The instant expert: The Simpsons
Float through any social event with M?’s fast facts. This week Rick Arthur looks at the animated television series The Simpsons, which premiered on Fox on this day in 1989
THE BASICS, PART ONE The Simpsons is the longest-running scripted show in television history - and a cultural phenomenon that is recognised the world over. Its creator, the cartoonist Matt Groening, is one weird creature.
THE BASICS, PART TWO The animated sitcom began as a series of shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. After three seasons, it was developed into a half-hour prime-time show and was an early hit for Rupert Murdoch's new Fox Broadcasting Company. It is now in its 23rd season and in February 2012 will celebrate its 500th episode. That's a lot of doughnuts.
THE STORY Groening casts a jaundiced eye at middle-class America and family life in the fictional town of Springfield, where Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson live. He and fellow executive producers James L Brooks and Al Jean and a large crew of writers and showrunners parody US culture, society, television and more. They are insightful, irreverent, droll, acerbic - and wickedly funny.
THE VOICE ACTORS There are six main cast members: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer. Notably, Castellaneta performs Homer, Kavner voices Marge, Cartwright performs Bart and Smith voices Lisa. Azaria and Shearer play most of the male townspeople.
THE GUEST STARS The Simpsons holds the Guinness World Record for number of guest stars in one TV series, set in 2005 at 337. It's considered a Hollywood honour to be on the show - especially playing oneself - and the stellar list includes Aerosmith, Mel Gibson, Stephen Hawking, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Elizabeth Taylor, U2 and Betty White.
THE BIG BUCKS The show has made hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenue for Fox, and hundreds of millions more in merchandising. The per-episode salary of the six main actors has escalated from US$30,000 (Dh110,000) to $125,000 to $400,000. But with dipping ratings they had to accept a lower salary around the $300,000 range, for seasons 24 and 25.
THE CATCHPHRASES A number of sayings from The Simpsons have entered the vernacular. The most famous is Homer's grunt of annoyance, "D'oh!". A description of the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" also gained traction, as has the dismissive term "meh". And Bart's exclamatory "¡Ay, caramba!", "Don't have a cow, man!" and "Eat my shorts!" have many fans.
THE CONTROVERSIES Too many to list, but some parents, teachers and conservatives object to Bart's rebellious nature and consider him a poor role model for children. Additionally, countries that have protested about their portrayal on the show or have banned it outright include Australia, Brazil, China, Russia and Venezuela.
D'OH! A Simpsons episode, Trash of the Titans, provoked considerable controversy (and no little mirth) for two uses of the word "w****r" when it aired in the UK at its usual 6pm time slot on April 15, 2008. While the word is not well known in the US, it is of course considered offensive in the UK. Ofcom, which deals with UK television complaints, received 31 calls of protest. Channel 4 said the compliance staff had incorrectly certified the programme as suitable.
IN ARABIC The show was broadcast in the Gulf region with Arabic subtitles on networks such as Showtime Arabia and Dubai's One TV. It was finally given an Arabic translation in 2005, with references to alcohol, pork and many other themes deleted or significantly modified. A baffling curiosity, it was not a success.
Shows that stick around
While The Simpsons is in its 23rd year, it's just a baby compared to other television programmes from around the English-speaking world that have made a cultural impact.
MEET THE PRESS (USA, 1947-) The longest-running TV series in US broadcasting history. It features a host grilling political leaders and experts on current affairs, one-on-two interviews and debate.
HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA (Canada, 1952-) Canada's ice hockey season's Saturday night broadcast started on radio in 1931. The show features weekly NHL matches and Coach's Corner with the colourful Don Cherry.
CORONATION STREET (UK, 1960-) The world's longest running TV soap opera still going started as an attempt to portray working-class life. Viewers loved the duels of Elsie Tanner and Ena Sharples.
COUNTRY CALENDAR (New Zealand, 1966-) A rural documentary series shown weekly. Its signature tune Hillbilly Child opens the show, which depicts rural lifestyles revered by urban Kiwis.
NEIGHBOURS (Australia, 1985-) The soap centres on the residents of the fictional suburb of Erinsborough, Melbourne. It made stars of Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruglia and Jason Donovan.
Updated: December 14, 2011 04:00 AM