Bart Simpson vs Bill Cosby Was Once TV’s Biggest Rivalry

Springfield’s bad boy took on America’s Biggest Piece of Crap
Bart Simpson vs Bill Cosby Was Once TV’s Biggest Rivalry

Bart Simpson has had his fair share of enemies over the years, from Sideshow Bob, to that creepy doppelganger Lester, to the lemon tree-stealing Shelbyvillians. But back in the early 1990s, Bart’s greatest adversary was America’s Dad/literal monster Bill Cosby. 

In 1990, Fox moved The Simpsons to Thursday nights, putting it in direct competition with The Cosby Show. As the media narrative framed it at the time, this decision pitted the old school family traditionalism of the Huxtable family against the controversial Simpsons.

Remember, this was back when The Simpsons were still enraging U.S. presidents and inspiring T-shirt-based moral panics, while the worst thing Bill Cobsy had done, as far as the public was concerned, was Leonard Part 6. The “ratings war” between the two shows was perhaps best illustrated in a TV Guide cover, in which Bart is perched on a perturbed Cosby’s shoulder, like the conscience he clearly doesn’t have.

When asked about the rivalry with Bart, the face of The Simpsons at the time, Cosby didn’t seem too bothered, telling reporters, “There’s really nothing wrong with Bart, but we’ve got a job to do.” He also suggested, though, that Bart and his family represented a regression for the medium of television. “TV should be moving in a direction from the Huxtables forward, not backward,” Cosby stated. ”The mean-spirited and cruel think this (kind of programming) is ‘the edge,’ and their excuse is, that’s the way people are today. But why should we be entertained by that?”

At the same time, The Cosby Show was in the process of going full Poochie by randomly introducing a new character: a 17-year-old “refugee from New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant ghetto.” Cosby stressed that the show’s transparently sweaty attempt to appeal to younger viewers was decided upon before The Simpsons switched time slots. “All of the changes made were ‘B.B.’ — Before Bart,” he claimed.

While summer reruns of The Simpsons lost out to Cosby Show blooper episodes in the ratings, by October, the cartoon upstart actually came out on top, which was such a big deal at the time, it was the lead story on Entertainment Tonight.

After that, Cosby seemed to sour on Bart Simpson. Cosby’s laughably hypocritical role as TV’s self-appointed moral arbitrator extended to calling the fictional 10-year-old “antisocial” as well as “angry, confused, frustrated.” Simpsons creator Matt Groening responded: “That sums up Bart, all right. Most people are in a struggle to be normal, he thinks normal is very boring, and does things that others just wished they dare do.”

Cosby tried to improve the quality of his show by hiring more women to write about issues from the female perspective — which would have been an admirable decision if it had come from anyone other than the guy who spent a significant portion of his life actively trying to silence women. “I thought it was important for us to break down some of the foolishness that goes with stereotypes of the female in this country,” Cosby said in a statement that’s impossible to read today without throwing up in your mouth. 

Less than two years after going head-to-head with Bart and his family, Cosby ended his show for good. Weirdly, The Simpsons decided to pay tribute to their formal rival with a post-credit scene in which Bart and Homer reflect on The Cosby Show’s legacy.

While that may not have aged well, Bart’s assertion that if he had his own TV show he’d “run that sucker into the ground” was oddly prescient. 

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this). 


Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?