Saturday, September 1, 2018

“The Simpsons”: Free To Wallow in Their Own Crapulence

Fox could have kept The Simpsons on Sundays where it was running successfully. With the plethora of merchandise flooding into stores on a daily basis, they could have been excused for choosing to keep things the way they were. But this was the early, young and brash Fox. They were trying to establish programming on other days of the week and a hit show like The Simpsons seemed like a good prospect for a different time slot. Fox decided that it wouldn’t be good enough to just plug The Simpsons into a safe time slot- they were going to pit The Simpsons against the biggest hit of the 1980’s- The Cosby Show.

It seemed like a suicide mission; Fox appeared to be purposely killing its biggest phenomenon by placing it against the biggest show. While the show was getting a bit tired, it was still a juggernaut for NBC and something that the other networks never tried to really compete against. Fox was making a bold decision to signal to the other networks that it had finally arrived. While Fox appeared to be confident about its prospects, a few of its licensees were a bit worried about this development. Would Cosby take the wind out of their sails, leaving tons of unsold merchandise on store shelves?

Fox, however, really had nothing to lose. Nobody really expected The Simpsons to truly beat The Cosby Show; Fox just needed to take enough of Cosby’s viewers to put a dent in NBC’s dominance and establish Fox Thursday nights. More importantly, Fox’s affiliate agreement at the time didn’t require the local stations to pick up extra days. They very easily could have refused to air Fox’s Thursday lineup if they chose. Moving The Simpsons to Thursdays virtually guaranteed that every Fox affiliate would air its programming. It might have seemed like a mistake, but it was a genius decision. The entertainment press gave Fox a ton of free publicity, putting Cosby on the defensive.

The faceoff was epic and ended up bringing down The Cosby Show. While The Cosby Show had seen better days, it is doubtful that it would have ended just two seasons later if The Simpsons hadn’t taken it on. Even better, The Simpsons hit its stride during this time, producing some of its best episodes, despite how rushed production was at the time. Due to the show’s lengthy production time and Fox’s initial reluctance to order more than 13 episodes, it would take about two seasons for the show to catch up. During these years, the show was literally finishing episodes right before they aired.

Once the initial hype and novelty wore off, The Simpsons proved that it could stand the test of time. The show’s secret has always been that deep down the family loves each other and there’s always a lot of heart behind every episode. The biggest mistake that the press, 1990’s authority figures and Bill Cosby made back then was to underestimate the show.