Peak viewership: Oct. 11, 1990, 33.6 million viewers
Lowest viewership: April 28, 2014, 3.4 million viewers
The Simpsons movie was released seven years ago. The Simpsons Already Did It episode of South Park aired during that show's sixth season -- 12 years ago. The peak of the show's creative powers ended with Principal Skinner being unmasked as Armin Tamzarian -- 17 years ago.
From Don't Have A Cow, Man '90s T-shirts to Lego tie-ins from an episode a few weeks ago, every marketing dollar has been wrung out of this show as if it was pulled from a Duff Beer tap in the Simpsons section of Universal Studios Orlando. But last month's rock-bottom ratings finally met this show where it's been for a long time.
It was once argued that the show kept going because it was cheap to make and as profitable as a new series. Fox put that to rest back in 2011, when it threatened to cancel the show, cut staff salaries by 30% and noted that The Simpsons could be an even bigger draw in syndication. It went on to prove this point by not only making Simpsons reruns a cornerstone of its the FXX network launched last year, but by not being able to secure the rights to an episode from Season 3 to pay tribute to recently deceased Mrs. Krabappel voice actress Marcia Wallace.
So, all that said, why is this show still on the air and renewed for a 26th season? Because network television is absolutely awful. That 3.4 million audience wasn't good enough to beat HBO's Game of Thrones or AMC's Mad Men, but it put the hurt on episodes of CBS' The Good Wife and ABC's Revenge that aired the same night.
The Simpsons is a known, bankable commodity Fox isn't going to cut loose completely until it becomes a liability. Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart, Maggie and their heavily utilized Springfield neighbors are drifting dangerously close to that description, but it looks as if we'll see their third decade end before they're shuffled off to eternal syndication.