There’s a saying, “fish and visitors smell after three days,” about how impolite it is to overstay one’s welcome, but how about 25 years? That’s how long “The Simpsons” has been on the air; long enough to produce 552 episodes of the Fox animated sitcom. However, “The Simpsons” has made its name on embracing irreverence and doing things its own way and nobody seems to be that upset about it. In fact, when FXX recently aired the longest continuous marathon in television history, premiering every episode of “The Simpsons” in order after acquiring the syndication rights to the series in a blockbuster $750 million deal, all it did was bring the network its highest ratings ever -- a clear statement from fans that “The Simpsons” can stick around as long as it pleases.
Just how successful was “The Simpsons” marathon? In the 18-45 demographic, the key target audience for FXX, “The Simpsons” helped vault the struggling network from 49th place among all cable channels to 3rd during the span of the marathon. For three days of the 12-day marathon, among 18-49 year olds, FXX was number one. Even in the overall rankings, FXX managed to come in 9th between Aug. 21 and Sep 1, averaging 1.3 million viewers an episode. “The Simpsons,” apparently, has still got it.
Chuck Saftler, President of Program Strategy and COO at FXX, who made the deal to bring “The Simpsons” to FXX, told International Business Times that no one expected the marathon to be as big as it turned out to be and were only hoping to have success relative to the network’s own history. (FXX had been struggling since converting from the Fox Soccer Channel in September 2013).
“We wanted to event-ize this legendary show and do something that was unprecedented and could never be replicated again,” Saftler says.
The gamble certainly paid off, with viewership increasing 542% (2,274% from the network’s numbers as Fox Soccer Channel).
For longtime “Simpsons” Executive Producer and Showrunner, Al Jean, the marathon was an emotional experience.
"It was personally meaningful," Jean, who kept tabs of the marathon and tweeted alongside fans on Twitter, tells IBT. "You really get to see your life flash before your eyes."
Al Jean says that no one could have predicted the show’s success saying, “There is a love for ‘The Simpsons’ I’ve found while working here and people had underestimated just how powerful that was. People would turn in and whatever time they tuned in they would just keep watching and the highest rated day was the last day.”
Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, says FXX found success with the marathon by delivering the ultimate binge watching experience.
"People have really taken to binge viewing and for a contemporary show to have 12 24-hour days of material, that’s the mother of binge viewing experiences and I think that was appealing to some people," Thompson explained. Jean agreed adding that, “if you actually watched the whole marathon you’d die. It doesn’t get more ultimate then that.”
Of course, “The Simpsons” loyal fan base had something to do with the marathon’s success as well. Thompson says fans were sucked back in by the timelessness of the show and its multi-layered depth of storytelling. “If you take a single episode” says Thompson, “let’s say you watch it for the first time when you’re 7-years-old, you really like it and think it’s very funny because Bart’s got an attitude and the whole ‘eat my shorts, I’m an underachiever and proud of it’ thing is very appealing. Then you watch it again when you’re 16 and you start to appreciate all the other stuff that is going on, the sexual references for example. Then, you watch it after you have your master’s degree in English literature and you’ll find all this other stuff in the exact same episode, references to art and poetry. You can watch it any age and it’s a whole new episode of television. I don’t think that’s true of a whole lot of television.”
Even Jean found things while re-watching the series that he had forgotten. “One thing I forgot was that around seasons two or three,” Jean recalled, “we started ending every episode with them laughing, which was a kind of ‘Starsky and Hutch’ parody, but when you put them back to back it doesn’t seem so clever three times in a row.”
FXX, who according to Saftler is planning one day marathons in the future (including a Halloween marathon of every “Treehouse of Horror”), should be able to profit from "The Simpsons" for a long time. Thompson calls the series “the most re-runnable show of all time,” citing the show’s wealth of quality episodes in addition to the fact that, as an animated show, the series is not in danger of appearing outdated in the same way as live action sitcoms.
“Other shows begin to look old,” says Thompson. “We could be watching “The Simpsons” in 2217 and it will never look out of date because it was never in date. Nobody ever looked that way, nobody ever wore clothes like that, nobody ever had hair like [Marge Simpson].”
At the rate the show is going, “The Simpsons” could still be airing new episodes by 2217. Entering a much anticipated 26th season featuring crossover episodes with “Family Guy” and “Futurama” and riding the popularity of the marathon Jean says the show is “going in on a roll.” There is no end in sight for “The Simpsons” and that probably suits fans just fine.
Would you want to see another “Simpsons” marathon? Tweet your thoughts to @Ja9GarofaloTV.