“THE Simpsons,” one of America’s most enduring families, is 30 years old this week.
Bart, Homer, Marge and the rest of the family first appeared in 48 short filler segments on the sketch comedy program “The Tracey Ullman Show,” but those first characters were very different from the Simpsons of today.
“At first they were what we call bumpers that went between ‘The Tracey Ullman Show’ and commercial breaks,” says Maureen Furniss, an animation historian who teaches at the California Institute of the Arts.
“‘The Simpsons’ were very quick little segments that were united by some particular theme,” she says.
For Furniss, one particular segment, where Bart and Lisa are having a burping contest, stands out as a depiction of what early versions of the characters were before the standalone show began.
When Matt Groening created “The Simpsons,” Furniss says, people were excited to see what the cartoonist would do within the field of animation. With the show, she says Groening set a new standard for animation on TV, especially when it came to shows that were more crass and humorous.
“When ‘The Simpsons’ came out, people were so worried about the crude behavior,” Furniss says. “But they didn’t have any idea that ‘South Park’ or ‘Beavis and Butt-head’ were on the horizon and would be much more outrageous in a lot of ways.”