One of the most infamous characters in Simpsons history might be partially inspired by one of the most infamous mascots in Olympics history. At least that’s a theory espoused in the article “Joke Origins: Poochie, The Whatizit?, And The ’96 Olympics” posted on fan blog Flim Springfield. The blog, maintained by two Simpsons devotees identified as Diana and JRC, is nominally dedicated to “recasting movies and TV shows with Simpsons characters.” In this instance, the blog compares the Whatizit? (a.k.a. Izzy), the much-hated mascot of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, with Poochie, a lame, corporate-mandated cartoon character who is foisted on the makers of The Itchy & Scratchy Show in a classic episode from The Simpsons’ eighth season.
It seems that the harried organizers of the Atlanta games were so concerned with “financial and logistical matters” that they barely gave a second thought to approving the official Olympic mascot. No one apparently realized that the blobby, grinning character was an abomination until the initial design was unveiled to the media and the complaints started rolling in. The whole, sad saga of the Whatizit? is recounted in this oral history from Atlanta Magazine.
Here is where the connections to The Simpsons begin. Film Roman, the same company that animates The Simpsons, was contracted to create an animated special, called Izzy’s Quest For The Olympic Rings, about the mascot. That special has since gone missing, but Simpsons creator Matt Groening and his entire creative team would have been well familiar with the Olympic mascot before Poochie ever made his “howlingly unfunny debut” in 1997. Interestingly, the Whatizit? and Poochie both went through panicky, behind-the-scenes retooling in response to the public’s ire.
Whether or not Poochie is the bastard son of Izzy, the cautionary tale of Izzy and the 1996 Olympics obviously made a long-lasting impression on The Simpsons. As late as 1999, in an episode called “The Old Man And The ‘C’ Student,” the mascot was parodied as Springy The Springfield Spring, an idiotic character that Homer created. He may have failed as an emblem of the Olympic spirit, but Izzy leaves behind a proud legacy as a source of mirth on The Simpsons. Think of it as a bronze medal.