In the wake of “The Simpsons” negotiations being completed to pave the way for the show’s 24th and 25th seasons, I got to wondering how much of the legendary comedy’s entire existence hinged on, of all things, a pop song by Tracey Ullman.
Ullman was making a name for herself as a singer and comic actress in the U.K. in the 1980s, to the extent (as I understand it) that American producer James L. Brooks had become interested in finding a vehicle for her Stateside. However, Ullman’s profile in the U.S. would have been almost non-existent if not for “They Don’t Know,” a cover of a Kristy MacColl song that reached the top 10 in America. I can distinctly recall when the song was popular, not a mention my eventual surprise at learning that Ullman wasn’t just a singer.
The rest, of course, you do know. The fledgling Fox network gave birth to Ullman’s sketch comedy show, which in turn hosted the original cartoon shorts featuring Matt Groening’s yellow-skinned characters.
Maybe Fox takes a chance on an Ullman sketch comedy show even if no one here had heard of her; maybe Groening finds his way to television even if that show never came to being. Or maybe, this unexpected hit is the reason that we have “The Simpsons” to talk about, decades later. At a mimimum, it seems like a piece of the puzzle. I like to think so, anyway.
(Or maybe, as with so many things, we should just thank Johnny …)