It's one of the most beloved - and oft-quoted - Simpsons episodes ever, but the 1997 classic 'Homer's Phobia' very nearly didn't make it to air.

A fascinating new post on The Ringer that takes an in-depth look at the groundbreaking episode, and writer Alan Siegel reveals that network censors had a problem with the episode as a whole, deeming it unfit for television.

In Homer's Phobia, the Simpson family have perhaps their first encounter with an openly gay person in the form of antique store owner John (voiced by legendary director John Waters).

While the rest of the family embrace their new friend, Homer rejects John - and even suspects exposure to him may be 'turning' Bart gay.


There's a lot at play in the episode, as it deals with Homer's prejudice, the Simpson family's exposure to a previously foreign gay culture, and John's appreciation of his new friends for their 'camp' value.

The Fox network, it seems, wanted to ditch all of it.

When Simpsons staff submitted scripts for network approval, censors usually responded with just a few notes, asking that certain lines or jokes be slightly altered.

For Homer's Phobia, the team at The Simpons received dozens of notes regarding "every single thing in the episode that had to do with being gay or the word 'gay'," Simpsons showrunner Bill Oakley tells The Ringer.

Film-maker and author John Waters voiced the controversial character. Photo/Supplied
Film-maker and author John Waters voiced the controversial character. Photo/Supplied

The three pages of notes ended with one simple ruling: "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 recalls - but those working on The Simpons didn't give up on the episode. Instead, they charged ahead, hoping that something would happen later in the process to make the network give way (a daring move, given each Simpsons episode takes a year - and millions of dollars - to produce).

Miraculously, they caught a break. In the ensuing 10 months after the initial script rejection, the network's censor left and was replaced with a new - presumably more forward-thinking - censor. When they resubmitted the episode, the Simpsons team received only one note back: "acceptable for broadcast."

And thank goodness. Homer's Phobia is considered on of the best episodes from The Simpsons' golden years, scoring the show an Emmy Award and gifting the world the instantly iconic 'gay steel mill' scene: