‘The Simpsons’ goes the distance to become TV’s longest-running scripted show

Animated Fox comedy beats longevity record of classic Western

‘The Simpsons” becomes television’s longest-running scripted series Sunday, Apr. 29, on Fox.

Marshal Matt Dillon likely didn’t know he was in the sights of … Bart Simpson.

And now, the conquest is about to be complete.

With its broadcast Sunday, April 29, the animated Fox comedy “The Simpsons” becomes television’s longest-running scripted series by breaking the record long held by the classic Western “Gunsmoke.” In the milestone 636th episode, believing he’s dying, Grampa (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) confesses something to Homer (also Castellaneta) … only to recover, deeply worried about what he said.

“I actually was quoted in 2002 as saying, ‘Look out, “Gunsmoke,” we’re coming for you!’,” muses executive producer Al Jean, a “Simpsons” writer when the show started in 1989. “It was a joke at the time. I guess when we’d done 300 episodes, I thought, ‘Well, if we’ve done 300, you never know.’ It’s funny to be winning a race that the other person didn’t know they were running. The way TV works now, the tendency is for less episodes than more, so this may never happen again.”

Originated on “The Tracey Ullman Show” – one of the series that inaugurated the Fox network – the Matt Groening-created “The Simpsons” has had only one guest star in common with “Gunsmoke,” per Jean: Cloris Leachman. “That’s an honor,” he says. “She’s great.”

“The Simpsons” itself has amassed 32 Emmy wins over its 29-season run, and both the record-breaking episode and the one before it reference the milestone. Jean terms the tiebreaking tale “a meaningful story about Homer and his past. Glenn Close is in it as (the voice of) Homer’s mother, who she’s played before. We never really know what the milestone episodes will be, except we do know that (No.) 666 will be a Halloween episode. That’s not a joke. It’s actually true.”

As he looks back on “Simpsons” history, Jean – who left after Season 4 to do other projects, then returned in Season 10 and has stayed since – reflects, “We don’t change much. The show is very similar to what it was years ago, but glacially, we do make little statements about or changes to the characters. And I think that in the (series’ current) weeks, we have little things that are pertinent.” (Recently, the series encountered controversy over the character Apu.)

Also a veteran of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” (on which he worked with his then-partner Mike Reiss), Jean says of his ongoing “Simpsons” association, “I feel just so lucky to be doing this great thing. Jim (James L. Brooks, the executive producer who brought ‘The Simpsons’ to TV) put it best … that we are working with the desperation of a show that’s in its first season, and we always have. And we’ll never stop.”

Homer Simpson helps to break a record as ‘The Simpsons” becomes television’s longest-running scripted series Sunday, Apr. 29, on Fox.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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