On April 19, 1987, the first ever animated appearance of Matt Groening's The Simpsons happened on the then-fledgling Fox network's second ever prime time program, The Tracey Ullman Show. The sketch comedy show featured Julie Kavner and Dan Castellaneta as live-action performers, but they would become most famous for providing the voices for Marge and Homer Simpson. Nancy Cartwright had gone in to audition for Lisa, but convinced Groening to let her try out for Bart, and she got the job on the spot. Yeardley Smith had originally tried out for Bart, but given her uniquely high voice, she was given Lisa instead. Maggie actually has a speaking part at the very end, voice provided by Liz Georges.
Groening had been asked by producer James L. Brooks to pitch some animated short ideas, and he'd originally planned to use his Life In Hell comic strips until he realized that would mean signing away his publication rights. So in the lobby of Brooks' office, he hurriedly designed the Simpson family, naming the parents after his own, and the girls after his own little sisters, and then throwing in Bart as an anagram of "brat."
This crude first short called "Good Night" was based on storyboards drawn by Groening himself, using rough sketches he had expected animators to punch up rather than simply retrace as they did. Despite that, the core of what would become the longest-running scripted TV series in American history can be seen in this first 115 seconds of The Simpsons.
The Simpsons airs Sundays at 8:00 PM ET on Fox.
People are talking about The Simpsons in our forums. Join the conversation.
Andy Hunsaker has a head full of sitcom gags and nerd-genre lore, and can be followed @AndyHunsaker if you're into that sort of thing.