LOS ANGELES — When crudely drawn animated shorts about a dysfunctional American family began appearing on Fox’s “The Tracey Ullman Show” in 1987, nobody predicted the birth of a cultural phenomenon.
But Wednesday marks the 25th anniversary of “The Simpsons,” which debuted as a half-hour sitcom on Dec. 17, 1989. That’s 561 episodes and counting — and a lot of D’ohs! and doughnuts.
To commemorate this milestone, here are 25 random facts about the show:
1. Creator Matt Groening named the characters after his own family members but substituted “Bart” for his own name.
2. The characters’ distinctive yellow hue was chosen in part to make the show stand out when someone was flipping through TV channels for something to watch.
3. It took Danny Elfman three days to compose the show’s opening theme song. He’s called it the most popular piece of music of his career.
4. Its town of Springfield was named for its generic Anywhereness (there are Springfields in 30 U.S. states). Over various episodes, the town’s geography has contained rivers, deserts, farmland, mountains or whatever the story requires.
5. Time magazine named it the best TV show of the 20th century.
6. Bart is voiced by a woman, Nancy Cartwright. In an opening sequence during the show’s second season, Bart wrote on the chalkboard, “I am not a 32-year-old woman” (Cartwright’s age at the time).
7. Dustin Hoffman had an uncredited speaking role in the show’s second season, playing Lisa’s kindly substitute teacher Mr. Bergstrom. Hoffman wasn’t sure he wanted to be identified with a cartoon show at the time, so he chose the name “Sam Etic” in the closing credits — a play on the word semitic, alluding to the fact that he and Mr. Bergstrom are Jewish.
8. An official version of Duff beer, Homer’s favorite brew, is sold in three variations near The Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios.
9. In the show’s early-’90s heyday, school principals around the country banned Bart Simpson T-shirts, fearing he was a bad role model.
10. Of Krusty the Clown’s resemblance to Homer, Groening once said: “The satirical conceit that I was going for at the time was that ‘The Simpsons’ was about a kid who had no respect for his father but worshiped a clown who looked exactly like his father.”
11. The University of California-Berkeley has offered a for-credit course on “The Simpsons.”
12. During a speech in 1992, then-President George H. W. Bush said, “We are going to keep on trying to … make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.” In response, the show’s writers rushed out a short segment soon after in which Bart said, “Hey, we’re just like the Waltons. We’re praying for an end to the Depression, too.”
13. Harry Shearer said he modeled the voice of wicked tycoon Mr. Burns in part on that of Ronald Reagan.
14. Homer’s signature “D’oh!” has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary.
15. In an episode that aired in 2003, Homer gave his email address as ChunkyLover53@aol.com. The episode’s writer, Matt Selman, signed up for the ChunkyLover53 email address beforehand and within minutes of the show’s airing found his inbox packed to its 999-message limit.
15. The show earned guest star Anne Hathaway a Primetime Emmy for outstanding voice-over performance.
16. Groundskeeper Willie’s description of the French as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” was used by conservative columnists in 2003 after France’s opposition to the proposed invasion of Iraq.
17. An episode during the fourth season featured guest star Elizabeth Taylor voicing a single word: Lisa’s first word, spoken during a flashback. The word? “Bart.”
18. Michael Jackson guest-starred as a mental patient during a third-season episode, “Stark Raving Dad,” in which Homer Simpson is sent to a mental institution. For contractual reasons, he was credited as John Jay Smith.
19. In 2010, elusive street artist Banksy created a darkly subversive montage for the opening sequence that showed children and animals slaving in a hellish underground sweatshop to produce “Simpsons” memorabilia. Of the bold move, “Simpsons” showrunner Al Jean told the New York Times: “Well, I haven’t been fired yet, so that’s a good sign.”
20. Veteran actor Hank Azaria supplies the voice for 16 recurring characters, including Moe the bartender, Chief Wiggum and convenience store owner Apu.
21. Exiled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange guest-starred as himself on an episode in the show’s 23rd season. He recorded his lines over the phone from the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain, where he has been granted asylum.
22. At one point, “The Simpsons Movie,” a hit in 2007, was planned as a musical.
23. An expression by Homer has inspired a much-quoted toast: “To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”
24. Among the celebrities who have turned down guest-starring roles on the show, according to creators’ comments on the DVDs, are Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Michael Caine, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, Anthony Hopkins, Quentin Tarantino and Prince.
25. Showrunner Al Jean told The Onion’s AV Club in August that if the series ever ends, he would like the final episode to end with the arrival of the Christmas pageant from the first scene of the pilot episode “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” making the whole series a continuous loop.