I am a Bill Cosby fan, so when I was asked if I’d allow a guest post in honor of his birthday this week, how could I refuse? (This is NOT a sponsored post.)
The Cosby Show – revisited
The 1980s was a much different time in American culture than the current era, a period in which a television show featuring a middle-class African-American family was a revelation and something never seen before. The Cosby Show was a landmark TV comedy even without considering race — but with race in mind, it was a groundbreaking one. As star Bill Cosby turns 76 this week, let’s take a look at how The Cosby Show helped make the entertainment world ready for Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey, and many more African-American TV stars whose shows didn’t revolve around the projects or even make a big deal of their families being a part of mainstream America.
Inspired by his standup comedy show triumph Bill Cosby: Himself, the star and network NBC created a show focused on the family life of the Cosby-like Dr. Cliff Huxtable. In fact, many of the jokes from the first season of the show are taken word-for-word from Himself. It was natural for the new sitcom to feature an upper-middle-class African-American family, since that is what Cosby himself had and talked about during that comedy special. (In fact, Cosby’s TV family and real family both had four girls and one boy, the boy being the middle child.) NBC, however, didn’t have high hopes for the series, especially since it would go head-to-head on Thursday nights with the hugely popular Magnum, P.I. on CBS. They needn’t have worried, however; Cosby soon pulled ahead of Magnum in the ratings, prompting Bill Cosby himself to rub it in by wearing a Magnum ball cap on an episode of his own show.
Bill Cosby is known for being socially active and even somewhat harsh in his criticism of all races when it comes to racism and hypocrisy. Cliff Huxtable, on the other hand, was always an avuncular presence, wearing sweaters and college sweatshirts and dispensing funny fatherly advice to his kids. Also, Clair Huxtable kept her husband in line with sharp wisecracks as well as warm understanding. The show was sometimes criticized for not consistently taking on racial issues such as poverty and crime, but Cosby retorted that this was not demanded of shows featuring Caucasians although many people of that race also live in such conditions. To its fans, The Cosby Show was just a funny and heartwarming TV program.
A Trend-Setting Star
It’s fair to say that without The Cosby Show, which ran from 1984 to 1992, shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, starring clean rapper Will Smith, or That’s So Raven, starring Cosby regular Raven-Symone, would have had a harder time getting off the ground. But Cosby — and Cosby — showed that African American characters can be people first and then, if the time is right, symbols later.
As of his 76th birthday this week, Bill Cosby has created some of the most indelible entertainments of the late 20th Century, from I Spy in the 1960s, Fat Albert in the ’70s, and The Cosby Show in the ’80s and ’90s. And he hasn’t stopped making people laugh: he still does standup comedy on tour all throughout the year, and those shows consistently sell out from Las Vegas to New York to Miami. His books still sell briskly. He is still an icon of humor among all races, a breakthrough for those entertainers who followed.
Author Bio: Spencer Blohm is a television and movie blogger for DirectTV who covers everything from previews and new releases to classic films and shows from the ‘70s and ‘80s. He’s been a huge Cosby fan since he was a child. He lives and works in Chicago.
Happy Birthday Bill!
What’s your favorite work of Bill Cosby?