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The Simpsons 500th Episode

February 19, 2012 by staff 

The Simpsons 500th Episode, After nearly 23 years “The Simpsons” airs its 500th episode Sunday night.

The show has become such an American institution that it’s hard to decide which of its achievements is most impressive — 500 episodes (putting it third in prime-time entertainment programs behind only “Gunsmoke” and “Lassie”), 27 Emmy Awards or its guests, Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor among them.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the animated series is its impact on our culture. The Simpsons — Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie, plus their friends and other Springfield residents — have become our family.

“The Simpsons” first saw life in 1987 as a series of between-sketch shorts on “The Tracey Ullman Show.” Amazingly, the voice cast for those shorts — Dan Castellaneta (Homer), Yeardley Smith (Lisa), Nancy Cartwright (Bart) and Julie Kavner (Marge) — has remained in place.

“They put my audition on a tape recorder where you had to push ‘play’ and ‘record’ at the same time. That’s how long ago it was,” said Smith, who is the only cast member to voice just one character.

To illustrate how undefined the show was back then, the original shorts found Lisa to be just as bratty as Bart and one early plot had Marge drunkenly embarrassing Homer at an office party.

“The second script we wrote, the ‘Moaning Lisa’ episode, was really an attempt to define Lisa more clearly,” said Al Jean, who, with partner Mike Reiss, was the first writer hired for the show.

“Jim [Brooks, an executive producer] wanted to do an episode where Lisa was sad and didn’t know why, and we thought, ‘We’ll really go for the emotion here. Let’s talk about this intellectual kid who feels she’s not part of the group, and can’t put her finger on what she should do to solve it.’”

The show was a hit from the beginning. Fans were immediately smitten by this family that — to the chagrin of then-president George H.W. Bush, who famously said that Americans should be more like the Waltons than the Simpsons — deeply reflected the average family’s blend of love and dysfunction.

Part of the challenge of the show’s longevity for the writers has been making sure they don’t give in to the well-established worst impulses of the show’s characters.

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