The Simpsons shorts were a series of animated shorts that were aired as a recurring segment on Fox variety television series The Tracey Ullman Show for three seasons, before the characters spun off into The Simpsons, their own half-hour prime-time show. It features Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. The series was created by Matt Groening, who designed the Simpson family and wrote many of the shorts. The shorts first aired on April 19, 1987 starting with "Good Night". The final short to air was "TV Simpsons", originally airing on May 14, 1989. The Simpsons later debuted on December 17, 1989, as an independent series with the Christmas special "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire".
One marketing study found that only 14 percent of Americans were familiar with the shorts, compared to 85 percent in November 1990 who were familiar with the Simpsons family, 11 months after the full-length show began airing.
Only a few of these shorts have been released on DVD. "Good Night" was included on The Simpsons Season 1 DVD. Five of these shorts were later used in the clip-show episode "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular" on the half-hour show, which was released on the Season 7 DVD. These five shorts were "Good Night", which was featured in its entirety, and portions of "The Perfect Crime", "Space Patrol", "World War III", and "Bathtime". In "You Kent Always Say What You Want", the short "Family Portrait" replaces the entire opening sequence in celebration of the 400th episode. ("Family Portrait" was previously released as a pre-feature short on the 1989 CBS-Fox VHS release of the film Working Girl.) In June 2013, it was reported that FXX was trying to acquire the shorts for their Simpsons app, "Simpsons World".
The version of the Simpson family from the shorts was depicted as ghosts haunting the Simpsons house in the season twenty six episode "Treehouse of Horror XXV".
When producer James L. Brooks was working on the television variety show The Tracey Ullman Show, he decided that he wanted to include short animated wraparounds before and after the commercial breaks. Having seen one of cartoonist Matt Groening's Life in Hell comic strips, Brooks asked Groening to pitch an idea for a series of animated shorts, which Groening initially intended to present as his Life in Hell series. Groening later realized that animating Life in Hell would require the rescinding of publication rights for his life's work. He therefore chose another approach while waiting in the lobby of Brooks's office for the pitch meeting, hurriedly formulating his version of a dysfunctional family that became the Simpsons. He named the characters after his own family members, substituting "Bart" for his own name. Bart was modeled after Groening's older brother, Mark, but given a different name which was chosen as an anagram of "brat". The stories were written and storyboarded by Matt Groening. The family was crudely drawn, because Groening had submitted basic sketches to the animators, assuming they would clean them up; instead, they just traced over his drawings. The animation was produced domestically at Klasky-Csupo, with Wesley Archer, David Silverman, and Bill Kopp being animators for the first season. After season one, it would be animated by Archer and Silverman thereafter. Gyorgyi Peluce was the colorist and the person who decided to make the characters yellow.
The actors who voiced the characters in the short later reprised their roles in The Simpsons series. Dan Castellaneta performed the voices of Homer Simpson, Grampa Simpson, and Krusty the Clown. Homer's voice sounds different in the shorts compared to most episodes of the half-hour show, as Castellaneta originally tried to impersonate Walter Matthau. Although he would retain this characteristic through the early episodes of the regular series, it was gradually dropped as Homer's personality evolved away from that of a stereotypical sitcom father. The producers of the show were in need of someone to do voiceovers, so rather than hire actors, they asked Castellaneta (who had already done some voice work) and Julie Kavner, both members of the Ullman Show cast, to do it. The kids still needed voices, and Nancy Cartwright, a journeyman voice actress, came in to audition. She recalled that "I was already doing voicework for eight different shows at the time and thought this would just be another job. They originally wanted me for Lisa's voice, but I thought 'Nah, I don't want to be the boring middle child, I want to be a bratty 10-year old boy.' So as soon as I gave a demonstration, [Brooks and Groening] hired me on the spot." Some time later, Yeardley Smith, a 22-year-old B-movie actress whose most notable accomplishment to date was featuring in the notorious 1986 Stephen King film Maximum Overdrive, was brought in to do Lisa's voice. The recording of the shorts was often primitive; according to Cartwright, the dialogue for the Ullman shorts was recorded on a portable tape deck in a makeshift studio, which consisted of the video engineer suite, above the bleachers on the Ullman show set. While most of the characters' personalities are similar to what they are in the series, Lisa is simply a clone of Bart and did not have a distinct personality until a few episodes into the regular series.[opinion]
The shorts were featured on the first three seasons on The Tracey Ullman Show. By the fourth and last season of The Tracey Ullman Show, the first season of the half-hour show was on the air. In the two first seasons the shorts were divided into three or four parts, but in the third season they were played as a single story. Tracey Ullman later filed a lawsuit, claiming that her show was the source of The Simpsons' success and therefore should receive a share of the show's profit. Eventually the courts ruled in favor of the network.
|No.||Title||The Tracey Ullman Show episode||Original air date|
|1||"Good Night"||Season 1, Episode 1||April 19, 1987|
|Marge and Homer say goodnight to their children. As they do, Bart ponders the nature of the mind, Lisa develops a fear of bedbugs, and Maggie has a nightmare about "Rock-a-bye Baby". All three of the kids end up crowding Homer and Marge's bed. This short was featured on a later Simpsons episode "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular". Maggie's scene of this short was also featured at the beginning of "Looking for Mr. Goodbart".|
|2||"Watching Television"||Season 1, Episode 2||May 3, 1987|
|Lisa and Bart fight while watching TV. They eventually find something they agree on: stopping Maggie from changing the channel.|
|3||"Bart Jumps"||Season 1, Episode 3||May 10, 1987|
|Homer has Bart attempt to jump off a table and into his arms. Each time Bart jumps, Homer is distracted and fails to catch him.|
|4||"Babysitting Maggie"||Season 1, Episode 4||May 31, 1987|
|Marge puts Lisa and Bart in charge of babysitting Maggie; however, they end up ignoring her.|
|5||"The Pacifier"||Season 1, Episode 5||June 21, 1987|
|Lisa and Bart take Maggie's pacifier away to stop her from sucking on it, but Maggie refuses to kick the habit. Bart and Lisa eventually learn if they cannot get Maggie to quit sucking on pacifiers, it is better to join in.|
|6||"Burp Contest"||Season 1, Episode 6||June 28, 1987|
|Lisa and Bart compete in a contest, while Maggie watches, to see who can make the most disgusting burp. Marge objects several times, but to no avail. Homer does not help matters when he joins in on the kids' burp contest to Marge's disgust.|
|7||"Eating Dinner"||Season 1, Episode 7||July 12, 1987|
|Marge makes dinner and the family sits down for the meal. She insists that everyone should have table manners, but the family's crude eating habits are hard to stop.|
|No.||Title||The Tracey Ullman Show episode||Original air date|
|8||"Making Faces"||Season 2, Episode 1||September 22, 1987|
|Marge warns Bart, Lisa, and Maggie that if they make scary faces, their faces will freeze in place forever. The kids ignore her — until Marge gives them a scare with a mirror.|
|9||"The Funeral"||Season 2, Episode 2||October 4, 1987|
|The family attends the funeral of Uncle Hubert. Bart proves to be disruptive and Homer swears to never take the kids to another funeral, much to their dismay.|
|10||"Maggie's Brain"||Season 2, Episode 3||October 11, 1987|
|Bart and Lisa wonder what is inside Maggie's mind when looking at her in her crib. The audience sees her imagination: she is a giant, and she is tickling baby-sized versions of Bart and Lisa.|
|11||"Football"||Season 2, Episode 4||October 18, 1987|
|Homer promises the kids chocolate milkshakes if Bart can catch one of his long football passes. Unfortunately, there are many obstacles to overcome, like falling down a cliff, but Bart finally manages to catch the football — with his mouth.|
|12||"House of Cards"||Season 2, Episode 5||October 25, 1987|
|Bart tries to make a house of cards, but Lisa and Maggie make noises that cause the house to fall every time.|
|13||"Bart and Dad Eat Dinner"||Season 2, Episode 6||November 1, 1987|
|Marge takes the girls out to watch a ballet, leaving Homer in charge of dinner. Bart cannot stomach it when he is forced to eat a mix of fish nuggets and pork-a-roni.|
|14||"Space Patrol"||Season 2, Episode 7||November 8, 1987|
|Bart, Lisa and Maggie play a game of "Space Patrol" while Homer and Marge are out. Lisa plays a superhero with Maggie as her sidekick, while Bart puts a jug on his head with the pretense of it being the helmet of an alien warlord. However, his head gets stuck in the jug and Lisa "frees" Bart using a croquet mallet. Clips from this short were featured on a later Simpsons episode "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular".|
|15||"Bart's Haircut"||Season 2, Episode 8||November 15, 1987|
|When Bart's hair grows too long, Homer and Marge order him to get it cut. The barber ends up shaving Bart's entire head, and he attempts to disguise his scalp using glue, his old hair, and eventually a paper bag. The family promises not to laugh if he shows them the haircut, but fail to keep their vow when they see how ridiculous Bart looks.|
|16||"World War III"||Season 2, Episode 9||November 22, 1987|
|Homer wakes up the family in the middle of the night claiming that World War III has started to test their readiness for a nuclear war. The terrified family manages to escape to a fallout shelter in the basement in 18 seconds, but Homer says that this is too slow. After two more drills, the increasingly exhausted family members trick Homer into racing into the bunker alone and lock him inside. Bart asks Marge if this is a good thing to do; she ignores the question and says they'll let him out in the morning. Clips from this short were featured on a later Simpsons episode "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular".|
|17||"The Perfect Crime"||Season 2, Episode 10||December 13, 1987|
|When Marge makes a batch of chocolate chip cookies, Bart becomes obsessed with pulling off "the perfect crime" and stealing them all. His various attempts are foiled by the heat of the cookies and Maggie, but eventually, all of the treats vanish from the tray. Maggie takes Homer and Marge along a trail of cookie crumbs that leads to Bart's bedroom, where he is lying with a bloated stomach and complaining that the "perfect crime" is impossible. Clips from this short were featured on a later Simpsons episode "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular".|
|18||"Scary Stories"||Season 2, Episode 11||December 20, 1987|
|Bart tells Lisa and Maggie a series of scary stories in the dark, only to believe they're coming true.|
|19||"Grandpa and the Kids"||Season 2, Episode 12||January 10, 1988|
Grampa tells the kids stories from the good old days. When the kids stop listening to him, he feigns his own death to recapture their attention.
|20||"Gone Fishin'"||Season 2, Episode 13||January 24, 1988|
|Bart and Homer go on a fishing trip. Homer asks Bart for a baloney sandwich, but Bart forgot the baloney. He puts the bait on the sandwich instead. When they get the boat in the water, they hit rapids and later fall down a waterfall.|
|21||"Skateboarding"||Season 2, Episode 14||February 7, 1988|
|Bart teaches his sisters how to skateboard, but is outdone every time he tries to show off.|
|22||"The Pagans"||Season 2, Episode 15||February 14, 1988|
When the family is on their way to church, the kids declares themselves pagans. After the car breaks down, the kids start acting like pagans, much to Homer's dismay. After the children strip naked and wear leaves, an enraged Homer chases them inside a church, where they ironically take sancturary.
|23||"The Closet"||Season 2, Episode 16||February 21, 1988|
|When Bart hears Homer calling him, he fears that his father will make him do chores. He hides in a closet, only to accidentally lock himself in. After a failed attempt to get Maggie to help him, Bart breaks down the door and decides to do his chores — only to discover a note explaining that the whole family has left to get chocolate milkshakes.|
|24||"The Aquarium"||Season 2, Episode 17||February 28, 1988|
|Homer takes Bart, Lisa and Maggie to the aquarium. Bart finds a way to get into the shark tank and swims with a shark. When Homer finds out, he threatens him, prompting Bart to stay in the tank — it's safer than dealing with his father's anger. Two parts of this short were featured at the beginning of a later Simpsons episode, "Lisa Gets the Blues".|
|25||"Family Portrait"||Season 2, Episode 18||March 7, 1988|
Homer has trouble taking a normal family portrait. Every time they are close to a good picture, the family sabotages the shot. This short replaced the opening sequence in a later Simpsons episode "You Kent Always Say What You Want".
|26||"Bart's Hiccups"||Season 2, Episode 19||March 14, 1988|
|Lisa and Maggie try to cure Bart's hiccups using some rather unorthodox methods.|
|27||"The Money Jar"||Season 2, Episode 20||March 21, 1988|
|Marge warns the kids that they shouldn't steal from the money jar. Lisa and Maggie's consciences appear to prevent them from taking the jar's contents, but Bart's conscience encourages him to help himself to the cash. However, the money jar only contains a dollar, prompting Bart to remark "You can't even trust your own mother."|
|28||"The Art Museum"||Season 2, Episode 21||May 2, 1988|
The Simpsons go to an art museum. Bart stares at a nude painting and Lisa plays with an ancient vase. Marge realizes that the kids are too young to appreciate fine arts. However, Bart decides to become a collector by stealing an art piece. This action embarrasses Homer.
|29||"Zoo Story"||Season 2, Episode 22||May 9, 1988|
|Homer takes Marge and the kids on an outing to the zoo. While there, he points out how stupid a family of chimpanzees look — and fails to realize that the chimps look identical to his own brood. Homer then teases the monkeys by taunting them with peanuts, only to have them throw waste in his face. On the ride home, the family discovers that Bart has switched places with his chimpanzee lookalike, while he is fed bananas by his new family.|
|No.||Title||The Tracey Ullman Show episode||Original air date|
|30||"Shut Up Simpsons"||Season 3, Episode 1||November 7, 1988|
|Maggie squeaks her toy, which causes a chain reaction of anger in the family — Lisa attacks Maggie for making noise, Bart attacks Lisa for shoving a baby, Homer attacks Bart for hitting a girl, and Grampa attacks Homer for hitting a kid. Bart then encourages the family to make up, only to sabotage his own good deed by insulting Homer. Lisa and Maggie discover they're more like Marge than Homer, especially when they see Homer, Bart and Grampa locked in a strangle match with each other.|
|31||"The Shell Game"||Season 3, Episode 2||November 14, 1988|
|Bart tries to hide one of the cookies he stole from the jar by distracting his parents with the shell game. Although his plan seems to succeed, he is busted by Maggie, who then eats the cookie.|
|32||"The Bart Simpson Show"||Season 3, Episode 3||November 21, 1988|
The kids are watching TV and Homer tells them to stop watching The Itchy & Scratchy Show because it's "too violent". Unable to watch cartoons, Bart puts on his own show, which eventually angers Homer even more because Bart removed the TV's components to appear on screen.
|33||"Punching Bag"||Season 3, Episode 4||November 28, 1988|
|Marge and Homer throw the kids into their toy room and tell them to "play nice." A frustrated Bart takes out his anger on a punching bag; Lisa then takes a turn and adds motivation by drawing Homer's face on the bag. Homer, trying to nap, rudely commands Marge to make the kids stop; when the noise suddenly gets louder, he discovers Marge punching the bag. Homer then attempts to break the bag, only to be hit in the face and knocked unconscious.|
|34||"Simpson Xmas"||Season 3, Episode 5||December 19, 1988|
|Bart tells a story of Christmas with the Simpson family in the style of The Night Before Christmas.|
|35||"The Krusty the Clown Show"||Season 3, Episode 6||January 16, 1989|
|36||"Bart the Hero"||Season 3, Episode 7||January 30, 1989|
|When Bart is sent outside to exercise his legs by Homer's orders, he gets handsomely rewarded for stopping a burglar from robbing a candy store. But he asks for the reward to be in candy bars, much to Homer's dismay.|
|37||"Bart's Little Fantasy"||Season 3, Episode 8||February 6, 1989|
|After the kids are ordered to clean their room by Homer and Marge, Bart forces his sisters to do all the work while he tells a story about a parallel world where large kids are the bosses of their small parents, who are made to do chores. However, Bart is caught red-handed by Marge and Homer makes him mow the lawn for his lack of involvement. Lisa ends Bart's story with her and Maggie living happily ever after, while Bart watches them from outside in dismay.|
|38||"Scary Movie"||Season 3, Episode 9||February 13, 1989|
Lisa, Bart and Maggie go to the movies to see "The Return of the Happy Little Elves", but Bart convinces the girls to see "Revenge of the Space Mutants" instead. However, Bart ends up being scared by it because one of the space mutants looks like himself. As he screams, Lisa and Maggie try to comfort him.
|39||"Home Hypnotism"||Season 3, Episode 10||February 20, 1989|
|When Homer sees Lisa, Bart and Maggie going crazy and bouncing off the walls, he and Marge try using hypnotism to tame the kids. They pretend to become mindless zombies, and a repentant Homer and Marge vow to never hypnotize them again — that is, until Bart hits his father in the stomach with a toy ball.|
|40||"Shoplifting"||Season 3, Episode 11||February 27, 1989|
|Bart, hungry for chocolate bars, steals some from the supermarket, despite Lisa's warnings. He is quickly caught by security, but when the guard leaves the room to talk to his boss, he sneakily eats the candy and claims the cops have "no evidence." However, he is caught red-handed thanks to the guard looking at the mirror and his face covered in chocolate. A furious Homer and Marge scold him on the ride back to the house. However, he is nonchalant, pointing out that his parents are still driving him around. They force Bart from the car and drive away, leaving him to walk home.|
|41||"Echo Canyon"||Season 3, Episode 12||March 12, 1989|
|The family drives to Echo Canyon and take turns making echoes. However, Bart is very disruptive and leads Homer to chase after him.|
|42||"Bathtime"||Season 3, Episode 13||March 19, 1989|
|Homer makes Bart take his "Sunday Night Bath", but he ends up flooding the bathroom. This short was later featured on a later Simpsons episode "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular".|
|43||"Bart's Nightmare"||Season 3, Episode 14||March 26, 1989|
|The family discovers that someone has eaten every last cookie in the cookie jar. The culprit turns out to be Bart, who regrets gorging on the snack, especially when he has a terrible nightmare in which he is only an inch tall and nearly crushed by giant cookies in the kitchen. Lisa then awakens Bart, who is relieved that his experience was only a dream — but he seems to have developed a severe cookie phobia as a result.|
|44||"Bart of the Jungle"||Season 3, Episode 15||April 16, 1989|
|The kids swing from the trees using Homer's neckties, and Homer, who is angered by this, ends up being caught in their trap.|
|45||"Family Therapy"||Season 3, Episode 16||April 23, 1989|
|Homer takes the family to a psychologist because he claims they cannot laugh anymore. The psychologist tries to remain calm, but the disruptions caused by the Simpsons eventually drive him over the edge, and he kicks them out of his office. This turns out to be the cure the family needed, and they laugh all the way home.|
|46||"Maggie In Peril: Chapter One"||Season 3, Episode 17||April 30, 1989|
|After Maggie accidentally kicks her ball on Bart's face, he kicks it out of sight and she takes off to retrieve it. She ends up being caught on a branch... and the story is to be continued.|
|47||"Maggie In Peril: The Thrilling Conclusion"||Season 3, Episode 18||May 7, 1989|
|Sequel to "Maggie In Peril", Maggie floats in the air hanging on to balloons and lands safely back in her playpen.|
|48||"TV Simpsons"||Season 3, Episode 19||May 14, 1989|
While Homer is watching his TV show, Bart flies a kite outside with Maggie and Lisa. The wind suddenly blows and the kite gets stuck on the TV antenna, which messes up the reception. Homer gets a ladder, climbs on the roof and he struggles to get the kite out of the antenna. He eventually becomes furious and shreds the kite into pieces, causing him to lose his balance and fall off the roof, while Lisa and Bart laugh at their show, unaware of what just happened.