Last weekend marked the 700th episode of The Simpsons.
My first thought upon hearing this news?
Which led to my second thought: While that’s an impressive run, has the show overstayed its welcome?
The Simpsons premiered on Dec. 17, 1989. A three-year stint on Fox’s The Tracey Ullman Show from 1987 to 1989 as a series of 48 animated shorts was well received. It gave everyone from Fox executives to cartoonist/show creator Matt Groening some confidence that a weekly animated series in prime time could succeed.
Yet the concept could have just as easily failed.
According to an April 19, 1991, piece by the Los Angeles Times’s Dennis McDougal and Daniel Cerone, “Before The Simpsons debuted last year as a prime-time series, the oddball cast of characters was familiar to only 14 per cent of Americans, according to a study by Marketing Evaluations Inc. By November of last year, that familiarity quotient had jumped to 85 per cent.”
The initial numbers aren’t the type that make TV executives jump at the first opportunity to launch an original series or spinoff. Rather, it was a complete roll of the dice that worked out better than expected – and The Simpsons is still going after 32 seasons.
Some early American animated TV series like Crusader Rabbit (1947 to 1952 and 1956 to 1959), The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends (1959 to 1964), The Flintstones (1960 to 1966), and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972 to 1985) did well with specific demographics. Several franchises, including Looney Tunes and Walt Disney, ruled the children’s roost for decades.
Sustaining this success and popularity past a certain number of seasons is difficult. Yet the exploits of Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa Simpson, and other recurring characters in the fictional town of Springfield, achieved this lofty goal.
The Simpsons is the longest-running American animated series (and sitcom) in history. It’s well ahead of Crusader Rabbit (455 episodes, all four minutes long), Family Guy (18 seasons, 349 episodes) and South Park (23 seasons, 309 episodes).
It’s also the world’s fourth-longest running animated series. Taking the top spot will be impossible: Germany’s Unser Sandmännchen (Little Sandman), which is still in production after 61 seasons and 22,200 episodes, is a juggernaut.
Here’s a short comparison to Canada:
Our two longest-running animated series, Arthur (24 seasons, 250 episodes) and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (nine seasons, 222 episodes), are collaborations with U.S. companies. The longest-running Canadian-only animated series, PAW Patrol, has been on for seven seasons and 182 episodes, followed by Caillou, which ran for five seasons and 144 episodes.
All of them are miles behind The Simpsons.
The show’s longevity stands up to regular TV shows, too. Front Page Challenge and Hockey Night in Canada are both older and produced more episodes. Yet the animated series has released nearly as many episodes as three other long-running series, The Beachcombers (19 seasons, 387 episodes), Murdoch Mysteries (14 seasons, 221 episodes) and Street Legal (nine seasons, 132 episodes), combined.
Still, some have suggested The Simpsons has been living off its name and reputation for too long.
The series had its golden years in the 1980s and 1990s. Although it won Emmys in the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, it only snagged one award between 2009 and 2020.
Viewing numbers for The Simpsons have plummeted from 14.7 million viewers in Season 12 to 3.11 million in Season 30, according to the German database company Statista.
The humour, writing and character development have been less memorable in recent decades, too.
Should The Simpsons have stopped already?
A strong argument can be made for this but it’s ultimately up to Fox, along with Groening and his team.
There doesn’t appear to be any end in sight, even if there’s far less fuel in the fire. This means the episode count will just keep growing, along with the consumption of Duff Beer and Krusty Burgers, and regular trips to Apu Nahasapeemapetilon’s Kwik-E-Mart.
To quote Homer Simpson, “Woo-hoo!”
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics. For interview requests, click here.