There's A Simple Answer To The Question 'Why Are The Simpsons Yellow?'

There are perhaps no bigger stars in television history than Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie Simpson. They've been an indelible constellation in the pop culture firmament for over 30 years, appearing in over 700 episodes of television, not to mention video games, T-shirts, and Butterfinger commercials. Yes, it's no wonder that when Chris Martin of Coldplay famously sang, "Look at the stars, look how they shine for you," he also felt the need to clarify that "they were all yellow."

OK, Chris Martin may have been singing about something slightly different, but there's still a nugget of truth in it: The majority of the characters on "The Simpsons" are, indeed, yellow, and after over a third of a century, we may have gotten so used to the sight of these bug-eyed cartoon characters that we forgot to even ask why the heck they were yellow in the first place.

To answer that question, we have to go back in time.

Tracey Ullman GO! to 'The Simpsons'

Every legend has to start somewhere, and while "The Simpsons" were created by "Life is Hell" cartoonist Matt Groening, they were created for someone else's sketch comedy TV series. That program was "The Tracey Ullman Show," starring seven-time Emmy Award-winning actor and comedian — you guessed it! — Tracey Ullman. It was one of the first original shows to air on the Fox Network after it debuted in 1986, airing right after "Married... with Children," and it ran for four seasons from 1987-1990.

The first "Simpsons" sketch aired on the third episode of "The Tracey Ullman Show." Entitled "Good Night," the animated short introduces Homer and Marge Simpson as they tuck their children into bed. However, before they turn out the lights, they accidentally terrify the Simpsons kids into insomnia. Homer plunges Bart into a state of existential crisis, an offhanded remark makes Lisa paranoid of bed bugs, and an admittedly off-putting nursery rhyme makes Maggie envision falling out of tree to her doom. The sketch ends with the frightened children demanding to sleep with their parents, who are understandably a wee bit annoyed about it.

Watching "Good Night" today is bound to generate a sense of disconnect in fans of the spin-off series. The clean designs we're all familiar with are blobby and bizarre. The voices are pretty close to the characters we know and love, but the actors clearly hadn't grown accustomed to the characters yet.

Just about the only thing that is 100% consistent with the spin-off show is that "The Simpsons" are, even at their earliest stage, yellow. But they almost weren't.

'I did not want to do flesh color'

Wes Archer, who co-directed "Good Night" with Bill Kopp and David Silverman and later won Emmy Awards for "King of the Hill" and "Rick and Morty," was interviewed in a Vice documentary called "Icons Unearthed: The Simpsons," released in 2022. "Initially it was supposed to be black and white," Archer explained. "But it just kinda screamed out for color."

To design the color palette for "The Simpsons," they enlisted Hungarian immigrant Gyorgi Kovacs-Peluce. The perhaps obvious choice of making the Simpsons look, you know, human, was out of the question from the start, she told Vice. "I did not want to do flesh color, because the characters were such as ... they didn't fit in anywhere."

"Yellow is, it's kind of universal. I wanted to unite the characters," Kovacs-Peluce added. She would go on to work on the color design for the hit kids series "The Rugrats" and the cult comedy "Duckman."

"She had a weird, wonderful sense of color design," co-director David Silverman told MSNBC in 2008. "A really interesting sense of color. I think she did that because Bart, Lisa and Maggie had no hairlines, and if you made them flesh-colored it would look very strange. It wouldn't work. To Matt [Groening]'s credit, he looked at it and said, 'Marge is yellow with blue hair? That's hilarious — let's do it!"

"She has never gotten proper credit," said "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening, in an interview that Georgie Kovacs-Peluce reads aloud from a 2007 issue of "Playboy Magazine."

Well, she clearly deserves that credit. To paraphrase Chris Martin's aforementioned opus to ochre: Their skin  oh yeah, their skin and hair  turned into something beautiful, and you know? You know we love it so.

And they were all yellow.