Thirty years ago this month, America’s favorite animated family made their debut as part of The Tracey Ullman Show. To celebrate, CoS will be broadcasting live from Springfield all week with a slew of Simpsons features. Today, Andrew Bloom looks back on the showrunners responsible for making The Simpsons so amazing, enduring, and endearing.
Too many talented writers have passed through the doors of The Simpsons to count. From folks who’ve gone on to create great television shows of their own like David X. Cohen (Futurama) and Greg Daniels (The Office, King of the Hill) to stellar longtime contributors like John Swartzwelder and George Meyer to those who’ve broken out as stars in their own right like Conan O’Brien, the writers’ room of The Simpsons has seen a nearly unmatched array of superb comic scribes contributing their wit and humor to the program.
But in the nearly 30 years The Simpsons has been on the air, only nine individuals (with one honorable mention) have served as showrunners for this hallowed and hilarious series. They’re the first names you see in the credits after the end of an episode, a sign that however a story began, however it may have changed and been shaped by the show’s fantastic team of writers, animators, and performers, the buck ultimately stopped with them. These nine people were responsible for shepherding each episode from the first pitch to the final cut, and it makes their contributions to The Simpsons unique, even among the scores of creative people who make the show possible.
Indeed, for the many cooks that have passed through The Simpsons’ kitchen, each showrunner’s tenure reflects the style and sensibilities of the people in charge. At a time before showrunners were notable as major figures in the world of television, these nine creative individuals left their distinctive marks on each season they supervised. From the down-to-earth family drama of the show’s early going to the more wild and wacky bent it would take on in its later seasons, each development can be traced back, in no small part, to the particular individuals supervising the process.
So, it behooves us to look back at these nine showrunners and see the ways in which the different eras of this seminal show bear their distinctive fingerprints. Whether they started in the world of cartooning, classic sitcoms, late-night talk shows, or The Simpsons itself, all of them would come together to collectively produce one of, if not the greatest television show of all time. These nine people each brought something different to the table but created a diverse-yet-unified series that each can call their own.