The Cosby Show

The Cosby Show is an American sitcom television series co-created by and starring Bill Cosby, which aired for eight seasons on NBC from September 20, 1984, until April 30, 1992. The show focuses on an upper middle-class African-American family living in Brooklyn, New York.

The Cosby Show
GenreSitcom
Created byEd. Weinberger
Michael Leeson
Bill Cosby
StarringBill Cosby
Phylicia Rashad
Sabrina Le Beauf
Geoffrey Owens
Lisa Bonet
Joseph C. Phillips
Malcolm-Jamal Warner
Tempestt Bledsoe
Keshia Knight Pulliam
Raven Symoné
Erika Alexander
Theme music composerStu Gardner
Bill Cosby
Opening theme"Kiss Me"; performed by:
Bobby McFerrin (season 4)
Oregon Symphony (season 5)
Craig Handy (seasons 6–7)
Lester Bowie (season 8)
Ending theme"Kiss Me" (instrumental; various versions)
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons8
No. of episodes201 (plus outtakes special) (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)Marcy Carsey
Tom Werner
Bernie Kukoff (season 7)
Janet Leahy (season 8)
Production location(s)Kaufman Astoria Studios
Astoria, New York, U.S.
Camera setupVideotape; Multi-camera
Running time23–24 minutes
Production company(s)Carsey-Werner Productions
Bill Cosby Productions
DistributorViacom Enterprises
Release
Original networkNBC
Picture format480i (NTSC)
Original releaseSeptember 20, 1984 (1984-09-20) 
April 30, 1992 (1992-04-30)
Chronology
Preceded byThe Bill Cosby Show
Related showsA Different World
External links
Website

The Cosby Show spent five consecutive seasons as the number-one rated show on television. The Cosby Show and All in the Family are the only sitcoms in the history of the Nielsen ratings to be the number-one show for five seasons. It spent all eight of its seasons in the top 20.[1]

According to TV Guide, the show "was TV's biggest hit in the 1980s, and almost single-handedly revived the sitcom genre and NBC's ratings fortunes."[2] TV Guide also ranked it 28th on their list of 50 Greatest Shows.[3] In addition, Cliff Huxtable was named as the "Greatest Television Dad".[4]

In May 1992, Entertainment Weekly stated that The Cosby Show helped to make possible a larger variety of shows with a predominantly black cast, from In Living Color to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.[5] The Cosby Show was based on comedy routines in Cosby's stand-up act, which in turn were based on his family life. The show led to the spinoff A Different World, which ran for six seasons from 1987 to 1993.

Premise

The show focuses on the Huxtable family, an upper middle-class African-American family, living in a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights, New York, at 10 Stigwood Avenue.[6] The patriarch is Cliff Huxtable, an obstetrician and son of a prominent jazz trombonist. The matriarch is his wife, attorney Clair Huxtable.[7]

They have four daughters and one son: Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa, and Rudy. Despite its comedic tone, the show sometimes involves serious subjects, like Theo's experiences dealing with dyslexia,[8] inspired by Cosby's dyslexic son, Ennis.[9] The show also deals with teen pregnancy when Denise's friend, Veronica (Lela Rochon), becomes pregnant.[10]

Episodes

SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedRankRatingTied with
First airedLast aired
124September 20, 1984 (1984-09-20)May 9, 1985 (1985-05-09)324.2N/A
225September 26, 1985 (1985-09-26)May 15, 1986 (1986-05-15)133.7N/A
325September 25, 1986 (1986-09-25)May 7, 1987 (1987-05-07)134.9N/A
424September 24, 1987 (1987-09-24)April 28, 1988 (1988-04-28)127.8N/A
526October 6, 1988 (1988-10-06)May 11, 1989 (1989-05-11)125.6N/A
626 + SpecialSeptember 21, 1989 (1989-09-21)May 3, 1990 (1990-05-03)123.1Roseanne
726September 20, 1990 (1990-09-20)May 2, 1991 (1991-05-02)517.1N/A
825September 19, 1991 (1991-09-19)April 30, 1992 (1992-04-30)1815.0N/A

Pilot

The Cosby Show pilot episode uses the same title sequence as the rest of the first season, and is widely regarded as the first episode. However, it is notable for a number of differences from the remainder of the series.

In the pilot, the Huxtables have only four children.[11] Following the pilot, the Huxtables have five children, with the addition of their eldest daughter, Sondra (Sabrina Le Beauf), who is mentioned in episode four and appears first in episode 11. The character was created when Bill Cosby wanted the show to express the accomplishment of successfully raising a child (i.e., a college graduate).[12]

Bill Cosby originally wanted Vanessa L. Williams to play the part of "Sondra" due to her college education and background in theater arts. However, Williams was recently crowned the first black Miss America and pageant officials would not permit her to play the role while she was representing the Miss America pageant. Whitney Houston was also considered for the role of Sondra Huxtable, but was unable to commit to the full-time television production schedule in the NBC contract, as she was intending to be a full-time music recording artist.[13][14]

Most of the story in the pilot presentation is taken from Bill Cosby's classic comedy film Bill Cosby: Himself. Cosby's character is called "Clifford" in the early episodes of the first season (as evidenced by his name plate on the exterior of the Huxtable home). His name was later switched to "Heathcliff". Although, in one episode, Clair calls him "Heathclifford".

Additionally, Vanessa refers to Theo as "Teddy" twice in the dining room scene. The interior of the Huxtables' home features an entirely different living room from subsequent episodes, and different color schemes in the dining room and the master bedroom. Throughout the remainder of the series, the dining room is reserved for more formal occasions.

Background and production

Conception and development

In the early 1980s, Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, two former executives at ABC, left the network to start their own production company.[15] At ABC, they had overseen sitcoms such as Mork & Mindy, Three's Company, and Welcome Back, Kotter. The two decided that to get a sitcom to sell for their fledgling company, they needed a big name behind it. Bill Cosby, who starred in two failed sitcoms during the 1970s, produced award-winning stand-up comedy albums, and had roles in several different films, was relatively quiet during the early 1980s. According to a Chicago Tribune article from July, 1985, despite Carsey and Werner's connection to the network, Lewis Erlicht, president of ABC Entertainment, passed on the show, prompting a pitch to rival network, NBC.

Outside of his work on his cartoon series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, Cosby was doing little in film or television, but Carsey and Werner were fans of Cosby's stand-up comedy and thought it would be the perfect material for a family sitcom.[16]

Cosby originally proposed that the couple should both have blue-collar jobs, with the father a limousine driver,[17] who owned his own car, and the mother an electrician.[18] With advice from his wife Camille Cosby, though, the concept was changed so that the family was well-off financially, with the mother a lawyer and the father a physician.[19][20]

Cosby wanted the program to be educational, reflecting his own background in education. He also insisted that the program be taped in New York City instead of Los Angeles, where most television programs were taped.[21] The Huxtable home exterior was filmed at 10 St. Luke's Place near 7th Avenue in Manhattan's Greenwich Village (although in the show, the residence was the fictional "10 Stigwood Avenue").[22]

Production notes

The earliest episodes of the series were videotaped at NBC's Brooklyn studios (subsequently JC Studios).[23] The network later sold that building, and production moved to the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens.[24] Even though the show was set to take place in Brooklyn, the exterior façade was actually of a brownstone townhouse located in Manhattan's Greenwich Village at 10 Leroy Street/ 10 St. Luke's Place.[25] The pilot was filmed in May 1984, with season one's production commencing in July 1984, and the first taping on August 1, 1984 (Goodbye Mr. Goldfish).[26][27]

During its original run on NBC, it was one of five successful sitcoms on the network that featured predominantly African-American casts. The other sitcoms were 227 (1985–90), Amen (1986–91), Cosby Show spin-off A Different World (1987–93), and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990–96). Five other NBC sitcoms of that time also featured black actors and actresses in lead starring or supporting roles — Nell Carter and Telma Hopkins on Gimme a Break (1981−87); Leonard Lightfoot, and later Franklyn Seales and Alfonso Ribeiro on Silver Spoons (1982−86), Cherie Johnson on Punky Brewster (1984–88), Kim Fields on The Facts of Life (1979−88), and Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges on Diff'rent Strokes (1978–85).

Although the cast and characters were predominantly African American,[28] the program was unusual in that issues of race were rarely mentioned when compared to other situation comedies of the time, such as The Jeffersons.[29] However, The Cosby Show had African-American themes, such as the Civil Rights Movement, and it frequently promoted African-American and African culture represented by artists and musicians such as Jacob Lawrence, Miles Davis, James Brown, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miriam Makeba.[30]

The show's spin off, A Different World, dealt with issues of race more often.[31] The series finale (taped on March 6, 1992)[32] aired during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, with Cosby quoted in media at the time pleading for peace.[33][34]

During the third season of the show, actress Phylicia Rashad was pregnant with her daughter Condola Rashād. Rather than write this pregnancy into the character of Claire Huxtable, the producers simply greatly reduced Rashad's scenes or filmed in such a way that her pregnancy was not noticeable.[35]

Another pregnancy of one of the main stars, that of Lisa Bonet, almost caused the actress to be fired, especially coming in the wake of appearing in the film Angel Heart, which contained graphic sexual scenes with actor Mickey Rourke. Bill Cosby strongly disapproved of Bonet appearing in the film, but she was allowed to retain her role on A Different World until returning to The Cosby Show after her pregnancy. Tensions remained, however, and Bonet was eventually fired from the show in April 1991.[36]

Theme song and opening sequence

The show's theme music, "Kiss Me", was composed by Stu Gardner and Bill Cosby.[37] Seven versions of this theme were used during the run of the series, making it one of the few television series to use multiple versions of the same theme song over the course of a series. For season four, the theme song music was performed by musician Bobby McFerrin.[38]

Due to legal complications regarding the background mural, the opening for season seven (filmed in August 1990) was replaced with the one from the previous season.[39][40][41] The original season-seven opening, with slight modifications, returned to use in the beginning of season eight.

Cast and characters

Actor Character Seasons
12345678
Bill CosbyDr. Heathcliff "Cliff" HuxtableMain
Phylicia Rashad*Clair Hanks HuxtableMain
Lisa BonetDenise Huxtable–KendallMainRecurringMain
Malcolm-Jamal WarnerTheodore "Theo" HuxtableMain
Tempestt BledsoeVanessa HuxtableMain
Keshia Knight PulliamRudith "Rudy" Lilian HuxtableMain
Sabrina Le BeaufSondra Huxtable–TibideauxRecurringMain
Geoffrey OwensElvin TibideauxRecurringMain
Joseph C. Phillips+Lt. Martin KendallMainRecurring
Raven-SymonéOlivia KendallMain
Erika AlexanderPamela "Pam" TuckerMain

*Phylicia Rashad was credited as "Phylicia Ayers-Allen" during season one and the first fourteen episodes of season two.

+Prior to joining the cast as a regular, Joseph C. Phillips appears as Daryl, a potential boyfriend for Sondra in season two (episode: "Cliff in Love").

Reception and legacy

The show's portrayal of a successful, stable black family was praised by some for breaking racial stereotypes and showing another part of the African-American experience.[42][43] However, it was criticized by others, including Henry Louis Gates, for allowing white audiences to think that racism and poverty were problems of the past.[44] As a result of the sexual assault allegations against Cosby, Malcolm-Jamal Warner has stated that the show's legacy is "tarnished".[45]

The Cosby Show had generated $2.5 billion in television revenue, including $1 billion from TV advertising,[46] and $1.5 billion from syndication.[47]

Broadcast history and ratings

The Cosby Show aired on Thursdays at 8:00 pm for all eight seasons.[48] In its first season, the show was the beginning of a Thursday NBC schedule that was followed by Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court, and Hill Street Blues.[49]

The Cosby Show is one of three television programs (All in the Family and American Idol being the others) that were number one in the Nielsen ratings for five consecutive seasons.[50][51][52]

Season Season premiere Season finale Time slot (ET) Ranking Households
(in millions)
1 1984–85 September 20, 1984 May 9, 1985 Thursday at 8:00 pm No. 3[53] 20.546 (24.2 rating)[53]
2 1985–86 September 26, 1985 May 15, 1986 No. 1[54] 28.948 (33.7 rating)[54]
3 1986–87 September 25, 1986 May 7, 1987 No. 1[55] 30.503 (34.9 rating)[55]
4 1987–88 September 24, 1987 April 28, 1988 No. 1[56] 30.502 (34.9 rating)[56]
5 1988–89 October 6, 1988 May 11, 1989 No. 1[57] 23.142 (25.6 rating)[57]
6 1989–90 September 21, 1989 May 3, 1990 No. 1 (tie with Roseanne)[58] 21.275 (23.1 rating)[58]
7 1990–91 September 20, 1990 May 2, 1991 No. 5[59] 15.920 (17.1 rating)[59]
8 1991–92 September 19, 1991 April 30, 1992 No. 18[60] 13.815 (15.0 rating)[60]

Syndication

Carsey-Werner handles domestic distribution, while CBS Television Distribution handles international distribution of the series, and has done so since 1997. In the United States, The Cosby Show began its television syndication run in September 1988 in broadcast syndication, shortly before the show's fifth-season premiere, and was at the time distributed by Viacom; many stations that carried the series were Big Three network affiliates. As time went on, this moved to lower-profile timeslots, independent stations and minor network affiliates.

Fort Worth, Texas-based independent station, KTVT, carried the series until 1995, when it ceased operating as a regional cable superstation and became an affiliate of CBS. TBS, then a national cable superstation, carried the series for nearly a decade beginning in 1999. Fellow superstation WGN America began carrying the series shortly thereafter, and continued to until September 2010. Viacom's Nick at Nite began airing reruns of the series in March 2002, and its sister network TV Land began airing reruns in 2004, making The Cosby Show one of the few series that were shown on both Nick at Nite and TV Land at the same time.

Late 2010s removal from syndication

Reruns of The Cosby Show have been pulled from several networks and venues as a result of Cosby's eventual conviction for sexual assault. In November 2014, TV Land pulled the series from its lineup.[61][62] In December 2014, the Magic Johnson-owned network Aspire removed the show from its lineup.[63]

BET's Centric (another Viacom unit) ceased airing reruns of The Cosby Show. At the same time, barter syndicator The Program Exchange ceased distributing the latter show.[64][65] Bounce TV