1 9 8 4 – 1 9 9 2 (USA)
197 x 30 minute episodes
Virtually single-handedly, The Cosby Show revived sitcom domination on US television, overturning the mid-1980s prominence of soaps such as Dallas and Dynasty, and crime/adventure dramas such as Magnum P.I.
The Huxtable residence was a Brooklyn, New York City, brownstone where Cliff Huxtable (an obstetrician/gynaecologist) also maintained his office.
He and his wife Clair (an attorney) tried to bring up the kids with a combination of love and parental firmness while leading their own active professional lives.
Sondra, the oldest daughter was a senior at Princeton University during the first season, graduating early in the second; Denise and Theo (“No Problem!”) were the know-it-all teenagers; Vanessa the rambunctious 8-year old; and Rudy the adorable, if mischievous little girl.
“I just hope they get out of the house before we die,” murmured an exhausted Cliff as he sank into bed at the end of the premiere episode.
Although by no means a fuddy-duddy, being at least partially hip to his kids’ generation, Cliff’s values were very much of the old school: respect, care, honesty and caution were his bywords.
Scripts for The Cosby Show contained no sex, swearing or ribaldry of any kind and the many things that were happening in the Huxtable household were usually resolved happily.
At first, critics lined up to ravage the series as safe and cutesy. What made them change their view was Bill Cosby himself. He was never less than brilliant in the lead role, bringing to the part his impeccable sense of comic timing and facial mannerisms developed on stage.
As the star, joint creator, co-owner, script editor and executive consultant (and even co-author of the theme music), Cosby maintained a tight control over the series, even insisting that episodes were taped in New York when virtually every other US networked sitcom was (and still is) made in Hollywood.
The remarkable thing about The Cosby Show is that it could have featured a white cast – which means, in other words, that it underlined beautifully the point that colour should make absolutely no difference.
But while the show duly won 14 Image awards from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP), it also upset the activists who wished Cosby represented the black struggle.
Bill Cosby is very much the self-made man. He worked his way out of poverty and into college, overcame colour prejudice and established himself as a stand-up comedian on the nightclub scene before breaking into films and TV.
Initially, he spread his humour via records – discs which indicated his empathy for children and deeply-held family values. These are subjects that clearly fascinate the man: he even returned to college in 1976, taking time off from his career to emerge with a doctorate in education (episodes of The Cosby Show actually carry an executive consultant credit for ‘William H Cosby Jr, Ed D’).
One of Bill Cosby’s biggest successes was a US TV children’s cartoon series show, Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids (1972 -1980), which the comedian hosted, voiced and produced.
The Cosby Show concluded on 30 April 1992, with a one hour special in which Theo graduated from New York University and left the nest, prompting Cosby to dance for joy and break “the fourth wall”, walking off the studio set and out through the exit door.
But events overshadowed the farewell, and while the well-to-do Huxtable’s patted each other on the back one final time, Los Angeles was in flames in the real-life aftermath of the acquittal of the white policemen who had beaten Rodney King.
TV stations dumped all scheduled shows to carry live footage of the burning and looting before the NBC affiliate cut to The Cosby Show for an hour. Even though it was topped and tailed by a couple of hastily taped messages from Cosby, requesting calm and ‘a better tomorrow’, the juxtaposition was uncomfortable.
The Cosby Show led to a spin-off, A Different World, created by Bill Cosby, and relating daughter Denise’s college experiences.
The fictional house in the series (10 Stigwood Avenue, Brooklyn) was actually designed after the real Cosby family home in Massachusetts.
Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad reunited in different roles, but again as husband and wife, in the American version of the British sitcom One Foot In The Grave, which took to the air in the USA in September 1996, as Cosby.
Dr Heathcliff ‘Cliff’ Huxtable
Sabrina Le Beauf
Keshia Knight Pulliam
Carl Anthony Payne II
Lt. Martin Kendall
Joseph C. Phillips
William Thomas, Jr