• July 19, 2024

The Cosby Show: Unforgettable old memories

Synopsis of TV Show

Not to be confused with The Bill Cosby Show, The New Bill Cosby Show, Cos, The Cosby Mysteries or Cosby, The Cosby Show was the 80’s hit that not only introduced a new generation to the comedian, but also became the grandfather of NBC’s Must-See Thursday Nights. In 1984, popular opinion held that the age of the situation comedy was over. Bill Cosby would prove otherwise. So what was the magic formula? Basically, Cosby made families cool.

Originally the show was to center around a blue-collar family featuring the dad as a limousine driver and the mother as a plumber. That’s truly hard to imagine when you consider that one of the outstanding aspects of the series was that it was the first to feature African Americans as affluent middle class people. By the time NBC picked up the show, patriarch Cliff Huxtable (Cosby) was an obstetrician, and his wife, Clair, was a lawyer. Somehow, the busy couple managed to raise five children (four according to the pilot).

Still living in the family’s New York home were teenagers Denise and Theo, eleven-year-old Vanessa and four-year-old Rudy. A few months into the series, eldest daughter Sondra, who attended Princeton, was also introduced. The younger characters on the show were based on Cosby’s real-life children, making this a realistic experience for at least one TV dad.

Cosby exerted a lot of creative power over The Cosby Show, and he used it well. For one thing, although the Huxtable family was proud of its heritage, being black was never an issue to them or anyone else. In their world, it was not unusual for a black family to be headed by two professionals and for everyone to have friends of different races. While accepted by most viewers, these aspects of the series were often criticized by some people as being unrealistic. Some critics wanted a show more reflective of the realities facing most African-American families. But the fact is that everyone, no matter their race, wished their family could be more like the Huxtable clan. Not many families plan choreographed, lip-synched productions numbers for their grandparents’ anniversary, but didn’t you wish yours did?

The family-friendly material worked wonders on NBC’s ratings. The Cosby Show was an enormous hit, spending four consecutive years at #1 and leading off a Thursday night lineup that would include shows like Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court, Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law.

But even The Cosby Show was not above adding characters to keep the series fresh. In 1987, Sondra married the easily intimidated Elvin Tibideaux and had twins Nelson and Winnie (as in Mandela) the following year. Meanwhile, Denise had managed to graduate high school and get accepted to Hillman, a prominently black university that Cliff had attended. This led to the spin-off A Different World.

Denise made only sporadic visits to The Cosby Show until 1989, when she returned full time as the wife of Lieutenant Martin Kendall and stepmom of three-year-old Olivia (whose cuteness filled the “wisecracking little kid” void left by a maturing Rudy). In 1990, the family tree grew another branch as Clair’s young cousin, Pam Turner, moved in. In the final episode, the entire family celebrated Theo’s graduation from college, thus ending one of the most popular sitcoms of the eighties.

The Cosby Show was certainly popular, but it was more than just a ratings-getter. The show was a landmark in African American television, and like Family Ties, it was the perfect sitcom for the Reagan years: money was plentiful, nuclear families shared laughs and tears, and everybody left with a warm fuzzy. Life may not always have been like The Cosby Show (in fact, it’s probably never been exactly like The Cosby Show), but Bill and his TV family made life look pretty darned good.

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