|Matt Groening and James L. Brooks flank Homer. Photo Frank Micelota/FOX|
Tonight at 8 p.m., The Simpsons airs episode No. 500 (Fox and Global). The title: “At Long Last Leave.” Fox marked the occasion by unveiling a bronze bust of Homer Simpson on the studio lot Thursday.
A lot of credit must go to showrunner Al Jean and the writers for setting a high standard and sticking to it. Fans might argue that the fourth or sixth season as the best but given how many comedies especially seem to tank around season four, this series is pretty amazing into its 23rd year.
TV veteran James L. Brooks (above with Matt Groening) also deserves credit for making sure the core family was a clan you cared about despite the fact that the series explored and exploded just about every cynical urge in America over the past generation. That’s quite a balancing act.
|Cartwright, Groening, Smith and Hank Azaria|
It was quite a week for the series. Groening, who started it all with a simple comic strip, was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Tuesday. (He’s in pretty good company. Paul McCartney got his star the week before.) On Monday, at a gala “yellow carpet” event, the 500th episode was screened at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, across from the Chinese Theater. Canadian fan contest winners Miki Lelkes and Edina Nagy were flown down to Los Angeles to attend along with voice cast stars Nancy Cartwright (Bart), Yeardley Smith (Lisa), executive producer and showrunner Al Jean and others.
Five hundred episodes is an incredible milestone, putting the animated series behind only one western as the prime time scripted series with the most episodes all time. While The Simpsons cranks out 20 episodes a year now, back in the ’50s and ’60s, when shows were less expensive to produce, a network could order almost twice that number. So while Gunsmoke lasted fewer seasons than The Simpsons at 20, the James Arness western totaled 633 episodes, some of those hour-long.
Here’s how the scripted U.S. prime time shows rank in total episodes:
- Gunsmoke (1955-75) 633
- The Simpsons (1990- ) 500
- Law & Order (1990-2010) 456
- Death Valley Days (1952-75) 451
- The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriett (1952-66) 435
- Bonanza (1959-72) 430
- My Three Sons (1960-72) 369
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-65) 361
- Dallas (1978-91) 357
- Knots Landing (1979-93) 344
The forgotten series may be Death Valley Days, a long-running radio hit that was never a network offering but was syndicated its entire run. It is best remembered as having been hosted by Ronald Reagan in the early ’60s but he really only worked a couple of seasons before running for governor of California. Robert Taylor and Dale Robertson also narrated episodes of the series.
The shows that are closest to cracking this list today are Law & Order SVU, already renewed for a 14th season (in which it will pass 300 episodes) and CSI Crime Scene Investigation, which has reached 265 episodes after 12 seasons.
The longest-running English language Canadian network scripted prime time series is The Beachcombers, which ran 18 seasons (from 1972-90) and lasted 387 episodes. The Royal Canadian Air Farce (1992-2008) passed 300 episodes over its 16 seasons and continues in annual New Year’s specials. The Red Green Show (1991-2006) lasted 300 episodes.
For more on The Simpsons 500th, read this article I wrote for The Canadian Press.