Coinciding nicely with the show's 500th episode, which aired on Sunday, Deadspin has a great 20-year-retrospective look at the making of "Homer At The Bat," the star-studded episode that marked the first time The Simpsons beat its prime-time competition.
On Feb. 20, 1992, more American homes tuned into The Simpsons than they did The Cosby Show or the Winter Olympics from Albertville, France. A foul-mouthed cartoon on a fourth-place network bested the Huxtables and the world's best amateur athletes. Fox over NBC and CBS—its first-ever victory in prime time. New over old.
Why the shift? Well, the Olympic programming that night featured no marquee events, and Cosby was just two months away from ending its eight-season run. Meanwhile, The Simpsons, airing just its 52nd episode out of 500 (and counting), had put forth its most ambitious effort to date, an episode called "Homer at the Bat." Months of work went into corralling nine baseball players, a cross-section of young stars and established veterans, to guest-star as members of a rec-league softball team.
Read the whole thing.
Bonus reading: An LA Times interview with Matt Groening, and a Daily Beast piece about controversies the show has stirred up over the years.