'Simpsons' To Set Longevity Mark

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 announced a deal Friday to renew 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.

"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."

The animated characters were introduced in a series of vignettes on Fox's "The Tracey Ullman Show" in 1987. "The Simpsons" premiered as a series on Dec. 17, 1989.

While following the lives of the mythical family from Springfield, "The Simpsons" has always been bitingly funny about the world around it. Sometimes the show has to be watched twice to grab all the subtle jokes that come flying by.

This Sunday, Homer and the gang poke fun at a different Ozzy in an episode that has the Simpsons family participating in a reality TV show.

"It's a very well-written show — sharp and satirical," said Tim Brooks, television historian and author of "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable Television Shows." "It started off as the Bart Simpson show and it has gone off in a lot of different directions. It continues to mock the culture and has a very loyal audience."

It avoids the pitfalls of many comedies that seem trapped in the time they started, he said.

As cartoon characters, Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa 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. Few people were even aware of renewal negotiations.

"There was a general sense in the creative part of the group that things were chugging along creatively," Berman said. "You don't have the drama that you've had with other programs."

"The Simpsons" is produced by Fox corporate cousin 20th Century Fox. Creator Matt Groening, James L. Brooks and Al Jean are the show's executive producers.

The show is averaging 14.3 million viewers this season, according to Nielsen Media Research. Of the top 20 scripted shows from last season, "The Simpsons" is one of only three with more viewers this season. And it's up for its first Golden Globe Award this weekend.

"There's a lesson here for the networks and television in general," Brooks said. "Don't be so quick on the trigger. You can have a franchise show that can run for a very long time if you give it a chance."

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