personality as well as his creative abilities. After all, Oregon is an odd state particularly with respect to its culture and political beliefs.
Oregon was among the first of the states to legalize medical marijuana, physician-assisted suicide, and the "right to die with dignity" law. Among its more interesting laws (that are still technically enforceable mind you) includes a law that requires drivers to yield to pedestrians who are standing on the sidewalk, a law criminalizing the practice of carrying babies on the running boards of automobiles, a law admonishing drivers that the doors on their car may not be left open for any period of time longer than is necessary, and a law making it illegal for any adult to show any minor any piece of classical artwork which depicts sexual excitement.
Seriously, those are all real laws, and that last one, 167.065 "Furnishing Obscene Materials to Minors," if you apply it the way it is written, pretty much means that showing a handful of episodes from The Simpsons to your children could get you thrown in jail!
Yeah, that is the culture from which the brilliant and creative mind that is Matt Groening was formed and nourished.
The comic strip Life in Hell had such philosophical significance that Brooks thought that creating an animated treatment of it would make the perfect short feature to break up the skits in Ullman's show, so they contacted Matt Groening to see what he thought of the idea.
Groening hated the idea as it turns out, because he did not want to license his creation to FOX, a company that was very well known for taking the creative licenses it acquires and stomping the hell out of them!
While Groening did not think much of the idea of handing FOX Life in Hell, he did see the potential commercial value in a relationship with the network and that show, so he punted back an alternative to the folks at TUS -- how about he create an entirely new animated feature that is based upon his own real-life family?
Yes, The Simpsons is actually based upon Matt Groening's actual family, including his father Homer, his mum Marjorie, and his sisters Lisa, Maggie, and Patty.
Once Groening described what he had in mind Brooks was immediately on board with the idea, and even helped to flesh out the details, recruiting TUS regulars Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner to voice Homer and Marge respectively.
Professional voice artist and sometimes actress Nancy Cartwright was chosen as the voice for Bart after a lengthy search and several arguments, and finally the voice of Lisa was found in the squeaky-voiced actress Yeardly Smith, who brought an indescribable element of innocence and yearning for beauty that completely nailed the character of Lisa as it was planned from the start.
With the voice talent now locked in, Groening sat down to story-board a series of one-minute-long "episodes" that ended up stealing the show, and so The Simpsons were born…
Actually it should be noted that an investigation of the sudden spike in ratings that TUS enjoyed ended up being traced directly to the animated shorts created by Groening, something that the star of the show was not very happy about and the recognition of which quickly caused a certain VP at FOX to push for and succeed in getting The Simpsons split from TUS and settled as its own feature show on that network.
Any proper examination of the origins of the show is not complete without a deciphering of the characters in it and how they actually relate to the life of creator Matt Groening, from relatives to favorite people and actors -- so here is our shot at that:
(1) Homer Simpson's deceased "Vegas wife."
(2) Estranged mother of Homer Simpson and wife of Abe Simpson.
(3) The character of Hrundi V. Bakshi played by Peter Sellers in the motion picture "The Party" (1968) directed by Blake Edwards.
(4) The character of Mr. Burns was heavily drawn upon one of Matt Groening's high school teachers, Mr. Bailey, who taught at Lincoln High School (Portland, Oregon). Other notable graduates of Lincoln High include voice actor Mel Blanc, and actress Rebecca Schaeffer. Groening also credits John D. Rockefeller for Burns' cut-throat attitude towards business. The name of the character -- Charles Montgomery Burns -- is derived from the character Charles Foster Kane from the film Citizen Kane, the Montgomery Ward department store in Portland, Oregon, and the surname from Burnside Street, a main thoroughfare in Portland, Oregon.
(5) A daytime children's TV host, the character first began in 1957 on TV Station KOIN as "Rusty the Clown" and in 1959 moved to station KPTV for his own show as well as hosting a regular hour of The Three Stooges on weekday afternoons. In 1962, the clown show moved over to rival station KATU, where he had a successful five-year re-branded as the clown "Rusty Nails" and the show name "Cartoonival."
| Simpsons Character
|| Real Life Person
|| Voice Actor
| Homer Simpson
|| Homer Philip Groening
|| Dan Castellaneta
| Marge Simpson
|| Margaret Ruth Groening (née Wiggum)
|| Julie Kavner
| Amber Simpson (1)
|| Deborah Groening (née Caplan)
|| Pamela Hayden
| Bart Simpson
|| Matt Groening
|| Nancy Cartwright
| Lisa Simpson
|| Lisa Bartlett (née Groening)
|| Yeardley Smith
| Maggie Simpson
|| Margaret Groening
|| Nancy Cartwright, Gabor Csupo, Jodie Foster, Liz Georges, James Earl Jones, Harry Shearer, Yeardley Smith, and Elizabeth Taylor.
| Abraham (Grampa) Simpson
|| Abram Groening
|| Dan Castellaneta
| Patty Bouvier
|| Patricia Groening
|| Julie Kavner
| Charles Montgomery Burns
|| Mr. Bailey (4)
|| Harry Shearer
| Prof. John Frink
|| Jerry Lewis
|| Hank Azaria
| Barney Gumble
|| Jackie Gleason
|| Dan Castellaneta
| Nelson Muntz
|| Judd Nelson
|| Nancy Cartwright
| Apu Nahasapeemapetilon
|| Peter Sellers (3)
|| Hank Azaria
| Moe Szyslak
|| Al Pacino
|| Hank Azaria
| "Diamond Joe" Quimby
|| John F. Kennedy
|| Dan Castellaneta
| Herschel Shmoikel AKA Krusty the Clown
|| Jim "Rusty Nails" Allen (5)
|| Dan Castellaneta
| Itchy & Scratchy
|| Tom & Jerry (Chars)
|| Dan Castellaneta & Harry Shearer
That nicely wraps up our Bit O' History section and, with any luck, you learned some things you did not know before about The Simpsons!