CALGARY - Curling will be getting some prime-time exposure just prior to next year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver as Homer and Marge Simpson take up one of Canada's favourite sports.
An episode of the long-running comedy "The Simpsons" featuring the cartoon power couple playing the game is scheduled to run in early February on the Fox Network.
"We wanted to do a show at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and my initial idea was to have Homer and three of his buddies do a four-man bobsled," said writer Rob LaZebnik in an interview with The Canadian Press.
"Then we decided there's a lot more interesting story having Homer do something with Marge. One of the head writers suggested curling and we all liked it. I learned about mixed curling and it seemed kind of perfect."
In the episode, Homer and Marge form a mixed-doubles curling team with Principal Skinner and his mother, who are experienced curlers. It turns out that Marge is a natural, while Homer is a disaster on the ice. Marge is faced with a difficult decision: Possibly win a medal by asking Homer to leave the team or ruin their chances by keeping him.
"You'll see the comedy in it comes from Homer and Marge, and Homer turns out not to be a great curler and Marge is a great curler - part of it is all the housework she has done with her brooming," laughs LaZebnik.
He and several other members of his staff spent an afternoon at a southern California curling club to pick up the nuances of the sport.
Veteran Edmonton curler Randy Ferbey, a six-time Canadian champion and a four-time World Champion, said the exposure is great.
"I'm sure they're going to somehow make a mockery of it like they do every other thing, but I think you need to take it with a grain of salt," Ferbey said.
"It brings attention to our sport and I think it's wonderful. The more curling on TV, whether it's in an animated form or real form, the better."
Ferbey is a fan of the Simpsons and said the publicity will be a bonus in the United States, where curling's popularity is basically limited to a handful of northern states.
"In some states I guess it's OK, but the U.S. has so much going for it with pro sports. I mean in the states we struggle with hockey, for God's sake!"
LaZebnik said skewering the sport is not part of the plan.
"Since everyone in the curling world had been so supportive, we wanted to take it seriously on the show. The funny thing is it's an event in an episode where Homer actually takes something seriously," LaZebnik said. "I think we're really very respectful to it. We're surprisingly respectful."
A sidebar plot involves daughter Lisa struggling to collect Olympic pins.
Rick Patzke, the Chief Operating Officer for USA Curling, said there are only about 16,000 people in the United States who actually play the sport. He said everyone watches The Simpsons and the publicity will be a blessing.
"I learned a long time ago not to take it personal when someone makes fun of curling - a lot of them who used to make fun of it are now curlers," he noted.
And there is something about Homer Simpson that just screams curling he said.
"If you look at Homer and Marge - I think they are the quintessential curlers. That's pretty much what curlers are, right? They make fun of themselves, drink beer and eat doughnuts."
There have been several references to Canada on "The Simpsons" over the years, but only one previously included curling. When the family visited Toronto in 2002, the script featured a TV show called "Curling for Loonies."
"The Simpsons" is the longest-running television comedy to date and will mark 20 years on air in 2010.
While mixed doubles isn't currently an Olympic discipline, it is being considered by the International Olympic Committee as a medal sport for upcoming Olympic Winter Games.