The Simpson’s Family Burgers

Any American human under thirty probably has no idea what the world would be like without The Simpsons. They are syndicated, their merchandise is in almost every major retail outlet and after 29 years they have been renewed for two more seasons after the one currently running.  This will put The Simpsons at 669 episodes making it the longest running scripted television series, beating Gunsmoke which held the title previously. The Simpsons have destroyed many television boundaries, set for years before them, with their language and the more adult situations each character gets into. The series has been nominated for 78 Emmy’s and executive producer James L. Brooks holds the title for most Emmy’s won by a single person at 20, ten of which were from The Simpsons. It has influenced other animated series like it such as Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy and Loren Bouchard’s Bob’s Burgers which also premiere weekly on FOX.

Television, in a less developed form, has been available since the 1920s. The technology didn’t go up for sale to the public until 1950s, however, because of World War II. By the time it was released, broadcasting color technology was ready for market. Considered the “Golden Age” of television 1950-1960, many different genres of shows were hitting the airwaves. PBS created the first reality show, An American Family, which took an in-depth look at a souther Californian family who’s eldest son is gay and moving to New York City. The Flintstones became the first cartoon to be marketed to adults. The game show scandals of 1959 when many critics of television claimed the Golden Age ended. Herb Stempel was told to lose purposefully by producers on the game show Twenty One to his competitor Charles Van Doren. He took the fall and went public a year later to the New York Journal-American after other contestants from different game shows came forward.  In 1960, former NBC president, Sylvester Weaver said to the Sunday Denver Post, “ Television has gone from about a dozen forms to just two – news shows and the Hollywood stories. The blame lies in the management of NBC, CBS and ABC. Management doesn’t give the people what they deserve. I don’t see any hope in the system as it is.”

A change came in the 1970s starting with The Mary Tyler Moore Show being the first series to have the main character be a single woman working on her career.  James L. Brookes, one of the executive producers of The Simpsons actually got his start on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and it’s spin-off show Rhoda, which won 29 Emmy’s Two shows which changed the writing of television and paved the way for other shows like The Simpsons were the 1971 sitcom All in The Family and their spin-off show The Jeffersons. All in The Family pushed censorship buttons by being the first show to have the sound effect of a toilet flushing. The show touched on rape, racism, religion, homosexuality, abortion along with many other topics which were considered unsuitable for comedy prior.

In April of 1987, The Simpsons started as a segment on The Tracy Ullman Show. James L. Brooks and Sam Simon were executive producers on the sketch show as well. After two years of being shorts, The Simpson family finally got their own full length show. After it’s initial debut, the 90’s were prevalent with “Bart-mania”, a craze centered around the oldest Simpson child, Bart. He became the most recognized character on merchandise and would be used to advertise the show even on episodes where he wasn’t the main character. The Simpsons racked up two billion dollars worth of revenue during their first 14 months selling merchandise, some days selling up to one million Bart t-shirts. FOX moved The Simpsons from Sunday night primetime to Thursday night primetime during the summer of 1990. This was so FOX could compete with The Cosby Show which was the number one show at the time on NBC.  Although the first episode (Bart Gets an F) to premiere at the new time slot came in eighth that week behind The Cosby Show, but actually received 33 million viewers. The Simpson’s returned to their Sunday night time slot in 1994 but “Bart Gets an F” is still the highest rated episode of the show in history.

Through the 1990’s The Simpsons were at the top of their game.  But fans and critics of the show agree the decrease of funny after season nine.  Episode two of the season, “The Principle and the Pauper,” was criticized by show creator Matt Groening and by Harry Shearer who is the voice of Principle Skinner, for taking a reoccurring character for eight seasons and making him an imposter. In Chris Turner’s book “Planet Simpsons” he writes that the episode was the “broadcast that marked the abrupt plunge from The Simpson’s Golden Age.” Many television critics consider The Simpson’s “Golden Age” to be from the middle of season three to the steady decrease which was season nine and ten.

Around this same time, another cartoon sitcom was getting it’s start on the same network. Derived from Seth McFarlane’s 1997 cartoon Larry & Steve, he basically changed the names of the characters and pitched the idea of Family Guy to FOX. The series ran for two seasons being aired sometimes irregularly and on different time slots before it was cancelled. In a last effort reprieve, FOX paid for 13 more episodes which they aired as the third season. They aired all but the final episode. The episode and series was later picked up by Cartoon Network for syndication. After the cancellation, fans started collecting merchandise and DVD’s of the show at such a rapid pace it was brought back for a fourth season which started airing on Cartoon Network in 2005. The show is now in it’s 15th season and Seth McFarlane has gone on to create The Cleveland Show which was a spin-off of Family Guy staring Peter’s neighbor Cleveland as the main character and American Dad, both with the same style of animation.

Almost the same situation happened for The Simpsons creator Matt Groening during the same time period. He pitched a new animated series to FOX after the massive success of The Simpsons called Futurama. Initially Groening wanted the show to air after The Simpsons.  In similar fashion to what FOX did to Family Guy, they moved the shows time slot around so much that people didn’t even know when a new episode would air. FOX would even hold episodes from airing. While mid way through production of the fourth season, FOX stopped ordering new episodes and the show was not renewed for a fifth season. The syndication rights were sold to Comedy Central and after the success of Family Guy being brought back from the dead, the producers of Futurama followed in their footsteps. In 2009 it was announced that Comedy Central would air 26 episodes of the show and it went on for three more seasons. The series finale aired September 2013.

At surface level, Family Guy and the The Simpsons are very similar in style and structure. Family Guy, though does go for more “dark humor” in their writing. They have been mostly criticized by the Parent Television Council for use of rape jokes. Since it was brought back on the air, the show has been constantly on the receiving end of FCC complaints, mostly from 2009 onward. In 2000, 2005 and 2006, the PTC named Family Guy as the worst show on television for family viewing. While the stylization and structure of the two shows are the same, Family Guy has scenes involving statutory rape, an episode where the oldest daughter, Meg, gets drugged and has her kidney stolen on the black market and will use profanity much stronger than The Simpsons.

While the writing on Family Guy is what it’s mostly known for (makings laughs and creating controversy) it has also been under critique by other animators and even The Simpsons writers and producers. Early on Al Jean, show runner of The Simpsons said that the series was “too derivative of The Simpsons” and that it “should be more original.” Matt Selman, a writer on The Simpsons said “Come on, Seth McFarlane does one show three times,” during the 2010 Comic-Con convention in San Diego. The creators of the animated sitcom South Park have both stated they don’t like their show being compared to Family Guy and even went so far to have an episode on their tenth season titled “Cartoon Wars” where Cartman, the main character tries to get the show cancelled.

A family that has been a bit less controversial and has had a much easier time with FOX, The Belchers made their television debut on Bob’s Burgers in January of 2011. While the show didn’t really have a rocky start, the show was heavily criticized for their overuse of profanity. Tim Goodman of the Hollywood Reporter said that, “it’s unwise and unnecessary to launch an animated sitcom on FOX that appears intent to ape the vulgarity quotient of Family Guy.” Many fans of the show complain about the rockiness of the humor and animation on season one but season two went on to receive praise from critics and fans alike. The show is now in it’s seventh season and was renewed for an eighth.

What makes these families great is they are a real look into the American family without being too real or too harsh. They can critique the American family structure but it’s allowed more so because they are using animation. The shows have gone on to influence so many other types of media and other television shows. They are a real staple to American culture and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

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