It was on the evening of Sunday December 17th of 1989 that the Fox network debuted their brand new prime time animated series – The Simpsons. I was seventeen when Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire was broadcast and… 30 years later I am still quite the fan of America’s irreverent animated Family. Although I will be quick to admit that due to my work schedule I no longer follow the series on a weekly basis, I catch them when the entire new season has been released digitally. Now as you are no doubt aware, The Simpsons received their start on another Fox network comedy show back on April 30th of 1987 – with The Tracey Ullman Show. Although they didn’t appear exactly like we know them now – after three seasons as shorts on Ullman’s series, Fox network felt The Simpsons were ready for their own shot in the spotlight.
The Simpsons were created by Matt Groening for The Tracey Ullman Show when he came to the realization that if used his comic strip Life in Hell for the comedy series – it would mean giving up his rights to it. That was something that Groening obviously was not willing to do – so he pitched the idea of the typical American Family – a dysfunctional one. Going one better by naming all of the characters after members of his own Family… although he came up with Bart instead of using his own name I should point out. According to a BBC Documentary from back in 2000 – Matt Groening provided animators sketches for the characters, the cartoonist rightfully assumed the animators would punch up his work… which they did not.. in fact it has been said the animators for The Tracy Ullman Show segment just traced Groening’s own work.
You might be thinking it is rather odd for a premiere for a new series to be a Christmas episode – it turns out this wasn’t the original plan. The Simpsons television series was co-produced by Groening, James L. Brooks, as well as the late Sam Simon – these three would also co-develop the show. At least for the first four seasons as I’ve read Simon and Groening did not get along – so Simon vacated the series in ’93 although his contract allowed him to receive profits from the show every year as well as an Executive Producer credit until he passed away back in 2015. Anyway, the first intended episode for The Simpsons would actually be it’s last for the first season – the May 13th, 1990 episode entitled Some Enchanted Evening. The Simpsons was also meant to debut on the Fox network in the Fall of ’89 but to say the screening for this first episode was a disaster is the epitome of an understatement. The trouble seems to have come from the animation itself for Some Enchanted Evening – convincing Fox to allow them a later air date meant they were able to fix most of the issues of the intended first episode plus put more effort into making Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire a better premiere episode!
Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire if you’ve not had the pleasure of seeing the episode itself finds Bart obtaining a partial tattoo and to have it removed from her Son’s arm, Marge ends up spending the Family’s saved up money for the Holiday. This is done as she assumes that Mr. Burns will give Homer a Christmas bonus – since this is Charles Montgomery Burns we are talking about – no bonus is issued. Not wanting his Family to find out there is no money for Christmas – Homer becomes a mall store Santa… which doesn’t earn him enough to save the Holiday. Taking what he has made and Bart with him – the duo hit the dog races in an attempt to earn enough money and they totally fail… but in the process end up with the greatest gift of all, Santa’s Little Helper – a greyhound and newest member of the Simpsons Family.
So in closing – today marks the 30th anniversary of the first The Simpsons episode – 672 episodes, a full-length animated movie, video games, toys, and albums have been produced. And for the near future The Simpsons show no sign of slowing down – having been granted two more seasons – and it all began with Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire back on December 17th of 1989.
A huge thank you to Rockford Jay for not only providing images from his The Simpsons Xmas Book but for giving me the scoop on the 30th anniversary in the first place. That delightful book was originally published back in 1990 and even has a dedication to Snowball I!