Happy Birthday to Matt Groening, Creator of the Simpsons. Matthew Abram Groening (pronounced /ˈɡreɪnɪŋ/ GRAY-ning) (born February 15, 1954) is an American cartoonist, television producer and writer from Portland, Oregon. Groening is best known as the creator of The Simpsons. He is also the creator of Futurama and the author of the weekly comic strip Life in Hell. Groening distributed Life in Hell in the book corner of Licorice Pizza, a record store in which he worked. He made his first professional cartoon sale to the avant-garde Wet magazine in 1978. The cartoon is still carried in 250 weekly newspapers.
Life in Hell caught the attention of James L. Brooks. In 1985, Brooks contacted Groening with the proposition of working in animation for the FOX variety show The Tracey Ullman Show. Originally, Brooks wanted Groening to adapt his Life in Hell characters for the show. Fearing the loss of ownership rights, Groening decided to create something new and came up with a cartoon family, the Simpsons and named the members after his own parents and sisters — while Bart was an anagram of the word brat. The shorts would be spun off into their own series: The Simpsons, which has since aired over 400 episodes in 19 seasons. In 1997, Groening got together with David X. Cohen and developed Futurama, an animated series about life in the year 3000, which premiered in 1999. After four years on the air, the show was cancelled by Fox in 2003, but Comedy Central commissioned 16 new episodes from 4 Direct-to-DVD Movies to be aired in 2008.
Groening has won 10 Primetime Emmy Awards, nine for The Simpsons and one for Futurama as well as a British Comedy Award for "outstanding contribution to comedy" in 2004. In 2002, he won the National Cartoonist Society Reuben Award for his work on Life in Hell.
Life in Hell caught the attention of Hollywood writer-producer and Gracie Films founder James L. Brooks, who had been shown the strip by fellow producer Polly Platt. In 1985, Brooks contacted Groening with the proposition of working in animation on an undefined future project, which would turn out to be developing a series of short animated skits, called "bumpers," for the FOX variety show The Tracey Ullman Show. Originally, Brooks wanted Groening to adapt his Life in Hell characters for the show. Fearing the loss of ownership rights, Groening decided to create something new and came up with a cartoon family, the Simpsons. He allegedly designed the five members of the family in only ten minutes.
Groening storyboarded and scripted every short (now known as The Simpsons shorts), which were then animated by a team including David Silverman and Wes Archer, both of whom would later become directors on the series. The shorts premiered on The Tracey Ullman show on April 19, 1987
Although The Tracey Ullman Show was not a big hit, the popularity of the shorts led to a half-hour spin-off in 1989. The series quickly became a worldwide phenomenon, to the surprise of many. Groening said: "Nobody thought The Simpsons was going to be a big hit. It sneaked up on everybody."
The Simpsons was co-developed by Groening, Brooks, and Sam Simon, a writer-producer with whom Brooks had worked with on previous projects. Groening and Simon, however, did not get along and were often in conflict over the show; Groening once described their relationship as "very contentious." Simon eventually left the show in 1993 over creative differences.
Although Groening has pitched a number of spin-offs of The Simpsons, those attempts have been unsuccessful. In 1994, Groening and other Simpsons producers pitched a live-action spin-off about Krusty the Clown (with Dan Castellaneta playing the lead role), but were unsuccessful in getting it off the ground. Groening has also pitched "Young Homer" and a spin-off about the non-Simpsons citizens of Springfield.
In 1995, Groening got into a major disagreement with Brooks and other Simpsons producers over A Star Is Burns, a crossover episode with The Critic, an animated show also produced by Brooks and staffed with many former Simpsons crew members. Groening claimed that he feared viewers would "see it as nothing but a pathetic attempt to advertise The Critic at the expense of The Simpsons," and was concerned about the possible implication that he had created or produced The Critic. He requested his name be taken off the episode.
Groening is credited with writing or co-writing the episodes "Some Enchanted Evening", "The Telltale Head", "Colonel Homer" and "22 Short Films About Springfield", as well as The Simpsons Movie, released in 2007. He has had several cameo appearances in the show, with a speaking role in the episode "My Big Fat Geek Wedding". He currently serves at The Simpsons as an executive producer and creative consultant.
Groening famously named the main Simpson characters after members of his own family: his parents, Homer and Margaret (Marge or Marjorie in full), and his younger sisters, Lisa and Margaret (Maggie). Claiming that it was a bit too obvious to name a character after himself, he chose the name "Bart," an anagram of brat. However, he stresses that aside from some of the sibling rivalry, his family is nothing like the Simpsons. Groening also has an older brother and sister, Mark and Patty, but their names were not used, although he divulged that Mark "is the actual inspiration for Bart" in a 1995 interview. When it came time to give Grampa Simpson a first name, Groening says he refused to name him after his own grandfather, Abraham Groening, leaving it to other writers to choose a name. By coincidence, the writers chose the name Abraham, unaware that it was also the name of Groening's grandfather. Maggie Groening has co-written a few Simpsons books featuring her cartoon namesake.
The name "Wiggum" for police chief Clancy Wiggum is Groening's mother's maiden name. The names of a few other characters were taken from major street names in Groening's hometown of Portland, Oregon, including Flanders, Lovejoy, Powell, Quimby and Kearney. Despite common fan belief that Sideshow Bob Terwilliger was named after SW Terwilliger Boulevard in Portland, he was actually named after the character Dr. Terwilliker from the film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.
After spending a few years researching science fiction, Groening got together with Simpsons writer/producer David X. Cohen (still known as David S. Cohen at the time) in 1997 and developed Futurama, an animated series about life in the year 3000. By the time they pitched the series to Fox in April 1998, Groening and Cohen had composed many characters and storylines; Groening claimed they had gone "overboard" in their discussions. Groening described trying to get the show on the air as "by far the worst experience of [his] grown-up life."
The show premiered on March 28, 1999. After four years on the air, the show was cancelled by Fox. In a similar situation as Family Guy, however, strong DVD sales and very stable ratings on Cartoon Network and Teletoon brought Futurama back to life, which is slated for four direct-to-DVD movies, as confirmed by Groening in an April 2006 interview. Comedy Central commissioned 16 new episodes (edited from the four movies) to be aired in 2008. Groening's sole writing credit for the show was the premiere episode, "Space Pilot 3000", co-written with Cohen.
Bongo Comics Group (named after the character Bongo from Life in Hel) with Steve Vance, Cindy Vance and Bill Morrison, which publishes comic books based on The Simpsons and Futurama (including Futurama Simpsons Infinitely Secret Crossover Crisis, a crossover between the two), as well as a few original titles. According to Groening, the goal with Bongo is to "[try] to bring humor into the fairly grim comic book market." He also formed Zongo Comics in 1995, an imprint of Bongo that published comics for more mature readers, which included three issues of Mary Fleener's Fleener and seven issues of his close friend Gary Panter's Jimbo comics.
Groening is known for his eclectic taste in music. His favorite band is Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. He guest-edited Da Capo Press's Best Music Writing 2003 and curated the US All Tomorrow's Parties music festival in 2003. He also plays the cowbell in the all-author rock and roll band The Rock Bottom Remainders, whose other members include Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson, Scott Turow, Amy Tan, James McBride, Mitch Albom, Roy Blount Jr., Stephen King, Kathi Goldmark, and Greg Iles.