With more than 500 episodes and already on its 26th season, The Simpsons is widely considered the greatest television series of all time. However, the Springfield family actually got their start on television not with their own primetime feature but as part of The Tracey Ullman Show. Later, after being endeared to viewers for three seasons, the sketch was developed into a half-hour primetime show to become Fox’s first series to land in the top 30 of the highest-rated shows. Today, most experts credit The Simpsons for inspiring the creation of many other adult-oriented animated sitcoms like South Park and Family Guy.
In celebration of what the show has been able to achieve and of the countless laughs that it has elicited, here are ten little-known but interesting facts about The Simpsons:
10. A “cleaned up” version of The Simpsons, renamed Al Shamshoon, was shown in the Arab world.
In 2005, after 17 seasons in the United States, ABC’s Arab satellite network, MBC, brought The Simpsons to Arab television. Of course, a lot of the content of the American show was deemed unsuitable for Arab sensibilities, so MBC made several changes. Aside from naming the show Al Shamshoon, the characters’ names were also changed: Homer became “Omar”, Marge became “Mona”, Bart became “Badr”, and so on. More importantly, rather than simply translating the language, MBC transformed the culture on the show as well. Homer’s Duff beer was replaced by soda, hotdogs (which contain pork) were substituted with Egyptian beef sausages, and “kahk” – a common type of Arab cookie — took the place of donuts. There’s also no Moe’s Tavern to speak of in Al Shamshoon.
Unfortunately for MBC, their attempt to penetrate the huge under-20 viewership in the Arab world fizzled out; only 34 of the 52 adapted episodes were aired.
9. God is drawn with five fingers, instead of the usual four for other characters.
The Simpsons characters are mostly drawn with four fingers, as are other cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse and Spongebob Squarepants. However, in the few appearances that God and Jesus have made on the show, they were both portrayed as having five fingers. Does that creative choice somehow reflect the Simpsons writers’ theological beliefs? Mike Reiss, a writer and producer for the show, was asked the question, and his answer probably disappointed many a Simpsons geek:
I have no idea why God has five fingers even though that appeared in a show I supervised. It may have been [co-writer] Sam Simon’s idea, or the animator may have slipped it in. I never noticed it. So much for a “grand design” to how we do things.
An inconsistency in Homer the Heretic, the first episode where God appears on the show, seems to support Reiss’s answer — God’s number of fingers changes from 5 to 4 in the episode’s final scene.
8. Homer Simpsons’s “D’oh!” has been incorporated into the Oxford English Dictionary.
Whenever he hurts himself, realizes that he’s done something dumb, or that something bad has happened or is going to happen to him, Homer Simpson blurts out, “D’oh!” Many of the show’s characters, including Marge, Bart, Lisa, and even Maggie, use the expression themselves. However, the term “D’oh!” was not originally in the script and was simply how resident Simpsons voice talent Dan Castellaneta interpreted an “annoyed grunt”. But soon, “D’oh!” was being used regularly on the show.
In 1988, the term was added to The New Oxford Dictionary of English as “Doh” (without the apostrophe) and was listed as an interjection with the definition “(usually [in a manner] mildly derogatory) used to comment on an action perceived as foolish or stupid.” Then, in 2001, “D’oh”, with the apostrophe, was added as a variant of “Doh” with the etymology section noting that the word appeared in numerous Simpsons publications.
7. Former U.S. First Lady Barbara Bush and Marge Simpson have written letters to each other.
In the October 1990 issue of People Magazine, then First Lady Barbara Bush was asked about The Simpsons, and she commented, “It was the dumbest thing I had ever seen, but it’s a family thing, and I guess it’s clean.” Not surprisingly, the media made a big deal of her statement and often only published the “dumbest thing I had ever seen” part of Mrs. Bush’s words. Interestingly, The Simpsons writing staff decided to respond by writing, on Marge Simpsons’s behalf, a letter to Mrs. Bush. Part of the letter went,
I try to teach my children Bart, Lisa, and even little Maggie, always to give somebody the benefit of the doubt and not talk badly about them, even if they’re rich. It’s hard to get them to understand this advice when the very First Lady in the country calls us not only dumb, but “the dumbest thing” she ever saw. Ma’am, if we’re the dumbest thing you ever saw, Washington must be a good deal different than what they teach me at the current events group at the church.
Surprisingly, Mrs. Bush responded to Marge with a letter of her own, which went,
How kind of you to write. I’m glad you spoke your mind; I foolishly didn’t know you had one.
I am looking at a picture of you, depicted on a plastic cup, with your blue hair filled with pink birds peeking out all over. Evidently, you and your charming family — Lisa, Homer, Bart and Maggie — are camping out. It is a nice family scene. Clearly you are setting a good example for the rest of the country.
Please forgive a loose tongue.
P.S. Homer looks like a handsome fella!
6. Former President George Bush and The Simpsons have had a very rocky history.
The smooth relations between the Bushes and the Simpsons, facilitated by the wives’ letter exchange in 1990, didn’t last long. In 1992, when then President George Bush was running for reelection, he delivered a speech at the National Religious Broadcasters’ convention in which he said, “We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.” The line was delivered to drive home the point of Bush’s campaign platform, which was “family values”, but for obvious reasons, the statement became very controversial.
This was the reaction of the Simpsons family:
Later, in 1996, the episode Two Bad Neighbors featured the former president becoming Homer’s neighbor and by the end, moving out again after being humiliated by Homer.
5. Krusty the Clown was originally intended to be Homer’s secret identity.
The resemblance between Krusty the Clown and Homer Simpson is uncanny; in appearance, Krusty is essentially Homer with makeup and tufts of hair. Well, apparently, the similarity in the physical traits of the two characters was originally meant to be more than just incidental. In fact, the original idea was for Krusty to be revealed as being Homer in disguise — a plot twist pregnant with possibilities as Bart idolized Krusty while having no respect for his father. However, Simpsons creator Matt Groening eventually decided that the plot line was “too complicated” and decided to drop the idea. Nevertheless, the similarity in the appearance of the two characters was employed to a certain degree in the Season 6 episode Homie the Clown, where Krusty opens a clown college, which Homer Simpson attends.
4. The Simpsons voice actors took a huge pay cut in 2011, which resulted in them making “only” $250,000 per episode.
When The Simpsons debuted as a primetime series on national TV in 1989, the voice cast was altogether being paid about $30,000 per episode. Then, in 1998, the talents were involved in a pay dispute with Fox, and the company threatened to replace the actors with new voices. Fortunately, the issue was resolved, resulting in the actors being paid $125,000 per episode from 1998 until 2004. With DVD sales and syndication, the show’s revenue continued to increase, and in 2004, the main cast refused to appear for script readings unless their pay was raised to $360,000 per episode. Eventually, the strike was resolved with salaries being increased. This was further raised to $400,000 per episode in 2008. However, in 2011, Fox threatened to cancel the series unless serious cuts were made in production costs, and that resulted in cast members accepting a 30% pay cut to “just” over $250,000 per episode.
3. Maude Flanders was killed off after the actress supplying her voice left the show due to a pay dispute.
In the eleventh season of The Simpsons, Maude Flanders, the wife of Ned Flanders, died after falling from bleachers in a freak accident. The tragedy allowed for an interesting story line, but the truth was that the decision to kill off Maude was largely influenced by her voice actor, Maggie Roswell, leaving the show after a pay dispute with Fox. Roswell called it quits when Fox refused to raise her pay despite the fact that twice a week, she had to fly between her home in Denver and the recording studios in Los Angeles. However, Simpsons writers explained that Maude’s death was also meant to allow Ned Flanders to “face a challenge and grow in a new direction.”
In 2002, Roswell returned to the show after reaching a deal to record her lines from her Denver home. But Maude, the most prominent character Roswell voiced, still remained dead.
2. The characters on The Simpsons were colored yellow so that channel surfers could easily spot the show.
In terms of race, Homer’s family, as well as most of the other characters on The Simpsons, are white. So why is it that on the show, these characters are instead colored a dark shade of yellow? The question was once asked of Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and his answer seems to indicate that the decision was made in consideration of channel surfers. More specifically, Groening replied,
When you’re flicking through channels with your remote control, and a flash of yellow goes by, you’ll know you’re watching “The Simpsons”.
1. Waylon Smithers, Jr. was originally black.
Due to his homosexuality and obsession with Malibu Stacy dolls, Waylon Smithers, Jr., or “Smithers” as he is usually called, is definitely one of The Simpsons‘ more unusual characters. However, Smithers would’ve been even less mainstream had he continued to be portrayed as a black character, which he was when he made his first visual appearance on the show. The episode was Homer’s Odyssey, the third of the first season, and it was in it that color stylist Gyorgi Peluci mistakenly animated Smithers as a blue-haired African American. The staff eventually decided that it would be too controversial “to have a black subservient character” and reasoned out that Smithers was always intended to be “Mr. Burns’s white sycophant.” As a result, in the next episode, Smithers appeared as the yellow character he’s known as today.
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