|Country of origin United States|
Original network Fox
|No. of episodes 13|
|Original release December 17, 1989 (1989-12-17) – May 13, 1990 (1990-05-13)|
The Simpsons' first season originally aired on the Fox network between December 17, 1989 and May 13, 1990, beginning with the Christmas special "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire". The executive producers for the first production season were Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, and Sam Simon.
The series was originally set to debut in autumn 1989 with the episode "Some Enchanted Evening", which was meant to introduce the main characters; during the first screening of the episode, the producers discovered that the animation was so appalling that 70% of the episode needed to be redone.
The producers considered aborting the series if the next episode turned out as bad, but it only suffered from easily fixable problems. The producers convinced Fox to move the debut to December 17, and aired "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" as the first episode of the series. The first season won one Emmy Award, and received four additional nominations. The DVD boxset was released on September 25, 2001 in Region 1 and September 24, 2001 in both Region 2 and Region 4. Season one was also released for the iTunes Store on December 22, 2010, dubbed a "digital edition".
Origin of The Simpsons
The Simpsons creator Matt Groening conceived the idea for the Simpsons in the lobby of James L. Brooks's office. Brooks, the producer of the sketch comedy program The Tracey Ullman Show, wanted to use a series of animated shorts as bumpers between sketches. He had asked Groening to pitch an idea for a series of animated shorts, which Groening initially intended to present as his Life in Hell series. When Groening realized that animating Life in Hell would require the rescinding of publication rights for his life's work, he chose another approach and formulated his version of a dysfunctional family.
The Simpson family first appeared as shorts in The Tracey Ullman Show on April 19, 1987. Groening submitted only basic sketches to the animators and assumed that the figures would be cleaned up in production. The animators merely re-traced his drawings, which led to the crude appearance of the characters in the initial short episodes.
In 1989, a team of production companies adapted The Simpsons into a half-hour series for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The team included what is now the Klasky Csupo animation house. During the years of producing the shorts, everything was created in-house. Due to the increased workload of the full-length episodes, production was subcontracted to South Korean animation studio AKOM. While character and background layout is done by the domestic studio, tweening, coloring, and filming are done by the overseas studio.
The Simpsons was co-developed by Groening, James L. Brooks, and Sam Simon, a writer-producer with whom Brooks had worked on previous projects. Groening and Simon, however, did not get along and were often in conflict over the show; Groening once described their relationship as "very contentious". Groening said his goal in creating the show was to offer the audience an alternative to what he called "the mainstream trash" that they were watching. Brooks negotiated a provision in the contract with the Fox network that prevented Fox from interfering with the show's content. Fox was nervous about the show because they were unsure if it could sustain the audience's attention for the duration of the episode. They proposed doing three seven-minute shorts per episode and four specials until the audience adjusted, but in the end, the producers gambled by asking Fox for 13 full-length episodes.
Simon assembled and led the initial team of writers, consisting of John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti, George Meyer, Jeff Martin, Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky. Simon has been credited as "developing [the show's] sensibility". Ken Levine says he "brought a level of honesty to the characters" and made them "three-dimensional", adding that Simon's "comedy is all about character, not just a string of gags. In The Simpsons, the characters are motivated by their emotions and their foibles. 'What are they thinking?'—that is Sam's contribution. The stories come from the characters." Simon saw The Simpsons as a chance to solve "what [he] didn't like about the Saturday-morning cartoon shows [he had] worked on...[he] wanted all the actors in a room together, not reading their lines separated from each other. The Simpsons would have been a great radio show. If you just listen to the sound track, it works." The music for all 13 episodes was composed by former Oingo Boingo member Richard Gibbs, who would depart the show at the end of the season.
The series was originally set to debut in the fall of 1989 with the episode "Some Enchanted Evening", which was meant to introduce the main characters. A debacle erupted when the episode "Some Enchanted Evening", the first to return from animation in Korea, was screened in front of the production staff at the Gracie Films bungalow. The executive producer and developer James L. Brooks' initial reaction to the animation was "This is shit." After that reaction the room almost cleared. A heated argument ensued between Brooks and Klasky-Csupo animation studio head Gábor Csupó, who denied that there was anything wrong with the animation and suggested that the real problem was the quality of the show's writing.
The problem with the animation from the producers' point-of-view was that it did not exhibit a distinct style envisioned for the show. At the time there were only a few choices for animation style. Usually, they would either follow the style of Disney, Warner Bros., or Hanna-Barbera. Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons had a universe that was bendy and the characters seemed to be made of rubber. The producers wanted a realistic environment in which the characters and objects could not do anything that was not possible in the real world. One example with the early animation being cartoonish was that the doors behaved liked rubber when slammed. The style of Hanna-Barbera featured the use of cartoon sounds, which they did not want either.
However, during the first screening of the episode, the producers discovered that the animation was so appalling that 70% of the episode needed to be redone. The producers considered aborting the series if the next episode ("Bart the Genius") turned out as bad, but it only suffered from a few, easily fixable problems. The producers convinced Fox to move the debut to December 17, and aired "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" as the first episode of the series.
The Half Hour series premiere debuted on December 17, 1989 with "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" a Christmas special. The next episode "Bart the Genius" was the first to feature the series' full title sequence, including the chalkboard gag and couch gag. Matt Groening developed the lengthy sequence in order to cut down on the animation necessary for each episode, but devised the two gags as compensation for the repeated material each week. Groening, who had not paid much attention to television since his own childhood, was unaware that title sequences of such length were uncommon by that time. As the finished episodes became longer, the production team were reluctant to cut the stories in order to allow for the long title sequence, so shorter versions of it were developed.
In some of the episodes the characters act completely differently to how they do in later seasons; Lisa, for example, is undisciplined and short-tempered, while Homer is the voice of reason; these roles are reversed in later episodes. Mr. Burns, was voiced by Christopher Collins in "Homer's Odyssey". Originally, the character was influenced by Ronald Reagan, a concept which was later dropped.
The first episode featured many new characters such as Seymour Skinner, Milhouse Van Houten, Sherri and Terri, Moe Szyslak, Mr. Burns, Barney Gumble, Patty and Selma, Ned and Todd Flanders, Santa's Little Helper, Snowball II, Dewey Largo, and Lewis. Snowball I is mentioned for the first time and Waylon Smithers can be heard over the speaker at the power plant, but he is not seen.
The following episodes in the season saw the introduction of several new recurring characters, including Martin Prince, Richard, Edna Krabappel, Dr. J Loren Pryor, Waylon Smithers, Otto Mann, Chief Wiggum, Jasper Beardley, Sam & Larry, Mr. & Mrs. Winfield, Sherri and Terri, Dr. Marvin Monroe, Eddie and Lou, Nelson Muntz, Herman, Bleeding Gums Murphy, Jacqueline Bouvier, Sideshow Bob, Reverend Timothy Lovejoy, Krusty the Clown, Jimbo Jones, Kearney Zzyzwicz, Dolphin "Dolph" Starbeam, Ms. Albright, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Lenny and Carl, Kent Brockman and Agnes Skinner.
The Simpsons first season was the Fox network's first TV series to rank among a season's top 30 highest-rated shows. It won one Emmy Award, and received four additional nominations. Although television shows are limited to one episode a category, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was considered a separate special, and nominated alongside fellow episode "Life on the Fast Lane" for Outstanding Animated Program; "Life on the Fast Lane" won the award. "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was also nominated for "Outstanding Editing in a Miniseries or Special", while "The Call of the Simpsons" was nominated for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Comedy Series or a Special". The main theme song, composed by Danny Elfman, was nominated for "Outstanding Achievement in Main Title Theme Music".
On Metacritic, a site which uses a weighted mean score, the season scored a 79/100 from six critics, translating to "generally favorable reviews." However, the show was controversial from its beginning. The rebellious lead character at the time, Bart, frequently received no punishment for his misbehavior, which led some parents to characterize him as a poor role model for children. Several US public schools even banned The Simpsons merchandise and t-shirts, such as one featuring Bart and the caption "Underachiever ('And proud of it, man!')". Despite the ban, The Simpsons merchandise sold well and generated US$2 billion in revenue during the first 14 months of sales.
The DVD boxset for season one was released by 20th Century Fox in the United States and Canada in September 2001, eleven years after it had completed broadcast on television. As well as every episode from the season, the DVD release features bonus material including deleted scenes, Animatics, and commentaries for every episode.