Julian Assange stars next to Homer and Marge Simpson in a scene from the 500th episode. (Network Ten)
One of television’s most enduring families has disappeared from Australian free-to-air television screens for the first time in 25 years — and you might not even have noticed.
The Simpsons has been pulled from the Ten Network’s schedule after negotiations with 21st Century Fox, who produce the show, broke down.
“Fox content is not playing on Ten at the moment,” a spokesperson for the network told the ABC.
The show’s 29th season is currently airing in the US, but won’t be shown as planned this month on the free-to-air channel.
One key question, though, is: will anyone care?
The Simpsons first aired in Australia in 1991, at a time when Ten was struggling to find an audience.
It was controversial from its earliest seasons — former First Lady Barbara Bush was quoted as saying it was “the dumbest thing she had ever seen” — but went on to build an enormous following, and gain a swag of awards, in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Now, however, some consider the show past its prime, Dr Travis Holland from Charles Sturt University said.
“The weight of legacy makes it harder for the show to find new and innovative takes on old topics,” he said.
Writing in NME recently, Alex Flood said The Simpsons peaked during its first 10 seasons — that is, more than 10 years ago.
“Much better to stop now while it’s not too painful,” he said.
Ten focusing on local content
The show may yet return to free-to-air television — on Ten, if the issue is resolved, or elsewhere.
The Nine Network told News Corp it may look to steal away some Fox content. The ABC has contacted Nine for comment.
Fusion Strategy analyst Steve Allen said it would be unlikely Nine would be interested, given the success of its local content.
While Ten has lost Fox content — The Simpsons but also Modern Family and the newer series This Is Us — the breakdown of the deal is expected to actually save the struggling local network some cash.
What’s more, the show is no longer a major drawcard for Ten, which is also focusing on local content, like the successful Bachelor franchise.
“The content is not that important,” Mr Allen said of Fox’s offering.
“It isn’t the be-all and end-all that it might have been 10 years ago.”
Recent series of The Simpsons have been airing on Ten’s sister channel Eleven.
Show considered one of the greats
The show, which recently celebrated its 600th episode, began as a series of animated shorts, the quality of which was far below the level of the first season proper.
It was a precursor to a boom in animated series in the 1990s — think South Park, Futurama, and Family Guy, among others — and developed a reputation for its pop culture commentary and celebrity voice cameos.
Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Michael Jackson, Bette Midler and Susan Sarandon all lent their voices to the show.
In the 90s, The Simpsons merchandise — particularly that bearing Bart’s familiar image — reportedly generated billions of dollars.
The Simpsons has won more than 30 Emmys and is consistently rated one of the best TV shows of all time.
Dr Holland said if The Simpsons did not return to free-to-air television in Australia, it would be sad.
“The Simpsons has always been been really popular in Australia — it’s probably most well received here, other than the United States, of anywhere in the world,” he said.
“In season six, [The Simpsons] came to Australia, that was really well received,” he said, adding it was the family’s first international trip.
“It is a bit of a sad moment that it’s not as accessible as it was, but given the drop-off in audience, it’s also kind of understandable.”