How the first ever Simpsons full episode changed TV forever

Bart sits on Santa Homer's knee in Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, the first ever episode of The Simpsons. (Fox)

This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series

It is 32 years since the day that television changed forever.

On 17 December 1989, the first episode of a plucky little animated show called The Simpsons aired on US TV.

The rest is history.

The first episode of the first season of the show on the Fox network was, oddly, a Christmas special.

Titled Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, it was watched by more than 13 million viewers when it was aired.

<p>America’s favourite family – the longest running scripted TV show is coming to Disney (Fox). </p>
There have been more than 700 episodes of The Simpsons. (Fox).

However, while the first episode of The Simpsons, it wasn’t the world’s introduction to Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie.

That was in the series of seven-minute animated shorts that aired as part of The Tracey Ullman Show for three seasons from 1987 onwards.


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Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire would be the first half-hour instalment. It followed the family in the run-up to Christmas, with Homer forced to take a job as a shopping centre Santa Claus when his boss, Mr Burns, tells employees at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant there will be no festive bonus this year.

Their Christmas budget is further tightened by Bart’s decision to get a tattoo - Marge has to use all of their savings on having it removed.

Santa's Little Helper wins over Homer in Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire. (Fox)

Homer bets his minuscule Santa earnings at the dog track on a greyhound called Santa’s Little Helper, who finishes last but finds his way into the family’s hearts.

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Along the way, there are Bart and Homer’s own renditions of Jingle Bells (“Batman smells/Robin laid an egg”) and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (“Rudolph get your nose over here/I'll let you guide my sleigh today!”).

However, Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire wasn’t the intended first episode.

It was the eighth to be written, but production issues with the first episode to be produced, Some Enchanted Evening, meant the season was delayed from October until December, thus thrusting the Christmas-themed instalment into the spotlight.

Matt Groening, creator of
Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, promoting The Simpsons Movie in July 2007. (Reuters)

The show’s creator, Matt Groening, based the “Santas of Many Lands” pageant scene on his own experience of doing a school report on Christmas in Russia.

Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire was the only episode of the show to air in the 1980s. It also doesn’t feature the classic Simpsons title sequence, as it is set around Christmas.

The episode features the song, Santa Baby, performed by Ullman, which plays in the background in Moe’s Tavern. Ullman would later go on to sue Fox in 1992, saying her show was the source of success of The Simpsons and that she should receive a share of its profits, but her claim was rejected.

Disney+ to launch with the first 30 seasons of 'The Simpsons', US pricing confirmed
The Simpsons predicted Fox's sale to Disney long before it actually happened. (Fox)

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The Simpsons would go on to become a cultural phenomenon, spanning 33 seasons and more than 700 episodes, as well as a 2007 movie.

It is the longest-running US sitcom, the longest-running US animated series and the longest-running US scripted primetime TV series.

The Simpsons is now available on Disney+, following the company's acquisition of Fox in 2017, a move predicted within the show itself almost two decades earlier.

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