The Simpsons’ 500th Episode—More to Come?

Fox’s favorite animated family, The Simpsons, has been making audiences laugh for more than twenty years.  Over the last two decades, The Simpsons has taken us through an unbelievable number of story arcs—and a South Park episode makes fun of this very fact, in an episode titled “Simpsons Already Did It.”  Homer has bowled a perfect game, toured with the Smashing Pumpkins, prevented two nuclear meltdowns, won a Grammy, won a Pulitzer prize, owned the Denver Broncos, solved an ancient Egyptianpuzzle, and been to outer space (TV Guide News).

We have seen hundreds of celebrity voice appearances on the show, including Larry King, Ringo Starr, and Buzz Aldrin.  The Simpsons franchise has spread from TV into video games, board games, albums, clothing, memorabilia, and a full-length film.  The Simpsons is now the longest running American scripted television series, and just hit the milestone of five hundred episodes on February 19, in the middle of it’s twenty-third season.

The 500th episode began, as all Simpsons do, with the typical intro followed by the “couch gag.”  For the special occasion though, viewers were treated with a conglomeration of every “couch gag” used in the shows run.  The plot follows the Simpson family as they are banished from Springfield because the town is going broke trying to pay for the damage from Homer’s drunken antics and Bart’s boyish pranks.

Although the episode does have jokes for its long time viewers, it is a prime example of the current state of the show.  Any fan can tell you that The Simpsons is past its prime.  Its highest rated episode, “Bart Gets an F,” ran in 1990.  Although the ratings have dropped over the past two decades, the loyalty of fans has stayed strong.  The Simpsons became a part of American culture in the 1990s, and paved the way for animated series like South Park.  Fans continue to watch in the millions, but some now view the show with a bittersweet taste.  The creators of The Simpsons are aware of this current attitude, and decided to end this special episode with a message to their fans that read, “Thanks for 500 shows.  All we ask is that you go out and get some fresh air before logging on the Internet and saying how much this sucked.”

So, what does the future hold for The Simpsons?  There will be seven more episodes in the twenty-third season, but beyond that, the future is shrouded in mystery.  Although the 500th episode garnered a 30 per cent increase in viewers of the 18-24 demographic, this may be the final season for the series.  Negotiations between executives of 20th Century Fox TV and the voice actors are not going well after the studio asked the voice actors to take a 45 per cent pay cut.  The absolutely irreplaceable voice actors responded with a proposal for a 30 per cent pay cut if they received a percentage of the massive memorabilia revenue.  Negotiations are still under way, but 20th Century Fox TV released a statement saying, “… We believe this brilliant series can and should continue, but we cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model” (Inside TV).

Personally, I can’t see this being the end of The Simpsons.  However, the people at Fox are notorious for canceling good programs, and I have a gut wrenching feeling that some of our favorite Simpsons characters may sound less familiar next season.

-Nathan Mitchell

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