On May 20, 2007, Fox’s long-running animated series The Simpsons airs its 400th episode.
The Simpsons was created by Matt Groenig, whose comic strip Life Is Hell caught the attention of the Hollywood producer James L. Brooks. Brooks enlisted Groenig to create a cartoon short that would run during the Fox sketch comedy series The Tracey Ullmann Show. Two of the show’s regulars, Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner, provided the voices for Homer and Marge Simpson, while Nancy Cartwright (who had originally auditioned for the role of their daughter, Lisa) landed the role of their troublemaking adolescent son, Bart. Lisa (voiced by Yeardley Smith) rounded out the speaking parts for the dysfunctional Simpson family, who made their debut on The Tracey Ullmann Show in April 1987. Brooks later convinced Barry Diller, Fox’s then-chief executive, to turn the shorts into a half-hour weekly series, to be developed by Brooks, Groenig and Sam Simon. The Simpsons debuted on Fox in December 1989 with a special Christmas episode, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.”
The first animated prime-time sitcom since The Flinstones in the 1960s, The Simpsons burst onto the scene during a period when most of the successful comedy series on television were family-friendly offerings such as The Cosby Show, Full House, Growing Pains and Family Matters. Offbeat and dysfunctional, The Simpsons offered a far different view of family life. Critics raved about the show and its edgy, pop-culture savvy humor from the beginning, and it became a huge ratings hit.
In 2005, The Simpsons became the longest-running sitcom ever, passing The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, which ran for 14 seasons (1952-66). Over the years, the series racked up dozens of Emmy Awards, and was named by TIME magazine as the best show of all time in 1999 and as No. 1 on Entertainment Weekly’s list of New Classic TV Shows in 2008. Its incredible success paved the way for other adult-oriented animated series, notably Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill, The Family Guy and South Park.