IMPACT: First appearing on Fox’s The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, the Emmy and Peabody award-winning animated sitcom that stars the hilariously unadmirable Simpsons family not only skewers American life with a marvelously malign glee, it also spawned a billion-dollar business, cemented itself into popular culture, and transformed its own genre. “People talk a lot about how The Simpsons reintroduced adults to animation, but it’s much bigger than that,” says Michael Schnieder, television editor at Variety. “It’s changed comedy as we know it, making it more cynical, ironic, and irreverent.” President Bush once exhorted the nation’s families to act “more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons,” which surely put a smile on the faces of certain denizens in both Springfield and L.A. The show—which will celebrate its 18th season in 2007—is the longest-running sitcom on network television.
EUREKA MOMENT: Aspiring writer Groening came to Los Angeles from Oregon in 1977 at the age of 23 and cobbled together an existence as a chauffeur, music critic, and record store clerk. The Simpsons‘ precursor, Life in Hell, was both the comic strip that put Groening on the map and his real-life assessment of life in Tinsel Town. He started penning the acerbic cartoons and sending them to friends back home as a way of describing his dismal life in L.A. The L.A. fame machine plucked Groening out of obscurity after Life in Hell began appearing in the local alternative press. Producer James L. Brooks was a fan and approached Groening about creating animated shorts for The Tracey Ullman Show.
From the January February 2007 25 Brilliant California Ideas issue of California.