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 PI. It was the top-rated sitcom in America for four straight years, matching the feat of I Love Lucy and bettered only by All In The Family.
The Huxtable residence was a Brooklyn brownstone where obstetrician/gynaecologist Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) also maintained his office – although he also worked at both Corinthian Hospital and Children’s Hospital in Brooklyn.
He and his attorney wife Clair (Phylicia Rashad) tried to bring up the kids with a combination of love and parental firmness while leading their own active professional lives.
Oldest daughter Sondra (Sabrina Le Beauf) was a senior at Princeton University during the first season, graduating early in the second. She was the first of the Huxtable kids to marry and she and her husband, Elvin Tibideaux (Geoffrey Owens), later became the parents of twins they named Winnie and Nelson.
Elvin calls Sondra “Muffin,” and together they ran a business called the Wilderness Store. Elvin was a pre-med student at Princeton when he first met Sondra, a law student. When they married, they put everything on hold to open their store.
Elvin gave up the medical profession for psychological reasons – he had a problem charging people for medical help – but with Cliff’s help, Elvin returned to medical school.
When he became a doctor in 1990, Sondra enrolled in law school to continue her education. A year later, Sondra was a lawyer and she, Elvin and the twins moved in with Cliff and Clair as a temporary measure until they could find their own home. In 1992, Sondra and her family moved to their own home in New Jersey.
Denise (Lisa Bonet) – the second born and most troublesome child – attended Central High School and spent three semesters at Hillman College where she received five Ds, one C and seven incompletes. With no interest in college, she quit – much to her parents’ dismay – and returned home where she held jobs at the Wilderness Store and at Blue Wave Records (where she earned $25 a week as the assistant to the executive assistant).
She later went to Africa as a photographer’s assistant and returned one year later married to navy lieutenant Martin Kendall (Joseph C. Phillips) and as the stepmother of his young daughter, Olivia (Raven-Symone).
Denise, who had a dream of teaching disabled children, then enrolled in the Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York and began taking educational courses.
Only son Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) attended Central High School and later NYU (during which time he lived in Apartment 10B of an unidentified building in Greenwich Village. In 1991 Theo majored in psychology and became a junior counsellor at the Seton Hall Communications Center. Shortly after, he was accepted into NYU’s grad school (Department of Psychology).
Fourth born child Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe) attended Central High School (where she was a member of a rock group called The Lipsticks), then Lincoln University in Philadelphia. In 1991 she became engaged to Dabnis Brickley (William Thomas, Jr), a man 12 years her senior, who worked as a maintenance man at her college. They later broke off the engagement but remained friends.
Rudy (Keshia Knight Pulliam) began the series as an adorable – albeit mischievous – little girl, growing up to attend an unnamed grammar school.
“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 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.
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
Theodore (Theo) Aloysius Huxtable
Sabrina Le Beauf
Rudith (Rudy) LillianHuxtable
Keshia Knight Pulliam
Carl Anthony Payne II
Lt. Martin Kendall
Joseph C. Phillips
William Thomas, Jr