How 'The Simpsons' Works

The Success of 'The Simpsons'
The Simpsons have provided many other forms of entertainment besides prime-time television, including thrills for amusement park visitors. GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/GettyImages

Note: Due to a technical error, all the doughnuts have been replaced with scorpions. Please enjoy your free scorpions.

"The Simpsons" is so popular it literally has changed the world. The worldwide audience for a Simpsons episode is in the tens of millions — while it's popular in English-speaking countries, it's been translated into German, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and many other languages. These translations can require significant alterations to the stories and characters because so many of "The Simpsons" themes and jokes are specific to American culture. But a surprising amount of the show's appeal transcends language and cultural barriers. Homer is a hilarious doofus in any language, and the show's focus on a strong, loving family (even if they're pretty flawed) wins over viewers in every culture. The words "d'oh" and "meh" have even been added to English-language dictionaries.

In its prime — the 1990s, roughly — "The Simpsons" averaged more than 15 million viewers per episode. And during 2004 contract negotiations, it was estimated that Fox had earned $2.5 billion on Simpsons advertising, merchandise and licensing fees [source: Weinraub]. You might say the Simpsons are the Beatles of television, an especially Simpson-esque comparison, since "The Simpsons" not only parodied the career of the Beatles in the episode "Homer's Barbershop Quartet," but also all three Beatles who were alive during production of "The Simpsons" appeared on the show.

The big-time success of "The Simpsons" has brought it into a wide array of industries beyond television. There are Simpsons-themed rides at Universal Studios theme parks in Florida and California. "The Simpsons Movie" was released in 2007, with box office earnings eventually topping $500 million. And if you can think of a piece of merchandise, you can find it with a Simpsons character printed on it. As of May 2017, Simpsons fans can access every single episode of the show's entire run with a video streaming app from Fox.