Did Tracey Ullman Get Rich Off The Simpsons?

FOX
FOX

If you were born after 1989, you probably only know The Simpsons as a staple of Sunday night television on Fox. But before Springfield’s most beloved family had their own network sitcom, they were just one of several recurring sketches on The Tracey Ullman Show, a variety show in which the titular comedienne portrayed a variety of characters. (The Simpsons made their debut 30 years ago, on April 19, 1987.)

Ullman’s show, which was co-created by James L. Brooks, lasted for four seasons, with the final episode airing on May 26, 1990. But six months before that, The Simpsons had already moved on. After three seasons as part of Ullman's ensemble, Brooks developed the shorts into a half-hour animated sitcom that ended up becoming the then-burgeoning Fox network’s first big hit. Today, The Simpsons holds a number of Guinness World Records, including the one for longest-running sitcom. But, considering that they began their life on her show, did Ullman get a cut of the series’ success?

The short answer is: No.

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In 1991, Ullman filed a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox alleging four counts of breach of contract. According to the Los Angeles Times, the 14-page complaint alleged that Ullman’s contract with Gracie Films (Brooks’s production company) entitled her to “five to 10 percent of the net receipts of the merchandising and other profits from products or programs based on spinoff characters, including animated characters, even if those characters were originated by others.” And since The Simpsons began on The Tracey Ullman Show, she argued that she should be entitled to those profits.

Merchandising was, of course, a key part of The Simpsons’s financial success. The trade news source Licensing Letter estimated that The Simpsons raked in about $750 million in merchandising sales in 1990—making the animated family the third most popular “characters” that year, right behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and New Kids on the Block. It was reported at the time that Ullman did not name Gracie Films in the suit, so as not to damage her relationship with Brooks.

More than a year later, on October 22, 1992, a Superior Court jury sided with Fox and rejected Ullman’s lawsuit, which would have netted her an estimated $2.25 million at the time. Brooks, who testified during the trial, argued that The Simpsons was created by Matt Groening, with no creative input from Ullman.

Though Ullman was reportedly out of the country at the time, her lawyer, Michael Bergman, told Variety that he was “very disappointed. I think the jury did their best, but it was a very complex case ... and the issues just got lost somewhere along the line.”

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How Often Should You Poop?

iStock
iStock

When it comes to No. 2, plenty of people aren’t really sure what’s normal. Are you supposed to go every day? What if you go 10 times a day? Is that a sign that you’re dying? What about once every three days? Short of asking everyone you know for their personal poop statistics, how do you know how often you’re supposed to hit the head?

Everyone’s system is a little different, and according to experts, regularity is more important than how often you do the deed. Though some lucky people might think of having a bowel movement as an integral part of their morning routine, most people don’t poop every day, as Lifehacker informs us. In fact, if you go anywhere between three times a day and three times a week, you’re within the normal range.

It’s when things change that you need to pay attention. If you typically go twice a day and you suddenly find yourself becoming a once-every-three-days person, something is wrong. The same thing goes if you normally go once every few days but suddenly start running to the toilet every day.

There are a number of factors that can influence how often you go, including your travel schedule, your medications, your exercise routine, your coffee habit, your stress levels, your hangover, and, of course, your diet. (You should be eating at least 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day, a goal that most Americans fall significantly short of.)

If you do experience a sudden change in how often you take a seat on the porcelain throne, you should probably see a doctor. It could be something serious, like celiac disease, cancer, or inflammatory bowel disease. Or perhaps you just need to eat a lot more kale. Only a doctor can tell you.

However, if you do have trouble going, please, don’t spend your whole day sitting on the toilet. It’s terrible for your butt. You shouldn’t spend more than 10 to 15 minutes on the toilet, as one expert told Men’s Health, or you’ll probably give yourself hemorrhoids.

But if you have a steady routine of pooping three times a day, by all means, keep doing what you’re doing. Just maybe get yourself a bidet.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

What Would Happen If a Plane Flew Too High?

iStock
iStock

Tom Farrier:

People have done this, and they have died doing it. For example, in October 2004, the crew of Pinnacle Airlines 3701 [PDF]  was taking their aircraft from one airport to another without passengers—a so-called "repositioning" flight.

They were supposed to fly at 33,000 feet, but instead requested and climbed to 41,000 feet, which was the maximum altitude at which the aircraft was supposed to be able to be flown. Both engines failed, the crew couldn't get them restarted, and the aircraft crashed and was destroyed.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable causes of this accident were: (1) the pilots’ unprofessional behavior, deviation from standard operating procedures, and poor airmanship, which resulted in an in-flight emergency from which they were unable to recover, in part because of the pilots’ inadequate training; (2) the pilots’ failure to prepare for an emergency landing in a timely manner, including communicating with air traffic controllers immediately after the emergency about the loss of both engines and the availability of landing sites; and (3) the pilots’ improper management of the double engine failure checklist, which allowed the engine cores to stop rotating and resulted in the core lock engine condition.

Contributing to this accident were: (1) the core lock engine condition, which prevented at least one engine from being restarted, and (2) the airplane flight manuals that did not communicate to pilots the importance of maintaining a minimum airspeed to keep the engine cores rotating.

Accidents also happen when the "density altitude"—a combination of the temperature and atmospheric pressure at a given location—is too high. At high altitude on a hot day, some types of aircraft simply can't climb. They might get off the ground after attempting a takeoff, but then they can't gain altitude and they crash because they run out of room in front of them or because they try to turn back to the airport and stall the aircraft in doing so. An example of this scenario is described in WPR12LA283.

There's a helicopter version of this problem as well. Helicopter crews calculate the "power available" at a given pressure altitude and temperature, and then compare that to the "power required" under those same conditions. The latter are different for hovering "in ground effect" (IGE, with the benefit of a level surface against which their rotor system can push) and "out of ground effect" (OGE, where the rotor system supports the full weight of the aircraft).

It's kind of unnerving to take off from, say, a helipad on top of a building and go from hovering in ground effect and moving forward to suddenly find yourself in an OGE situation, not having enough power to keep hovering as you slide out over the edge of the roof. This is why helicopter pilots always will establish a positive rate of climb from such environments as quickly as possible—when you get moving forward at around 15 to 20 knots, the movement of air through the rotor system provides some extra ("translational") lift.

It also feels ugly to drop below that translational lift airspeed too high above the surface and abruptly be in a power deficit situation—maybe you have IGE power, but you don't have OGE power. In such cases, you may not have enough power to cushion your landing as you don't so much fly as plummet. (Any Monty Python fans?)

Finally, for some insight into the pure aerodynamics at play when airplanes fly too high, I'd recommend reading the responses to "What happens to aircraft that depart controlled flight at the coffin corner?"

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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