‘No­body quite knew how to han­dle a car­toon that was aimed at adults’

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT -

dur­ing the 1970s, was by the late 1980s work­ing on a Fox va­ri­ety show star­ring Bri­tish comic Tracey Ull­man. Brooks had ad­mired Life in Hell and asked Groen­ing if he would be in­ter­ested in do­ing some an­i­mated shorts for Ull­man’s show. The orig­i­nal idea was sim­ply to an­i­mate the Life in Hell comic, but Groen­ing ul­ti­mately re­jected that. “I was skep­ti­cal that any TV show would last, and I thought, ‘What if this was a fi­asco?’ I didn’t want the an­i­ma­tion to ruin my comic strips, so I thought, ‘I’ll make up some­thing new.’” He set­tled on the idea of a typ­i­cal Amer­i­can fam­ily, bor­row­ing real names from his own, in­clud­ing chang­ing his mother’s from Mar­garet to Marge and his own from Matt to Bart. The draw­ing was prim­i­tive, as it was on Life in

All the char­ac­ters had yel­low flesh tone and enor­mous eyes with pin­holes for pupils. Homer’s paunch was vis­i­ble through his white polo shirt; a cou­ple of squig­gly lines atop his head in­di­cated thin­ning hair. Like Fred Flint­stone, he had a dark ring around his mouth to sug­gest a five o’clock shadow. The char­ac­ters — which first ap­peared on Ull­man’s show on Aug. 19, 1987 — proved so popular that Fox hired Groen­ing, Brooks and writer­pro­ducer Sam Si­mon to de­velop a sit­com around them. The re­ac­tion from view­ers was im­me­di­ate. The Simp­sons was a smash shortly after it de­buted in 1989, the first pro­gram from the then-young Fox net­work ever to hit the Top 30. The Simp­sons — along with Ru­pert Mur­doch’s early 1990s pur­chases of large sta­tion groups — fi­nally proved Fox was a vi­able net­work. But the re­cep­tion wasn’t en­tirely pos­i­tive. The Simp­sons be­came a favourite tar­get of con­ser­va­tive crit­ics. Bill Ben­nett, then the U.S. drug-pol­icy di­rec­tor, told re­cov­er­ing ad­dicts not to watch the car­toon. Bart Simp­son, said Ben­nett, was a poor role model. Pres­i­dent George H.W. Bush, run­ning for re-elec­tion on a fam­ily-val­ues plat­form in 1992, said his goal was “to make Amer­i­can fam­i­lies a lot more like the Wal­tons and a lot less like the Simp­sons.” A num­ber of schools across the coun­try banned Simp­sons- branded cloth­ing, with ad­min­is­tra­tors es­pe­cially dis­dain­ing T-shirts with Bart’s im­age and the slo­gan: “Un­der­achiever (and Proud of It, Man).” Although very few TV shows make more than a rip­ple in the wider

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