An acclaimed episode of The Simpsons was almost never aired due to its gay content.
In the 1997 episode, the central character of the long-running animated Fox series, Homer, is forced to confront his own homophobia after he learns a man he befriended (a fun-loving owner of an antiques store voiced by out filmmaker John Waters), is gay. After fearing his son, Bart, might turn gay — a panic that results in a humorous visit to a homoerotic steel mill — Homer eventually overcomes his biases and embraces John.
Aptly titled "Homer's Phobia," the episode would go on to win an Emmy Award and a GLAAD Media Award. But the progressive storyline was first met with criticism. In an interview with The Ringer, the showrunners at the time, Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, revealed the unpredecented pushback they received from a censor at Fox Broadcasting.
Before "Homer's Phobia," most scripts submitted for network approval by The Simpsons writers' room received minimal notes — an example in the article is a request to substitute a less vulgar word for the word "ass." But in this instance, Oakley recalled, "every single thing in the episode that had to do with being gay or the word ‘gay'" received notes — dozens of critiques that filled three pages.
The feedback ended with an ominous line: "The entire subject and content of this episode is unacceptable for air."
"They didn’t want anything to do with it from A to Z," Oakley said.
Oakley and Weinstein took a risk. Ignoring this warning, they went ahead with production of the episode. “Over the next 10 months, we just kept our fingers crossed," Oakley said.
The gamble paid off. The men believe a new censor was brought on in 1996, after the network's president, John Matoian, left for HBO. When the animation was submitted for approval, the episode was deemed “acceptable for broadcast.”
Read the full story of how Waters was brought on and the episode was made at The Ringer, which includes many words of wisdom from the Pink Flamingos director.
“I’ve always said the only way to change anyone’s opinion is to make him laugh first,” Waters said. “It still is.”