Cosby Show, The


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

Tabs

About

The Cosby Show, one of the biggest surprise hits in American television history, dominated Thursday evenings from 1984 to 1992. Focusing on the everyday adventures of an upper-middle-class black family, the series revived a television genre (situation comedy), saved a beleaguered network (NBC), and sparked controversy about race and class in America.

The Cosby Show premiered on 20 September 1984 and shot to the top of the ratings almost immediately. Indeed, the series finished third in the ratings its first season (1984-85), and first for the next four seasons. The Cosby Show fell from the very top of the ratings only after its sixth season (1989-90), when it finished second behind another family-oriented situation comedy, Roseanne.

But The Cosby Show was almost not to be. NBC recruited Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner to develop the sitcom after a Bill Cosby monologue about child rearing on NBC's Tonight show impressed the network's entertainment chief, Brandon Tartikoff. However, despite Cosby's widespread popularity-- he had registered one of the highest audience appeal ratings in history as a commercial pitchman--programmers initially viewed his star potential with suspicion. His television career history was mixed. After co-starring in the hit series I Spy (1965-68), Cosby appeared in a string ratings failures: The Bill Cosby Show (1969), The New Bill Cosby Show (1972), and Cos (1976). While NBC fretted over questions concerning Cosby's viability as a television star and situation comedy's status as a dying genre, Carsey and Werner presented the idea to ABC. But that network was not interested. At the last minute, just in time for inclusion in the fall schedule, NBC gave a firm commitment to Carsey and Werner to produce a pilot and five episodes for the sitcom. The extraordinary success of the show quickly propelled also-ran NBC into first-place in the primetime ratings.

Set and taped before a studio audience in Brooklyn, New York, The Cosby Show revolved around the day-to-day situations faced by Cliff (Bill Cosby) and Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Ayers-Allen, later Phylicia Rashad) and their five children. This family was unlike other black families previously seen on television in that it was solidly upper-middle-class--the Huxtables lived in a fashionable Flatbush brownstone, the father was a respected gynecologist, and the mother a successful attorney. Theo (Malcolm Jamal-Warner), the only son, was something of an underachiever who enjoyed a special relationship with his father. The oldest daughter, Sondra (Sabrina LeBeauf), was a college student at prestigious Princeton University. The next daughter in age, Denise (Lisa Bonet), tested her parents' patience with rather eccentric, new-age preoccupations. She left the series after the third season to attend the fictitious, historically black Hillman College; her experiences there became the basis of a spin-off, A Different World (1987-93). The two younger daughters, Rudy (Keisha Knight Pulliam) and Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe), were cute preteens who served admirably as foils to Cosby's hilarious child-rearing routines. Secure in a cocoon of loving parents and affluence, the Huxtable kids steered clear of trouble as they grew up over the series' eight-year run. Indeed, TV Guide compared the Huxtable's lifestyle to that of other black families in America and described the family as the most "atypical black family in television history."

For many observers, The Cosby Show was unique in other ways as well. For example, unlike many situation comedies, the program avoided one-liners, buffoonery and other standard tactics designed to win laughs. Instead, series writers remained true to Cosby's vision of finding humor in realistic family situations, in the minutiae of human behavior. Thus episodes generally shunned typical sitcom formulas by featuring, instead, a rather loose story structure and unpredictable pacing. Moreover, the soundtrack was sweetened with jazz, and the Huxtable home prominently featured contemporary African American art. Several observers described the result as "classy."

In many respects, The Cosby Show and its "classy" aura were designed to address a long history of black negative portrayals on television. Indeed, Alvin Poussaint, a prominent black psychiatrist, was hired by producers as a consultant to help "recode blackness" in the minds of audience members. In contrast to the families in other popular black situation comedies--for example, those in Sanford and Son (1972-77), Good Times (1974-79), and The Jeffersons (1975-85)--the Huxtables were given a particular mix of qualities that its creators thought would challenge common black stereotypes. These qualities included: a strong father figure; a strong nuclear family; parents who were professionals; affluence and fiscal responsibility; a strong emphasis on education; a multigenerational family; multiracial friends; and low-key racial pride.

This project, of course, was not without its critics. Some observers described the show as a 1980's version of Father Knows Best, the Huxtables as a white family in blackface. Moreover, as the show's debut coincided with the President Reagan's landslide reelection, and as many of the Huxtables' "qualities" seemed to echo key Republican themes, critics labeled the show's politics as "reformist conservatism." The Huxtables' affluence, they argued, worked to obscure persistent inequalities in America--especially those faced by blacks and other minority groups--and validate the myth of the American Dream. One audience study suggests that the show "strikes a deal" with white viewers, that it absolves them of responsibility for racial inequality in the United States in exchange for inviting the Huxtables into their living room. Meanwhile, the same study found that black viewers tend to embrace the show for its positive portrayals of blackness, but express misgivings about the Huxtables' failure to regularly interact with less affluent blacks.

On an April evening in 1992--when America was being saturated with images of fires, and racial and economic turmoil from Los Angeles--many viewers opted to tune into the farewell episode of The Cosby Show. In Los Angeles, at least, this viewing choice was almost not an option. KNBC-TV's news coverage of the civil unrest seemed certain to preempt the show, much as the news coverage of other networks' affiliates would preempt their regular prime-time programming that evening. But as Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley worked to restore order to a war-torn Los Angeles, he offered, perhaps, the greatest testament to the social significance of the series: he successfully lobbied KNBC-TV to broadcast the final episode as originally scheduled.

-Darnell M. Hunt

CAST

Dr Heathcliff (Cliff) Huxtable............................ Bill Cosby

Clair Huxtable........................................Phylicia Rashad

Sondra Huxtable Tibideaux....................Sabrina Le Beauf

Denise Huxtable Kendall................................Lisa Bonet

Theodore Huxtable.......................Malcolm-Jamal Warner

Vanessa Huxtable...............................Tempestt Bledsoe

Rudy Huxtable..............................Keshia Knight Pulliam

Anna Huxtable..........................................Clarice Taylor

Russel Huxtable...........................................Earl Hyman

Peter Chiara (1985-1989)...............................Peter Costa

Elvin Tibideaux (1986-1992).....................Geoffrey Owens

Kenny ("Bud") (1986-1992)......................Deon Richmond

Cockroach (1986-1987)..................Carl Anthony Payne II

Denny (1987-1991)................................Troy Winbush Lt.

Martin Kendall (1989-1992)...................Joseph C. Phillips

Olivia Kendall (1989-1992)........................Raven-Symone

Pam Tucker (1990-1992)........................Erika Alexander

Dabnis Brickey (1991-1992)..............William Thomas, Jr

PRODUCERS

Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner, Caryn Sneider, Bill Cosby

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

200 Episodes

NBC

September 1984-June 1992 Thursday 8:00-8:30

July 1992-September 1992 Thursday 8:30-9:00

FURTHER READING

Beller, Miles. "The Cosby Show." The Hollywood Reporter (Los Angeles), 29 September 1986.

Bogle, Donald. Blacks in American Films and Television: An Encyclopedia. New York: Fireside, 1988.

Brown, Judy. "Leave it to Bill: The Huxtables, The Cleavers of the '80s." L.A. Weekly (Los Angeles), 27 December-2 January 1985.

Cantor, Muriel. "The American Family on Television: From Molly Goldberg to Bill Cosby." Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Summer 1991.

Carson, Tom. "Cosby Knows Best." Village Voice (New York), 23 October 1984.

Carter, Richard G. "TV's Black Comfort Zone for Whites." Television Quarterly (New York), Fall 1988.

Downing, John D. H. "The Cosby Show and American Racial Discourse." In, Smitherman-Donaldson, Geneva, and Teun A. van Dijk, editors. Discourse and Discrimination. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988.

Frazer, June M., and Timothy C. Frazer. "Father Knows Best and The Cosby Show: Nostalgia and the Sitcom Tradition." Journal of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), Winter 1993.

Fuller, Linda K. The Cosby Show: Audiences, Impact, And Implications. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1992.

Gelman, Morris. "Prof Says Cosby a Symptom of TV's Impossible Ideals." Daily Variety (Los Angeles), 9 June 1987.

Gendel, Morgan. "Cosby & Co.: What Makes the Show a Hit." Los Angeles Times, 26 September 1985.

Gray, Herman. "Response to Justin Lewis and Sut Jhally." American Quarterly (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), March 1994.

_______________. "Television, Black Americans, and the American Dream." Critical Studies in Mass Communication (Annandale, Virginia), December 1989.

_______________. Watching Race: Television and theStruggle for "Blackness." Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

Hill, Doug. "Viacom Pitchmen Got a Record $500 Million For Cosby Reruns. Now the Buyers Await the Results of Their Expensive Gamble." TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 7 May 1988.

Inniss, Leslie B. "The Cosby Show: The View from the Black Middle Class." Journal of Black Studies (Newbury Park, California), July 1995.

Jhally, Sut, and Justin Lewis. Enlightened Racism: The Cosby Show, Audiences, and the Myth of the American Dream. Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1992.

Johnson, Robert B. "TV's Top Mom & Dad." Ebony (Chicago), February 1986.

Kalu, Anthonia C. "Bill Cosby, Blues and the Reconstruction of African-American Literary Theory." The Literary Griot: International Journal of Black Oral and Literary Studies (Wayne, New Jersey), Spring-Fall, 1992.

Lyons, Douglas C. "Blacks and 50 Years of TV: Ten Memorable Moments." Ebony (Chicago), September 1989.

McNeil, Alex. Total Television. New York: Penguin, 1991.

Merritt, Bishetta D. "Bill Cosby: TV Auteur." Journal of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), Spring 1991.

Miller, Jack. "Cosby a Big Hit in Canada." Hollywood Reporter (Los Ageles), 18 March 1986.

Nelson, Carlos. "White Racism and The Cosby Show: A Critique." The Black Scholar (Oakland, California), Spring, 1995.

Palmer, Gareth. "The Cosby Show--An Ideologically Based Analysis." Critical Survey (Oxford, U.K.), 1994.

Payne, Monica A. "The 'Ideal' Black Family? A Caribbean View of The Cosby Show." Journal of Black Studies (Newbury Park, California), December 1994.

Real, Michael R. Super Media: A Cultural Studies Approach. London: Sage, 1989.

Highlights
Phylicia Rashad on her audition for The Cosby Show, and what Cosby saw in her
02:53
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on "Theo Huxtable's" relationship with "Cliff Huxtable" on The Cosby Show
05:11
Jay Sandrich on how The Cosby Show stayed fresh: the premise being about the war between parents and their kids
02:00
Phylicia Rashad on the instruction Bill Cosby gave the cast at the beginning of The Cosby Show
00:17
Winifred Hervey on being the only female writer on The Cosby Show
01:52
Who talked about this show

Larry Auerbach

View Interview
Larry Auerbach on packaging The Cosby Show
05:32
Larry Auerbach on The Cosby Show's effect on the television industry
01:13
Larry Auerbach on various players who made The Cosby Show happen
03:20

Marcy Carsey

View Interview
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner on developing their first big hit, The Cosby Show
04:44
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner on when they realized that The Cosby Show would be a hit (the Monopoly scene in the pilot)
02:05
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner on the difficulty of selling The Cosby Show; on pitching the show and hiding from NBC executives
05:39
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner on the success of The Cosby Show once it aired
01:28
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner on casting The Cosby Show
05:05
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner on their day-to-day duties as Executive Producers of The Cosby Show
02:26
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner on the end of The Cosby Show run; on working with Bill Cosby
02:29

Garvin Eddy

View Interview
Garvin Eddy on the challenges of designed for The Cosby Show; depicting an upper-class black family
Garvin Eddy on the legacy of The Cosby Show
00:29

Ruth Engelhardt

View Interview
Ruth Engelhardt on her involvement with The Cosby Show
05:47

Winifred Hervey

View Interview
Winifred Hervey on being the only female writer on The Cosby Show
01:52
Winifred Hervey on leaving Benson to write for The Cosby Show
01:27
Winifred Hervey on the dynamic between "The Huxtables" on The Cosby Show and the dynamic between the actors and director Jay Sandrich
02:16
Winifred Hervey on actors going off-script on The Cosby Show and logistics on the show
01:58
Winifred Hervey on Bill Cosby's involvement with scripts on The Cosby Show
02:12
Winifred Hervey on Bill Cosby wanting The Cosby Show storylines to have educational value
01:12
Winifred Hervey on writing the "Claire's Case" episode of The Cosby Show
02:25
Winifred Hervey on the lack of censorship on The Cosby Show
00:15
Winifred Hervey on how The Cosby Show differed from other sitcoms of the day and "The Huxtables" as a TV family
01:54
Winifred Hervey on writing for the kids on The Cosby Show
00:39
Winifred Hervey on her favorite episodes of The Cosby Show
00:45
Winifred Hervey on storylines on The Cosby Show not coming from her own life; on her favorite storylines
01:47
Winifred Hervey on the legacy of The Cosby Show
01:00
Winifred Hervey on being fired from The Cosby Show
02:03

Allison Janney

View Interview
Allison Janney on meeting Bill Cosby and her appearance on The Cosby Show
00:51

Warren Littlefield

View Interview
Warren Littlefield on The Cosby Show
05:47
Warren Littlefield on The Cosby Show anchoring NBC's Thursday night line-up
02:26
Warren Littlefield on the legacy of The Cosby Show
02:33
Warren Littlefield on The Cosby Show's collaborative team
02:19
Warren Littlefield on NBC's relationship with Bill Cosby
01:42
Warren Littlefield on ending The Cosby Show
01:13

S. Epatha Merkerson

View Interview
S. Epatha Merkerson on appearing on The Cosby Show
02:21

Michael Moye

View Interview
Michael Moye on creating It's Your Move with Ron Leavitt and not liking shows that imitated The Cosby Show
02:38
Michael Moye on Married...With Children being "not The Cosbys"
03:00

Roscoe Orman

View Interview
Roscoe Orman on Matt Robinson, the original "Gordon" on Sesame Street and later head writer for The Cosby Show
02:43

Frederick S. Pierce

View Interview
Frederick S. Pierce on spin-offs and working with Carsey Werner
04:26

Phylicia Rashad

View Interview
Phylicia Rashad on her audition for The Cosby Show, and what Cosby saw in her
02:53
Phylicia Rashad on the instruction Bill Cosby gave the cast at the beginning of The Cosby Show
00:17
Phylicia Rashad on the final auditioning process for The Cosby Show
01:28
Phylicia Rashad on working with the young cast of The Cosby Show
02:01
Phylica Rashad on the various opening credit sequences of The Cosby Show
00:34
Phylicia Rashad on Bill Cosby
01:19
Phylicia Rashad on Bill Cosby's spontaneity and how he and more-structured director Jay Sandrich had to find a middle ground on The Cosby Show
01:44
Phylicia Rashad on Bill Cosby's sensibilities regarding the writing and character portrayals on The Cosby Show
03:09
Phylicia Rashad on her Cosby Show character "Claire Huxtable" and the extended family dynamic
03:12
Phylicia Rashad on the evolution of her character "Claire Huxtable" on The Cosby Show
00:57
Phylicia Rashad on how The Cosby Show reflected reality
01:19
Phylicia Rashad on Cosby Show producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner and how the cast was buffered from the business side of the show
01:12
Phylicia Rashad on a production workweek on The Cosby Show
02:09
Phylicia Rashad on Bill Cosby's ad-libbing on The Cosby Show
00:34
Phylicia Rashad on the calm of the set on The Cosby Show
00:32
Phylicia Rashad on Bill Cosby's work ethic
00:45
Phylicia Rashad on favorite moments/ guest stars from The Cosby Show episodes
01:06
Phylicia Rashad on fan favorite episodes from The Cosby Show
00:55
Phylicia Rashad about her interaction with fans of The Cosby Show, including Nelson Mandela who informed her that he watched it while incarcerated at Robben Island Prison
02:11
Phylicia Rashad to why The Cosby Show was so popular
01:45
Phylicia Rashad on where The Cosby Show's "Cliff and Claire Huxtable" would be today
00:31
Phylicia Rashad on the final moments of taping of The Cosby Show
00:44
Phylicia Rashad on Bill Cosby's real life relationship with his wife
02:53
Phylicia Rashad on Cosby Show co-star Malcolm-Jamal Warner
01:16
Phylicia Rashad on Cosby Show co-star Lisa Bonet
01:19
Phylicia Rashad on Cosby Show co-star Sabrina Le Beauf
00:38
Phylicia Rashad on Cosby Show co-star Tempestt Bledsoe
00:44
Phylicia Rashad on Cosby Show co-star Keshia Knight Pulliam
01:08
Phylicia Rashad on hiding her real life pregnancy on The Cosby Show
00:20

Jay Sandrich

View Interview
Jay Sandrich on how The Cosby Show stayed fresh: the premise being about the war between parents and their kids
02:00
Jay Sandrich on putting together and casting The Cosby Show
09:25
Jay Sandrich on the technical aspects of The Cosby Show and the thrill of having the number one show be about an African American family, and working with Bill Cosby
03:18
Jay Sandrich on the technical challenges of filming The Cosby Show in New York
03:46
Jay Sandrich on guest actors who appeared on The Cosby Show: Sheldon Leonard, Lena Horne, Stevie Wonder
04:25
Jay Sandrich on The Cosby Show episode "Denise's Friend," and directing an episode that didn't start out as being funny and finding the humor
04:49
Jay Sandrich on the final episode of The Cosby Show, and knowing when a series has gone on too long
03:41
Jay Sandrich on Dizzy Gilllespie appearing on The Cosby Show and being unable to remember his lines
01:10

Leslie Uggams

View Interview
Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Cosby Show
00:18

Malcolm-Jamal Warner

View Interview
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on "Theo Huxtable's" relationship with "Cliff Huxtable" on The Cosby Show
05:11
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on being cast as "Theo Huxtable" on The Cosby Show
05:26
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on black culture on The Cosby Show
00:58
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on his character "Theo Huxtable" on The Cosby Show
08:13
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on how his character "Theo Huxtable" evolved on The Cosby Show
03:12
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on "Theo Huxtable's" look on The Cosby Show
03:58
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on working with Bill Cosby on The Cosby Show
06:08
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on shooting the pilot for The Cosby Show
05:07
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on what he believes The Cosby Show was trying to achieve
01:48
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on a typical Cosby Show production week
06:02
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on dealing with Standards and Practices on The Cosby Show
02:11
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on his education during The Cosby Show
04:12
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on "Theo Huxtable's" relationship with "Clair Huxtable" on The Cosby Show
01:31
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on "Theo Huxtable's" relationship with "Vanessa Huxtable" on The Cosby Show
01:41
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on "Theo Huxtable's" relationship with "Denise Huxtable" on The Cosby Show
03:12
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on the cast of The Cosby Show
06:58
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on working with Phylicia Rashad as "Clair Huxtable" on The Cosby Show
02:17
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on his favorite Cosby Show episodes
08:12
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on directing The Cosby Show
05:40
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on being nominated for an Emmy for The Cosby Show
01:36
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on the end of The Cosby Show
01:34
Malcolm-Jamal Warner on the legacy of The Cosby Show
04:06

Tom Werner

View Interview
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner on developing their first big hit, The Cosby Show
04:44
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner on when they realized that The Cosby Show would be a hit (the Monopoly scene in the pilot)
02:05
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner on the difficulty of selling The Cosby Show; on pitching the show and hiding from NBC executives
05:39
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner on the success of The Cosby Show once it aired
01:28
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner on casting The Cosby Show
05:05
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner on their day-to-day duties as Executive Producers of The Cosby Show
02:26
Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner on the end of The Cosby Show run; on working with Bill Cosby
02:29

All Shows

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
J
L
M
P
R
S
T
W