To Top

For 27 seasons (and counting), Matt Groening’s modern animated masterpiece, The Simpsons, has thrilled a fanbase that never seems to run out love for the first family of the American sitcom. What began as a side bit on a sketch show no one remembers — The Tracy Ullman Show — the Simpsons have become an indelible part of American culture. Homer, Marge, their three precocious kids, and the entire town of lovable oddballs that inhabit Springfield have become a familiar place in the landscape that are as beloved as they are lauded. Over its nearly three decades on the air, The Simpsons has created a sprawling history for itself both in front of and behind the screen. Here are a few things even ardent fans may not know about The Simpsons.

1. Smithers’ Hue

If you’ve been a fan since the get-go, you may remember that Smithers used to be a black character. As the show went on, the writers decided that a subservient African American character could be construed as controversial, so he took on a yellow hue.

Smithers was black

2. In His Image

In the Simpson’s universe, every character has four fingers — technically, three fingers and a thumb — and four toes. Everyone, that is, except for God and Jesus (who have made intermittent appearances on the program since its inception). God and his kin actually have five fingers; they’re the only characters to feature anatomically correct digits.


3. Life in Hell

Before he was hired on The Tracy Ullman Show, Groening caught the eye of producer James L. Brooks, who asked the cartoonist to pitch some ideas for animated sketches based on the strength of Groening’s Life in Hell comic strip, which featured the exploits of a pair of anthropomorphic rabbits and a gay couple.


4. Keeping It In the Family

At the last minute — like, waiting in the lobby for the pitch meeting, last minute — Groening decided not to use Life in Hell on Ullman, so he adopted the idea for a dysfunctional family. In a pinch for names, Groening named the characters after the members of his own family. He changed only the son’s name to an anagram of “brat.”


5. The Pay Scale

For nearly the first decade of the show’s existence, the show’s primary performers were only paid $30,000 per episode, which is pretty bottom of the barrel for performers on a mainstream sitcom. It wasn’t until 1998 that the actors got a pay bump, only after they threatened to sue. These days the voice artists make more than $300K per performance.


6. Best. Fan Film. Ever.

Here’s a measure of the loyalty that The Simpsons fans feel for the show. Over the course of the program’s run, Rainier Wolfcastle — the burly, vaguely German-sounding movie star — has stood in whenever a vain movie star or a kickass action hero was needed. The clips of Wolfcastle’s films have actually been edited into a coherent four-minute McBain short by the show’s fans.


7. Several Characters Are Actually Named After Real Life Landmarks

Matt Groening is a native of Portland, so when it came time for the cartoonist to name the random denizens of his fictional nowhere town, he looked at a map of his hometown and went to work. That’s why the surnames of several characters such as Homer’s neighbor Ned Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy, and Mayor Quimby are all named after streets in Portland.


8. Milhouse Was Named After a President

President Richard M. Nixon to be exact. The “M” stands for Milhous. It was “the most unfortunate name Matt Groening could think of for a child to have. Of course, the funniest part is that Milhouse isn’t even the most unfortunate part of Bart’s best friend’s name. His middle name is Mussolini after the Italian dictator.


9. Tracy Ullman Files Suit

Originally, some of the Simpson’s characters ran on the The Tracey Ullman Show for three seasons. When The Simpsons took off, Tracey actually filed a suit against the program claiming that she deserved a portion of the profits because her star caliber is what got eyes on the cracked family in the first place. The courts soundly rejected that claim.

Tracy Ullman

10. The ‘SCTV’ Influence

Creator Matt Groening has said that the show’s beloved — and incredibly huge — supporting cast came from his love of iconic Canadian sketch comedy show Second City Television. SCTV helped launch the careers of comedy staples like John Candy, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Harold Ramis, Catherine O’Hara, and a slew of others.


11. Sam Simon Hadn’t Worked on the Show Since 1993

For every season until his tragic death, Sam Simon has received an executive producer credit and a share of the show’s profits (probably because he gets credit for assembling the first team of writers). The funny thing is, Sam Simon, hasn’t worked on the show since 1993; he was along for the ride in the early days, but due to spats with management, he quit after four seasons. Instead, he spent the days leading up to his death from cancer generously donating his proceeds from the show.


12. The Solo Performer

Among the main cast members, every one regularly voices several prominent characters in the series. Dan Castellaneta, for example, voices Homer Simpson, Krusty the Clown, Mayor Quimby, and several others. The one member of the cast who only regularly voices one character is Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson.


13. The Voice of a Generation

During the early-to-mid nineties, Nancy Cartwright (aka, the voice of Bart Simpson plus Ralph and Nelson) enjoyed something of a celebrity status as being behind the show’s standout characters. Cartwright, in fact, was brought in to audition for the role of Lisa. Upon reading the character descriptions, Cartwright became more interested in the role of Bart. On hearing her read, Groening instantly gave her the role. Incidentally, she also voiced Chuckie in Rugrats from 2002 onward.

Nancy Cartwright

14. The Favorite

Every person who watches the show has a favorite member of the Simpsons clan (an opinion that they’ll express very proudly, and at great length). There is, however, only one member of the show who has had dialogue in every single episode of the show’s 596-episode run. Yep, Homer.


15. Conan O’Brien Was a Bad Omen

Everybody knows that Conan was a writer for The Simpsons at one point in his career, but what you might not know is that on his first day on the job, a bird flew through the office window and killed itself. The rest of the writing staff for the show tried to use the opportunity to convince the young writer that it was a bad omen.


16. There’s a Reason They’re Yellow

The Simpsons were very carefully designed. Not only are they yellow to be attention-catching to a channel-surfing audience, but they’re each drawn with distinctive facial features, because Groening wanted them to be recognizable by silhouette. In addition, Matt Groening’s initials are drawn into Homer’s head.


More in TV