The Last Laugh
by Bill Hayes
In The Last Laugh for the Los Angeles Times, Scott Collins looks at the longest-running prime-time series in television history.
The characters were created by Groening, a Los Angeles-based cartoonist then best known for an absurdist comic strip called “Life in Hell.” The comic starred Binky, a crudely drawn, anthropomorphic rabbit whose hopes collide with a bleak, sardonic vision of modern urban life. “Life in Hell” appeared in alternative papers across the nation and became a hit among college students. Key to its appeal was reinventing the cartoon format with a sophisticated sense of absurd comedy, something that would later be crucial to “The Simpsons.”
James L. Brooks, the TV producer who was a guiding force behind “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” during the 1970s, was by the late 1980s working on a Fox variety show starring British comic Tracey Ullman. Brooks had admired “Life in Hell” and asked Groening if he would be interested in doing some animated shorts to drop into Ullman’s show.
The original idea was simply to animate the “Life in Hell” comic, but Groening ultimately rejected that.
“I was skeptical that any TV show would last, and I thought, ‘What if this was a fiasco?’ ” he recalled. “I didn’t want the animation to ruin my comic strips, so I thought, ‘I’ll make up something new.’ ” [more]