The Cosby Show

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Not to be confused with Cosby or The Bill Cosby Show.
The Cosby Show
Cosby Show - Logo.png
Genre Sitcom
Created by Ed. Weinberger
Michael Leeson
Bill Cosby
Starring Bill Cosby
Phylicia Rashād
Sabrina Le Beauf
Malcolm-Jamal Warner
Lisa Bonet
Tempestt Bledsoe
Keshia Knight Pulliam
Geoffrey Owens
Raven-Symoné
Erika Alexander
Theme music composer Stu 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 origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 8
No. of episodes 202 (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) Marcy Carsey
Tom Werner
Bernie Kukoff (season 7)
Janet Leahy (season 8)
Camera setup Videotape; multi-camera
Running time 22–26 minutes
Production company(s) Carsey-Werner Productions
Bill Cosby
Distributor Viacom Enterprises (1988–1995)
Paramount Domestic Television (1995–97)
Carsey-Werner Distribution (1997–present)
Broadcast
Original channel NBC
Picture format 480i (NTSC)
Original run September 20, 1984 (1984-09-20) – April 30, 1992 (1992-04-30)
Chronology
Related shows A Different World

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

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".[1] Entertainment Weekly stated that The Cosby Show helped to make possible a larger variety of shows with a predominantly African-American cast, from In Living Color to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.[2]

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 spawned the spin-off A Different World, which ran for six seasons from 1987 to 1993.

Premise[edit]

The brownstone used in The Cosby Show

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.[3] The patriarch is Heathcliff "Cliff" Huxtable, an obstetrician, son of a prominent jazz trombonist. The matriarch is his wife, attorney Clair Huxtable née Hanks.[4] They have five children, four daughters and one son: Sondra, Denise, Theodore (Theo for short), Vanessa and Rudy. Despite its comedic tone, the show sometimes involves serious subjects, such as Theo's experiences dealing with dyslexia,[5] inspired by Cosby's son Ennis, who was also dyslexic.[6] The show also deals with teenage pregnancy when Denise's friend, Veronica, played by Lela Rochon, becomes pregnant.[7]

Episodes[edit]

Pilot[edit]

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.[8] 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 ten. The character was created when Bill Cosby wanted the show to express the accomplishment of successfully raising a child (i.e., a college graduate).[9] Whitney Houston was considered for the role of Sondra Huxtable. Houston, however, 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.[10][11]

Bill 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". 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[edit]

Conception and development[edit]

The cast of The Cosby Show in 1989
Makeup used in The Cosby Show

In the early 1980s, Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, two former executives at ABC, left the network to start their own production company.[12] At ABC, they had overseen sitcoms such as Mork & Mindy, Three's Company and Welcome Back, Kotter. The two decided in order to get a sitcom to sell for their fledgling company, they needed a big name behind it. Bill Cosby, who during the 1970s starred in two failed sitcoms, produced award-winning stand-up comedy albums, and had roles in several different films, was relatively quiet during the early 1980s.

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 Warner were fans of Cosby's stand-up comedy and thought it would be the perfect material for a family sitcom.[13]

Cosby originally proposed that the couple should both have blue-collar jobs, with the father a limousine driver,[14] who owned his own car, and the mother an electrician.[15] But with advice from his wife, the concept was changed so that the family was well-off financially, with the mother a lawyer and the father a doctor.[16][17]

Cosby wanted the program to be educational, reflecting his own background in education.[citation needed] He also insisted that the program be taped in New York City instead of Los Angeles, where most television programs were taped.[18] 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").[19]

Production notes[edit]

The earliest episodes of the series were videotaped at NBC's Brooklyn studios (now owned by JC Studios).[20] The network later sold that building, and production moved to the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens.[21] 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. [22]

During its original run at NBC, it was one of five successful sitcoms on the network that featured predominately African-American casts. The other sitcoms were 227 (1985–1990), Amen (1986–1991), Cosby Show spin-off A Different World (1987–1993), and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990–1996).

Although the cast and characters were predominately African American,[23] 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.[24] 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.[25] The show's spin-off, A Different World dealt with issues of race more often.[26]

The series finale (taped on March 6, 1992)[27] aired during the race-related 1992 Los Angeles riots, with Cosby quoted in media at the time pleading for peace.[28][29]

Theme song and opening sequence[edit]

The show's theme music, "Kiss Me", was composed by Stu Gardner and Bill Cosby.[30] 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.[31]

Due to legal complications regarding the background mural, the opening for season seven was replaced with the one from the previous season.[32][33] The original season seven opening, with slight modifications, was also used in season eight.

Cast and characters[edit]

Actor Character Seasons
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Bill Cosby Dr. Heathcliff "Cliff" Huxtable Main
Phylicia Rashād* Clair Olivia Hanks Huxtable Main
Lisa Bonet Denise Huxtable Kendall Main Recurring Main
Malcolm-Jamal Warner Theodore "Theo" Aloysius Huxtable Main
Tempestt Bledsoe Vanessa Huxtable Main
Keshia Knight Pulliam Rudith "Rudy" Lilian Huxtable Main
Sabrina Le Beauf Sondra Huxtable Tibideaux Recurring Main
Geoffrey Owens Elvin Tibideaux Recurring Main
Joseph C. Phillips Lt. Martin Kendall Main Recurring
Raven-Symoné Olivia Kendall Main
Erika Alexander Pamela "Pam" Tucker Main

*Phylicia Rashād 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[edit]

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.[34][35] 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.[36]

Broadcast history and ratings[edit]

The Cosby Show aired on Thursdays at 8:00pm for all eight seasons.[37] 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.[38]

The Cosby Show is one of three television programs (All in the Family and American Idol being the others) that was #1 in the Nielsen ratings for 5 consecutive seasons.[39][40][41]

Season Season premiere Season finale TV season Ranking Households
(in millions)
1 September 20, 1984 May 9, 1985 1984–1985 #3[42] 20.546 (24.2 rating)[42]
2 September 26, 1985 May 15, 1986 1985–1986 #1[43] 28.948 (33.7 rating)[43]
3 September 25, 1986 May 7, 1987 1986–1987 #1[44] 30.503 (34.9 rating)[44]
4 September 24, 1987 April 28, 1988 1987–1988 #1[45] 24.630 (27.8 rating)[45]
5 October 6, 1988 May 11, 1989 1988–1989 #1[46] 23.142 (25.6 rating)[46]
6 September 24, 1989 May 3, 1990 1989–1990 #1 (tie with Roseanne)[47] 21.275 (23.1 rating)[47]
7 September 20, 1990 May 2, 1991 1990–1991 #5[48] 15.920 (17.1 rating)[48]
8 September 19, 1991 April 30, 1992 1991–1992 #18[49] 13.815 (15.0 rating)[49]

Syndication[edit]

Carsey-Werner Distribution handles domestic and 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, though since the mid-1990s, the show has largely begun airing on independent stations and minor network affiliates.

Dallas-based KTVT (now a CBS owned-and-operated station), carried the series during the early 1990s, until that station dropped its status as an independent station and regional cable superstation in 1995. TBS, then a national cable superstation at the time it debuted on the channel, began carrying the series in 1999 and ran it for almost a decade. Fellow superstation WGN America began carrying the series shortly after, and continued to until September 2010. Nick at Nite began airing reruns of the series in March 2002. Sister network TV Land began airing reruns in 2004, however, unlike most series that have aired on sister channel Nick at Nite before moving to TV Land in the past and since then, up until September 2010, The Cosby Show was carried on both Nick at Nite and TV Land. As of September 2012 TV Land has resumed broadcasting the series.

As of September 27, 2010, Centric airs the series. Malaysia's national TV broadcast channel RTM TV2 also airs the series, as does Canada's Crossroads Television System. In 2011, Netflix added the entire series to instant stream, before removing it in 2012. It is now available on Hulu Plus.

Spin-off[edit]

Main article: A Different World

The Cosby Show's producers created a spin-off series called A Different World that was built around the "Denise" character (portrayed by actress Lisa Bonet), the second of the Huxtables' four daughters. Initially, the new program dealt with Denise's life at Hillman College, the fictional historically black college from which her father, mother, and paternal grandfather had graduated. Denise was written out of A Different World after its inaugural season, due to Bonet's pregnancy, and the following season was revamped, with the addition of director Debbie Allen and new characters.[50] Denise later became a recurring character on The Cosby Show for seasons four and five, and a regular again in seasons six and seven.

Awards and honors[edit]

Awards won[edit]

Emmy Awards[51]

  • Outstanding Comedy Series (1985)
  • Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series (1985) – Michael Leeson and Ed. Weinberger for the pilot episode
  • Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series (1985) – Jay Sandrich for "The Younger Woman"
  • Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series (1986) – Jay Sandrich for "Denise's Friend"
  • Outstanding Guest Performer in a Comedy Series (1986) – Roscoe Lee Browne for "The Card Game"
  • Outstanding Editing for a Series – Multi-Camera Production (1986) – Henry Chan for "Full House"

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best TV Series – Comedy (1985)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Series – Comedy – Bill Cosby (1985, 1986) 2 wins

NAACP Image Awards

  • Outstanding Comedy Series (1988)
  • Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series – Phylicia Rashād (1988, 1989) 2 wins
  • Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series – Bill Cosby (1989, 1993) 2 wins

Peabody Award (1986)

People's Choice Awards

  • Favorite New TV Comedy Program (1985)
  • Favorite Male Performer in a New TV Program – Bill Cosby (1985)
  • Favorite Female Performer in a New TV Program – Phylicia Rashād (1985)
  • Favorite TV Comedy Program (1985–89) 5 wins
  • Favorite Male TV Performer – Bill Cosby (1986–92) 7 wins
  • Favorite All-Around Male Entertainer – Bill Cosby (1986–88, 1990–91) 5 wins
  • Favorite Young TV Performer – Keshia Knight Pulliam (1988)
  • All-Time Favorite TV Program (1989)
  • Favorite Female TV Performer – Phylicia Rashād (1989)
  • Favorite All-Around Male Star – Bill Cosby (1989)
  • Favorite TV Comedy Series (1990, 1992) 2 wins

Nominations[edit]

Emmy Awards[51]

  • Outstanding Technical Direction/Electronic Camerawork/video control for a series – 1985
  • Outstanding Live and Tape Sound Mixing and Sound Effects for a series – (1985) 2 nominations
  • Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series – (1985–86)
  • Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series – Phylicia Rashād (1985–86) 2 nominations
  • Outstanding Comedy Series (1986–87) 2 nominations
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series – Lisa Bonet (1986)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series – Keshia Knight Pulliam (1986)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series – Malcolm-Jamal Warner (1986)
  • Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy Series or a Special – (1986–87)
  • Outstanding Editing for a Series (multi camera production) – (1987)
  • Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series – Jay Sandrich (1987)
  • Outstanding Comedy Series – (1987)
  • Outstanding Guest Performer in a Comedy Series – Eileen Heckart (1988)
  • Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series – Sammy Davis Jr. (1989)

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best TV Series-Comedy (1986–87) 2 nominations
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Series – Comedy – Bill Cosby (1987)

Other honors[edit]

  • 1993: TV Guide named The Cosby Show the All-Time Best Family Show in its issue celebrating 40 years of television.[52]
  • 1997: TV Guide ranked the episode "Happy Anniversary" #54 on their list of the 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time[53]
  • 1999: Entertainment Weekly placed show's debut at #24 in its list of the "100 Greatest Moments in Television"[54]
  • 2002: TV Guide placed The Cosby Show at #28 in its list of the 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time[55]
  • 2004: TV Guide ranked Cliff Huxtable number 1 on its 50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time list[56]
  • 2004: Bravo ranked Cliff Huxtable #44 on its list of the 100 Greatest TV Characters[57]
  • 2007: Time magazine placed the show on its unranked list of "100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME"[58]
  • 2007: USA Today's web site ranked the show as #8 in its list of the "top 25 TV moments of the past quarter century"[59]
  • 2008: Entertainment Weekly selected Cliff Huxtable as the Dad for "The Perfect TV Family"[60]

Albums[edit]

Two albums were produced that included various theme and background music from the show. The albums were presented by longtime Cosby collaborator Stu Gardner. They were:

  • A House Full of Love: Music from The Cosby Show (1986)
  • Total Happiness (Music from the Bill Cosby Show, Vol. II) (1987)

In popular culture[edit]

  • During the series' run, the character of Cliff Huxtable frequently wore an array of knit sweaters that were often brightly colored and featured abstract, asymmetrical patterns or themes. The sweaters were erroneously thought to be designed by the Australian clothing company Coogi, but were actually designed by Dutchman Koos van der Akker.[61][62][63] They were dubbed "Cosby sweaters", a term that is used to describe sweaters that are generally deemed garish and unappealing.[64][65] In 2008, Cosby's daughter Evin auctioned a batch of the sweaters that her father had kept on eBay. The proceeds of the sales went to the Hello Friend/Ennis William Cosby Foundation, a non-profit charity named for Ennis Cosby. Ennis, Cosby's only son, was murdered in 1997.[66]
  • The character of Dr. Hibbert, who is featured on the long-running animated sitcom The Simpsons, is modeled after Dr. Cliff Huxtable. The Simpsons writing staff decided to make Dr. Hibbert a parody of Cliff Huxtable after the Fox Network moved The Simpsons to Thursday nights airing opposite the top-rated The Cosby Show.[67]

DVD releases[edit]

All eight seasons of The Cosby Show have been released on DVD in Region 1. Seasons one and two were released by UrbanWorks which was subsequently acquired by First Look Studios, who then released the remaining six seasons. Seasons one and two contain special features including the 90-minute retrospective documentary entitled "The Cosby Show: A Look Back" which aired on NBC in 2002. It contains interviews with cast members, bloopers, deleted scenes and audition footage. In 2010, First Look Studios filed bankruptcy and all its assets were subsequently acquired by Millennium Entertainment who also took over distribution of The Cosby Show DVD releases. As of 2013, these releases have been discontinued and are now out of print.

On November 5, 2013, it was announced that Mill Creek Entertainment had acquired the rights to the series. They subsequently re-released the first two seasons on January 21, 2014.[68] Seasons 3 & 4 will be re-released on April 15, 2014.[69]

In Region 4, Magna Pacific has released all eight seasons on DVD in Australia and New Zealand. The first two seasons have similar artwork to the North American copies, although season two is red rather than blue. Each Australian cover also features the tagline "In a house full of love, there is always room for more".

Universal Pictures UK has released seasons 1–4 in Region 2 (UK).

DVD title Ep # Release dates
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
Season 1 24 August 2, 2005
January 21, 2014 (re-release)
May 19, 2008 October 4, 2006
Season 2 25 March 7, 2006
January 21, 2014 (re-release)
Aug 25, 2008 February 7, 2007
Season 3 25 June 5, 2007
April 15, 2014 (re-release)
Oct 13, 2008 April 4, 2007
Season 4 24 June 5, 2007
April 15, 2014 (re-release)
Feb 9, 2009 November 7, 2007
Season 5 26 November 6, 2007 March 5, 2008
Season 6 26 November 6, 2007 July 9, 2008
Season 7 26 April 8, 2008 January 13, 2010
Season 8 25 April 8, 2008 January 13, 2010
25th Anniversary
Commemorative Edition
202 November 11, 2008

Note: The Millennium Entertainment release of season one contains the edited versions of the episodes aired in syndication. However, all subsequent DVD releases (including the complete series set) contain the original, uncut broadcast versions. In 2011, Millennium Entertainment quietly released season one uncut in Region 1 and it featured the special features from the complete series set.

References[edit]

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