- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009

LOS ANGELES | America’s most famous dysfunctional cartoon family, “The Simpsons,” this week marks two decades of making the world laugh while offering alternative television therapy to millions of fans.

The now distinctive yellow characters of Homer, Maggie and their children, the intellectually challenged Bart, his smart sister Lisa and pacifier-sucking baby Maggie first burst onto American TV screens on Dec. 17, 1989.

In the past 20 years, they have entered into the national and global consciousness as an icon of television entertainment.

The Fox network show’s influence on popular American culture was highlighted when “The Simpsons” were idolized on U.S. postage stamps earlier this year, and in November, Marge Simpson was the cover girl for Playboy magazine.

The gravelly voiced Marge, whose upswept blue hairdo defies gravity, became the first cartoon character to grace the cover of the magazine, more known for featuring movie stars, athletes and other celebrities in states of undress.

The show’s success has surprised even creator Matt Groening and executive producer Al Jean, the creative pens behind the family which lives in the shadow of a nuclear reactor in a fictional town called Springfield.

“I knew that the show would be a success, but I didn’t know that it would be so big, last so long and become a global phenomenon,” Mr. Groening said earlier this year.

The series is now the longest-running comedy in U.S. television history and has received numerous awards.

Fox is planning to mark the 20th birthday with a special documentary about how the world views “The Simpsons,” to be directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, star of “Super Size Me” and “30 Days.”

“When they first called me about this, I thought it was a prank and I hung up,” Mr. Spurlock said.

“And then my agent called back and said, ‘No, no, this is for real,’ at which point I fainted. Then when I woke up, I called everyone I knew because it was the coolest thing I could ever get to do in my career.”

The documentary “The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special in 3-D on Ice” will air Jan. 10.

Numerous celebrities have been lampooned on the show, including most recently French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his glamorous wife, former model Carla Bruni.

They appeared in a November episode entitled “The Devil Wears Nada,” in which bungling paterfamilias, the doughnut-loving Homer and his colleague Carl Carlson visit Paris and bump into Miss Bruni, a cigarette-smoking femme fatale in a stylish ball gown.

After a brief exchange of pleasantries the Bruni character throws herself into Carl’s arms and declares: “I want to make love, right now.”

While Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Fox owner Rupert Murdoch recorded their own voices for their appearances and escaped with a gentle ribbing, the harsher Sarkozy parody appeared without their consent.

So far, though, no U.S. president, current or former, has ever accepted an invitation to appear, although President Obama did send a nice rejection, Mr. Jean said earlier this year.

Premiered on the then-fledgling Fox channel as a half-hour Christmas special in December 1989 and then as a regular series from Jan. 14, 1990, the success of “The Simpsons” is a TV legend. Today it is broadcast in 45 languages.

In 2007, they hit the big screen for the first time with a feature-length film “The Simpsons Movie.”

The epic took four years to complete, and Mr. Groening and Mr. Jean said a new film was only a distant possibility.

“I suppose someday there might be a sequel, but not yet,” Mr. Groening said.

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