When Twentieth-Century-Fox originally approached Matt Groening to produce short cartoons that would air on The Tracey Ullman Show, they wanted him to base the shorts on his comic strip Life in Hell. A meeting between Matt and Fox executives was quickly scheduled and he prepared some concept drawings for them to look at.
While Mr. Groening sat in Twentieth-Century-Fox’s waiting room, however, he began to panic. These were his characters, his life's work. He would have to sign away his rights to them to get these cartoons made. What if the show got canceled? Matt pondered walking out of the building completely.
But then, he had a spark of inspiration. He quickly began drawing a strange looking family. The cartoon could follow their adventures. He wasn't sure if the network would like the idea, but at least he wouldn't burn any bridges by walking out.
The executives loved the idea. Using his Life in Hell characters might have been too edgy. But this dysfunctional family? They'd be perfect. Strange to think that the phenomenon that became The Simpsons began on a whim.