‘The Simpsons’: How This Season 3 Episode Saved a Child’s Life
The Simpsons debuted in December 1989 and is still going strong. Featuring the offbeat yet lovable family of Springfield fame, the animated series focuses on nuclear plant worker Homer Simpson (Dan Castellaneta), his wife Marge (Julie Kavner), and their three kids: Bart (Nancy Cartwright), Lisa (Yeardley Smith), and baby Maggie.
With a plethora of memorable storylines spanning over 30 years on the air, The Simpsons aired one episode early in its run that included life-saving instructions which were put to the test.
‘Homer at the Bat’
Show producer and writer Mike Reiss has served on the series since its premiere. In his 2018 book Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons, he recalled one particular episode that truly made its mark.
“‘Homer at the Bat’ changed the tone, the casting, the very reality of the show,” Reiss wrote. “It also saved a young boy’s life. Really! What more could you ask for? Homer getting into the National Baseball Hall of Fame? Yeah, that happened, too.”
The premise highlighted Homer’s boss, Mr. Burns, forming a softball team. With the majority of The Simpsons production team being avid sports fans, athletic storylines were a favorite with the writers.
“This was season 3 of the show, and the previous 17 episodes had covered baseball, mini golf, boxing, soapbox racing, and football,” Reis explained. “Now we were doing baseball again. As might be expected from a show written primarily by single men, The Simpsons was sports mad. … Everyone on staff loved sports… except me.”
‘The Simpsons’ episode wasn’t well received by the cast
Producers recruited Major League Baseball players Wade Boggs, José Canseco, Roger Clemens, Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly, Steve Sax, Mike Scioscia, Ozzie Smith and Darryl Strawberry for the episode. While the star power was impressive, the storyline lacked the realism for which The Simpsons was often credited.
“Up to this point, The Simpsons had been praised for its authenticity,” Reiss commented. “But this episode didn’t just stretch reality, it snapped it, hacked it to pieces, and left it to die in a drainage ditch. It was a very different Simpsons episode, including the fact that the Simpsons were barely in it. Here, the guest stars were running the asylum.”
Cast members didn’t hide their distaste for the plot, and voiced their concerns over the sharp shift in content.
“Needless to say, our cast didn’t like the show,” Reiss recalled. “Our table reading of the script bombed utterly. Two of our actors complained about the script, the only time this has ever happened. The baseball players were much easier to deal with.”
A background poster on ‘The Simpsons’ saved a life
Despite the cast’s lack of enthusiasm, the episode was a massive hit and paved the way for easier access to landing big-name guest stars. One scene that could have easily gone unnoticed ended up providing some vital information.
“The show really did save a kid’s life,” Reiss revealed. “The show opens with Homer choking on a doughnut; his friends ignore a prominently placed poster showing the Heimlich maneuver to study the sign-up sheet for Burns’ softball team.”
While many Simpsons fans may have ignored the poster, one viewer took note of the life-saving directions.
“A week later, the Los Angeles news featured an 8-year-old boy who saved his friend who was choking to death,” Reiss recounted. “When asked where he learned the Heimlich, he said ‘It was on a poster on The Simpsons.’ True story.”