Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV URBAN LEGEND: Johnny Carson wouldn’t guest star on The Simpsons if they made fun of him.
The Simpsons have had a long history of celebrities making cameo appearances on the show, but what is sometiems forgotten due to the sheer longevity of the series is how different things were in the early years of the show. In a TV Legend a while back about Michael Jackson’s appearance in The Simpsons‘ third season premiere, I explained that in the early days of the show, while celebrities would occasionally lend their voices to the show, they would often use pseudonyms in the credits. In the beginning, there really weren’t celebrity cameos, though. Dustin Hoffman and Michael Jackson played other characters, not themselves. The episode that really changed everything was the third season episode, “Homer at the Bat,” where Mr. Burns decides to fill his company softball team with a group of ringers made up of famous Major League Baseball players. The episode was a major success and some of the players (like Darryl Strawberry and Wade Boggs) credit the episode with making them even more well known. A year later, when writer John Swartzwelder pitched the idea of Krusty the Clown getting canceled and then having a comeback special, showrunners Al Jean and Mike Reiss saw this as an opportunity to do another version of “Homer at the Bat,” only with other kinds of celebrities instead of baseball players. However, they soon learned that The Simpsons in their fourth season did not yet have the cachet that they hoped for when it came to get celebrities to sign on to do cameos on the show. A whole pile of celebrities backed out of appearing on the show, some of them doing so at the last minute. Before the Red Hot Chili Peppers signed on to perform in the episode, both the Rolling Stones and Wynonna Judd turned the show down (years later, when The Simpsons had become a standard place for celebrities to do cameos, the Stones appeared. I think Judd blew any chance she had of being on the show). Because they were so desperate to add celebrities, the show ended up making a notable concession with one of the possible celebrities, Johnny Carson – they agreed NOT to make fun of him!
Read on to see how they got Johnny Carson to appear on the show!
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