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Simpsons still on a roll
Maybe popular culture will survive after all: 'The Simpsons' will celebrate its 300th episode at 8 p.m. Sunday on KPTV (12). If you're keeping score, that's 3,000 lines of punishment on Bart's chalkboard and 14 seasons of 'D'oh!' and 'Ay carumba!'
And the string goes on: Fox has just placed an order for two more seasons.
That's good, because a world without 'The Simpsons' would be infinitely duller, not only on Sunday nights but during the show's many hours of syndicated reruns.
Over the years, animated prime-time series have disappeared quicker than a Duff beer in Homer's hands. But 'The Simpsons' only gets stronger.
So much for the rumor that Portland native and 'Simpsons' creator Matt Groening was going to fold up his animated tent. The run has been sweet indeed, and the show's popularity has never waned. If the rest of the sorry sitcom lot could just take a few clues from Homer, Bart and Marge, we'd probably all be better for it.
With that in mind, some secrets of 'The Simpsons' success:
Don't let anyone get old(er) or leave for a movie career. It helps that the show's animated, and that the artists and writers have total control over the actors. True, those writers have come and gone, but over the years, plenty of Harvard Lampoon graduates have reached their peak while serving 'The Simpsons.'
Provide social satire that actually makes the audience laugh. Usually when sitcoms refer to current events, the allusion seems forced or heavy-handed. Or, worse, mundane and irrelevant. But on 'The Simpsons,' social context is handled hiply and deftly; it's part of what gives the show its long-standing magic.
Sunday's episode is a perfect example: Bart sues Homer when he learns he was used as a baby in a TV commercial. Homer subsequently lost all the earnings (he invested in the stock market). Bart also sees pictures of Homer holding him over a balcony, Michael Jackson-style.
Market perpetually. At last count, about 400 'Simpsons' products have hit the shelves, not the least of which is a Homer Chia Pet and Bendies (bendable Simpsons figures).
Play it smart. 'The Simpsons' is one of the few comedy series that assumes its audience is smart. The show's writers assume you know who Tony Hawk (renowned skateboard champion) and Blink 182 (a rock group) are. Both are featured in Sunday's episode, so if you're not up to speed, there's still time.
Find guest stars who play themselves. If you're a celebrity, you don't count if you haven't been featured with America's most dysfunctional but lovable nuclear family. Springfield is a haven for big names: Stephen Hawking, Bob Hope, Stephen King and Rupert Murdoch all have dropped by, not to mention Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
Build a huge supporting cast. No comedy has ever come close in featuring dozens of characters Ñ all of them memorable. 'The Simpsons' depends on the depth of story lines made possible by Apu, Itchy and Scratchy, Mayor Quimby, Moe, Krusty the Clown, Police Chief Wiggum and my personal favorite, Springfield TV anchorman Kent Brockman.
Attract viewers of all ages. Adults get the humor; kids don't, but they don't know they don't. (Hey, it's a cartoon.) Consequently, 'The Simpsons' always ranks in the Nielsen top 20 among teens, adults and total viewers.