Although it started as a series of crude shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show, before long, The Simpsons morphed into one of TV’s most revolutionary comedies. James L. Brooks, who developed the show with Matt Groening and Sam Simon, recalls Homer & Co.’s triumphant transformation.
“We strung the shorts together during act breaks on the Ullman Show. We’d show them to the audience and, boy, a lot of nights it got the biggest laughs. But I always say [that turning the shorts into a series was director] David Silverman’s idea. He was a young animator on the shorts, and at a Christmas party, drunk, he walked over and poured out his heart about what it would mean to those animators, because it had been years since an animated show was [in prime time]. Fox was very open, but not for a series. There was a lot of conversation about doing four specials or one special and seeing what happened. We argued long and hard for a series and they gave it to us.
“A series commitment is a big deal. For that network, back then, for an animated show? It was amazing. [Then-CEO] Barry Diller said, ‘Do whatever you want.’ This was a really significant gamble on their part. One second we were working anonymously for a network that nobody quite knew was there, and we were doing something odd — you couldn’t get more fringe than we were. Then suddenly, all that is swept away. It was surreal. It was like a phenomenon. It was not something I’d experienced before. Or since.”