From 1955 to 1975, Gunsmoke lived on television. It can only sound silly to list all the transformative events from that two-decade period, reductive. The more you mention, the more you miss. But: Vietnam, Martin Luther King, JFK, Great Leap Forward, Malcolm X, Watergate, Beatles, every rock & roll band besides the Beatles, the invention of Marvel Comics, Apollo 11, Woodstock, Roe v. Wade, everything covered in Mad Men, everything covered by Elena Ferrante.
In my lifetime, Gunsmoke has only been remembered statistically. With 635 episodes spread across 20 seasons, it held the record as the longest-running scripted series in TV history. It seemed impossible that any show in the modern era could equal Gunsmoke‘s run. TV seasons are shorter, so The Simpsons passed the 20-season mark in 2009 having produced a mere 441 episodes, of which roughly 73 are brilliant documents of human endeavor that belong in every museum.
(Side note of more record-setting show statistics: NBC’s weekly news show Meet the Press has been on TV for 69 seasons and CBS Evening News has aired more than 16,000 epsiodes over 68 seasons.)
The Simpsons just aired its 636th episode. It still has this season to finish, and then two more on order. That’s 30 years, from barely any popular internet through Cambridge Analytica, from the first Gulf War through Little Rocket Man, from The Cosby Show to the Cosby verdict. You wonder if, in the future, every episode of The Simpsons will include a closing “Loving Memory” card, as eons of notable guest stars go where Maude Flanders went.
It’s possible that the show will outlast its own network, Fox, which is the subject of so many merciless Simpsons gags and is currently part of a cosmic asset merger with Disney. If the merger goes through, Disney won’t own the Fox TV network, but it will own Fox properties. I’m not sure what Disney has planned long term for The Simpsons, but I’m guessing their plans don’t include making money for some other company.
The record-breaking ep