The year was 1992, and with just over fifty episodes under its belt, The Simpsons had yet to secure what would eventually become the unrelenting and faithful fan base that exists today. The Cosby Show, a decidedly different viewpoint of American family life, was the reigning television series in ratings. That all changed on February 20, 1992 when record numbers of people switched off The Huxtables and on to see Episode 52: “Homer At The Bat.” Two months later, after eight seasons on NBC, The Cosby Show was no more.
For a refresher of the episode, take a look at Erik Malinowki’s article, “Homer At The Bat”. He also offers up some interesting insights into the episode’s conception.
There is no way to be certain if the Simpsons truly led to The Cosby Show demise, but after reading Malinowki’s article, I definitely think it didn’t help matters. The FOX network had a lot riding on The Simpsons, having been launched only three years before the series came along. In this one episode, nine guest stars were included, with the precedent before that being at most four.
The Cosby Show was definitely on The Simpsons’ radar before “Homer At The Bat.” It’s even widely speculated that Dr. Hibbert, who shares Cosby’s affinity for colorful sweaters, is based on Bill Cosby’s character and a friendly jab by writers. Dr. Hibbert was introduced in episode “Bart the Daredevil” during Season 2 in 1990.
However, setting aside the surge of star power, is it possible that audiences were just not as interested in tuning in for hour long life lessons or idealistic portrayals of family life anymore? Family Ties, which also aired on NBC, had its last episode in 1989. The Simpsons wouldn’t show up for months, but was this an indication of the beginning of the end for The Cosby Show? I think so, because while audiences weren’t tuning in to Family Ties or The Cosby Show, they were watching another FOX show Married…with Children which aired for eleven seasons (5 of which were after The Cosby Show ended). They were also watching Roseanne on ABC, which ran from 1987 to 1997.
Perhaps the most clear example of the shift in The Simpsons perception today versus back in the nineties can be seen by the two quotes below:
At the 1992 Presidential Election, George H.W. Bush: “I speak of decency, the moral courage to say what is right and condemn what is wrong. And we need a nation closer to The Waltons than The Simpsons.”
In a 2009 Vatican City newspaper: “Without Homer Simpson and the other yellow-skinned characters many today wouldn’t know how to laugh.”