The Simpsons will return for seasons 31 and 32, Fox announced at the Television Critics Association presentations in Pasadena, Cal. The deal will take the show through its 713th episode, extending its lead as the longest-running primetime show in television history.
For Fox, it was an easy decision. This season, the show is averaging seven and a half million viewers across all platforms. “The Girl on the Bus,” which aired January 13, was the highest-rated episode, among the covered 18-49 demographic, of any scripted series on the network this year.
So the show still reliably, predictably makes money. This despite the fact that there isn’t much debate among fans and critics that it has been in decline for over a decade. The number of shows that can maintain their peak level of quality through five seasons is tiny, so it’s not surprising that much of the latter part of show’s three-decade run hasn’t reached the heights of the show in its prime.
Which isn’t to say that The Simpsons is bad. It’s not. It’s just not as good as it was. Viewers have more choices than ever before — 495 scripted series and about 750 unscripted series aired last year, according to an FX Networks study — but they’re still choosing The Simpsons.
The reason is simple: comfort. There are now multiple generations of television viewers, from young parents to kids in middle school, who’ve grown up watching the show on Fox and in syndication. There’s plenty of shows pushing the comedy envelope in the way that The Simpsons did for years, but at this point, new episodes are more valuable for their familiarity than for their innovation. People are always going to want more episodes, which means they’ll watch them, which means Fox will make more of them.
With so many episodes, it’s hard to find something the show hasn’t referenced. Even its own longevity. “They’ll Never Stop the Simpsons” was the song that closed a clip show that aired in 2002. Its ends with the lyric “Have no fears, we’ve got stories for years.” It’s as true today as it was then.