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TV Notes: 'Simpsons' breaks record with contract renewal

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Perpetual 10-year-old Bart, his clueless dad, Homer, and the rest of the Simpsons clan are about to go into TV history as stars of the longest-running sitcom ever.

Fox has renewed the cartoon for two more seasons, taking it at least through May 2005. That will push "The Simpsons" past "The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet," which aired on ABC from 1952 to 1966, as the all-time longest-running situation comedy.

"The Simpsons" premiered as a series on Dec. 17, 1989, after the animated characters were first introduced in a series of vignettes on Fox's "The Tracey Ullman Show" in 1988.

"Isn't that extraordinary?" said Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman. "It says something about the quality control on a show that seems to be able to garner a new generation of fans every few years while still maintaining the core audience."

As cartoon characters, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie never grow old and, unlike live actors, can't hold out for more money (although there was a contract dispute a few years ago with the people who provided their voices, there were no such problems this time).

"The Simpsons" is averaging 14.3 million viewers this season, according to Nielsen Media Research.

"The Simpsons" has to beat "Gunsmoke," on CBS from 1955 to 1975, to become the longest-running scripted show ever in prime time.

The record for the longest-running prime-time show of any kind seems safe. It's "60 Minutes," which went on the air in 1968 and is still ticking.

(David Bauder, Associated Press)

Media literacy

Last month, Trio, a satellite and digital cable network (Channel 137 on some AT&T Broadband systems), aired brilliant but canceled TV series. Now the little network seems to carving out a niche as a boutique for going behind the scenes of critically acclaimed programs.

Tomorrow night, Trio airs the first two episodes of "TV Out of The Box," a documentary series that pulls back the curtain and allows viewers into the rooms where writers and producers craft some of the best programs currently on television.

At 8 p.m., Trio examines FX's hit cop drama "The Shield." It's followed at 9 by a one-hour look at the making of the last episode of "Andy Richter Controls the Universe." It's a fascinating hour of television, because it really does allow viewers into the writers' room to see how a script changes and how lines of dialogue that don't work get replaced (look carefully and you'll see Pittsburgh native and Paramount Television executive Brett King, brother of KDKA anchor Patrice King Brown, laughing during the so-called "table read"). It's an intimate look at the creative process and a must-see for anyone with a love of quality TV and an interest in how it gets made.

(Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor)

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