Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
|Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids|
|Also known as|
|Created by||Bill Cosby|
|Directed by||Hal Sutherland|
|Creative director||Don Christensen|
|Theme music composer|
|Opening theme||"Gonna Have A Good Time (Fat Albert Theme)" (Performed by Michael Gray)|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||8|
|No. of episodes||110 + 5 specials (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer||Bill Cosby|
|Production location||United States|
|Distributor||Group W Productions|
|Original release||September 9, 1972 –|
August 10, 1985
|Preceded by||Hey, Hey, Hey, It's Fat Albert (1969)|
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids is an American animated television series created, produced, and hosted (in live action bookends) by comedian Bill Cosby, who also lent his voice to a number of characters, including Fat Albert and himself. Filmation was the production company for the series. The show premiered in 1972 and ran until 1985 (with new episodes being produced sporadically during that time frame). The show, based on Cosby's remembrances of his childhood gang, focused on Fat Albert (known for his catchphrase "Hey hey hey!"), and his friends.
The show features an educational lesson in each episode, emphasized by Cosby's live-action segments. In addition, at the end of the early episodes, the gang typically joins in their North Philadelphia junkyard to play a song on their cobbled-together instruments, summarizing the show's lesson.
Origins and history
The character Fat Albert first appeared in Bill Cosby's stand-up comedy routine "Buck Buck," as recorded on his 1967 album Revenge. The stories were based upon Cosby's tales about growing up in inner city North Philadelphia. In 1969, Cosby and veteran animator Ken Mundie brought Fat Albert to animation in a prime-time special entitled Hey, Hey, Hey, It's Fat Albert.
The special, which aired on NBC, was a hybrid of live action and animation. The music for the special was written and performed by jazz pianist/keyboardist Herbie Hancock in 1969 and was released on the Warner Bros. album Fat Albert Rotunda. For the animated portion of the special, it was necessary to develop the actual appearance of each of the Fat Albert Gang's characters. For this, Ken Mundie relied on animator Amby Paliwoda, a former Disney artist. Paliwoda not only created all the Gang's characters, but painted a "group portrait" which was eventually shown on the front page of TV Guide magazine shortly before the showing of the special.
The producers wanted NBC to bring Fat Albert to Saturday mornings, but the network programming managers rejected this because the series was too educational. Bill Cosby and a new production company, Filmation Associates, then took the property to CBS. The Fat Albert gang's character images were primarily created by the artist Randy Hollar, with the assistance of one-time Disney animator Michelle McKinney, under the direction of Ken Brown.
Retitled Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, the series premiered on September 9, 1972, on CBS. Production lasted for 12 years, though production of the series was not continuous. It also spent another season in first-run syndication (1984–85). Three prime-time holiday specials (Halloween, Christmas, and Easter) featuring the characters were also produced. Like most Saturday morning cartoons of the era, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids contained an adult laugh track, which was eliminated during the final season. The series was rerun on NBC Saturday mornings and on the USA Network in 1989.
The Cosby Kids
- Fat Albert Robertson (voiced by Bill Cosby; singing by Michael Gray) is based on Cosby's childhood friend Albert Robertson. The main character in the series, he is usually the conscience of the Junkyard Gang. Though very obese, he is athletic and enjoys playing sports. He always wears a red shirt and blue pants. Civic-minded and wise beyond his years, Fat Albert works hard to maintain integrity in the gang and with others, and is the lead singer as well as bagpipe-accordion (made from a funnel, radiator and an airbag) player in the Junkyard Band and on occasion, plays the bedspring.
- James "Mushmouth" Mush (voiced by Bill Cosby) is a slack-jawed simpleton with big lips. He always wears a red knit hat with a blue scarf and always speaks in virtual Ubbi Dubbi, tantamount to an overdose of novocaine in the mouth, which Cosby would later use in the "Dentist" monologue from his 1983 film, Himself. He plays a homemade bass guitar in the Junkyard Band.
- "Dumb" Donald Parker (voiced by Lou Scheimer) is a lanky, dimwitted fellow. He is Rudy's best friend. He always wears a green long-sleeved jersey three sizes too big, and a pink stocking knit cap covering his entire face except his eyes and mouth. In the Junkyard Band, he plays a trombone made out of plumbers' pipe and a morning glory horn from an old phonograph. In the Fat Albert film and while in the real world, Donald takes off his cap and learns that he has a handsome face.
- William "Bill" Cosby (voiced by Bill Cosby) is a character based on Cosby himself and is the host of the series. Like the others, Bill is a good athlete and enjoys playing sports. However, he spends most of his time trying, often unsuccessfully, to keep his little brother Russell out of trouble. Like Fat Albert, Bill is often a voice of reason in the gang, although at times a little more stubborn. In the Junkyard Band, he plays homemade drums made from a discarded foot-pedal trash can using spoons for sticks.
- Russell Cosby (voiced by Jan Crawford) is Bill's younger brother (based on his real-life brother—whom he often talked about in his routines) and the smallest and youngest of the Junkyard Gang. He always wears a heavy blue jacket, a yellow scarf, red boots, and a dark blue Ushanka winter hat regardless of the weather. Russell has a penchant for making snide remarks and blunt observations (much to his older brother's consternation). Russell frequently criticizes Rudy, reserving his most withering insults for when Rudy is being especially cocky. His catchphrase is "no class." He plays the xylophone in the Junkyard Band (made out of empty cans and a discarded coat rack).
- Weird Harold Simmons (voiced by Gerald Edwards) is a tall, skinny, beady-eyed kid who is the tallest one of the Junkyard Gang and always wears a gold dress blazer, a brown sock on one foot and a red sock on the other, and is clumsy. In the Junkyard Band, he plays a harp made from bedsprings, and on occasion plays a "dressmaker dummy" in the percussion section. In the film adaptation, he is called "Old Weird Harold", as he was in Cosby's stand-up routines.
- Rudy Davis (voiced by Eric Suter) is a sharp-dressed, smooth talking, cocky huckster whose smart-aleck attitude frequently gets him into trouble. He is Dumb Donald's best friend. Rudy's cocky attitude and dismissive demeanor are often the catalyst for a typical plot's conflict. But inside he has a good heart and usually learns lessons from his mistakes. In the Junkyard Band, he plays a makeshift banjo, whose parts include a broomstick handle and sewing-thread spool to hold the strings. However, when shown playing apart from the others, Rudy plays an electric guitar (personalized with a big "R"). He always wears an orange flat cap, a fuchsia vest, a pink turtleneck, purple bell-bottom jeans, and boots. Rudy's personality in the Fat Albert movie is much different as he is portrayed as a kind and chivalrous gentleman who falls in love with the female lead Doris (Kyla Pratt).
- Bucky Miller (voiced by Jan Crawford), as his name indicates, has a large overbite. He is a quick and flexible athlete. Bucky plays a stovepipe organ in the Junkyard Band.
- Miss Berry is the kids' first teacher and mentor. She is later replaced by Mrs. Breyfogle. In later seasons, the kids went to a different school where their teacher and mentor was Miss Wucher. All three characters were voiced by Jay Scheimer, wife of executive producer Lou Scheimer.
- Mudfoot Brown (voiced by Bill Cosby) is a wise old man and unemployed vagrant who gives advice to the gang, often using reverse psychology to get his point across. He has a talent for telling tall tales (he makes a minor appearance in the film adaptation, at the beginning and end of the film, voiced by Earl Billings—however, he is never referred to by name in the film).
- The Brown Hornet (voiced by Bill Cosby) is the title character of a show about an African-American superhero whose cartoons were watched regularly by the gang. He is a parody of the Green Hornet.
- Cluck – A duck that followed the gang regularly in early episodes, but stopped appearing after season 1. (3 episodes)
- Legal Eagle (voiced by Lou Scheimer) is another show-within-a-show, involving a crime-fighting cartoon eagle.
- Moe and Gabby (voiced by Jan Crawford & Gerald Edwards) Two lazy, klutzy squirrel underlings that work with Legal Eagle as police officers.
- Margene (voiced by Erika Scheimer) classmate/ good friend of Fat Albert's. In one episode she and Albert ran for co-president of the Student Council and beat out two other candidates, both of whom were running on platforms of racism. A straight-A student, Margene occasionally got in with the wrong people but always managed to rebound; in a different episode she got hooked on drugs, and in another she got innocently involved in a violent cult.
- 3 River Blockbusters – The Junkyard Gang's main rival when it comes to competing in sports such as baseball and football. The Blockbusters stole the championship in a competition called "buck buck" in the episode "Moving". One of them was voiced by Gerald Edwards, who voiced Weird Harold, and one of them was voiced by Eric Suter, who voiced Rudy. They make an appearance in the film adaptation featuring totally different members and the leader, dubbed as Crips, voiced by Catero Colbert credited as Lead Teen.
- Pee Wee is a small boy who looks up to Fat Albert and the gang. While being small in stature, his best athletic skill is kicking a football at a long distance. When the bigger kids could not get anything out of a small van, Pee Wee is there to retrieve it.
Lou Scheimer, Erika Scheimer, Keith Allen, Lane Vaux, Pepe Brown, Dementra McHenry, Eric Suter, and Gerald Edwards provided additional voices.
Educational lessons and songs
Fat Albert was honored and noted for its educational content, which included Cosby earning a Doctorate in Education. In every show's opening Cosby would playfully warn:
This is Bill Cosby comin' at you with (lots of) music and fun, and if you're not careful, you may learn something before it's done.
So let's get ready, OK? (Fat Albert voice) Hey, hey, hey!
During each episode, Fat Albert and his friends (aka The Junkyard Gang), dealt with an issue or problem commonly faced by children, ranging from stage fright, first loves, medical operations, and personal hygiene to more serious themes (though toned down for younger children) including vandalism, stealing, racism, rape, smoking, being scammed by con artists, sexually transmitted diseases, child abuse, kidnapping, drug use, gun violence, and death.
At the end of most episodes (with some exceptions in the case of particularly serious themes), the gang would sing a song about the theme of the day. This sequence, similar to those seen in other Filmation shows including The Archie Show, has often been parodied. The musical sequence was dropped during the Brown Hornet/Legal Eagle years.
The series enjoyed one of the longest runs in the history of Saturday morning cartoons.
Revamps and renames
In 1979, the show was re-titled The New Fat Albert Show and featured a new segment titled "The Brown Hornet" detailing the adventures of a black crime fighter in outer space whose design resembled a caricature of Bill Cosby, who also performed vocal talents on the character.
In 1984, the show was syndicated and renamed The Adventures of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. The lack of network restrictions allowed the producer to delve into more mature subject matter. A notable episode ("Busted") featured the kids having an inadvertent brush with the law and given a Scared Straight!-style tour of an occupied maximum security prison; it even contained utterances (by the jail's inmates) of the words "damn" and "bastard" (Cosby had appeared in the beginning of the episode advising viewers that those words would be used as part of the story's dialogue to realistically depict jail life). Another notable episode, "Gang Wars", featured a child being shot and killed. Another segment was added: "Legal Eagle", a crime-fighting eagle with a pair of bumbling police deputy squirrels. Production of new episodes ceased in 1985.
The theme song, "Gonna Have a Good Time", was composed by Ricky Sheldon and Edward Fournier, and performed by Michael Gray (vocals), Kim Carnes (background vocals) and Edward Fournier (background vocals).
A cover of the show's theme song, performed by Dig, is included on the 1995 tribute album Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, produced by Ralph Sall and released on MCA Records. The song's chorus ("Na-na-na, gonna have a good time!") was also sampled in Fatboy Slim's 1998 hit single "Praise You".
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids received an Emmy nomination in 1974. Production of the final season of the series overlapped with the start of production of Bill Cosby's live-action sitcom, The Cosby Show, which began airing on NBC in fall 1984.
In 2020, Joyce Slaton of Common Sense Media argued that the series is an "old-school cartoon...[with] strong positive messages." She noted that while the show's themes like kidnapping, racism, and child abuse may cause parents to be concerned, there is "fresh humor, funky music, and the strong positive messages".
As of 2013, Fat Albert was seen Saturday mornings on Retro Television Network (RTV), TheCoolTV, and weekdays and weekends on Bounce TV, both of which are digital networks. It was also seen weekdays on the now-defunct Sky Angel services Angel Two and Kids & Teens TV, as well as World Harvest Television. Fat Albert was also available streaming online from HallmarkSpiritClips.com.
As of July 2015, Fat Albert was no longer on Bounce TV's lineup. Bounce TV had previously pulled the comedy series Cosby from their lineup in the wake of the Bill Cosby sexual assault allegations, but it is unclear if the cancelations of the Fat Albert episodes was related to these allegations. However, several months after returning reruns of The Cosby Show in December 2016, Bounce TV quietly re-added Fat Albert to its schedule in March 2017, until it was eventually removed from the schedule again in late April 2018.
During the mid-1980s, Thorn EMI Video released several volumes of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids on VHS as part of their "Children's Matinee" line of animated programs, with each cassette typically containing three episodes. Additional volumes were released later in the decade by Video Treasures, including the three holiday specials.
In 2004, UrbanWorks Entertainment acquired the rights to the series, subsequently releasing several Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids DVDs including a two-volume collection featuring 24 episodes, as well as all specials to coincide with the theatrical release of the feature film adaptation. Volume 1 contains two DVDs with episodes 1–12 (airdates 9/9–11/25/1972), along with a CD containing the opening theme, the closing theme, and 12 songs from each of the 12 episodes shown in vol. 1  Volume 2 contains two discs with episodes 13–24 (airdates 12/2/1972–9/13/1975), along with a CD containing the opening theme, the closing theme, and 12 songs from each of the 12 episodes shown in vol. 2. In addition, UrbanWorks Entertainment released a Greatest Hits four-disc DVD box set, containing 20 uncut episodes in their original broadcast presentation and original airdate order, as well as a five-best episodes set via Ventura Distribution.
In 2008, Classic Media acquired the rights to the series and stated at the time that they intended to release the entire series on DVD. This never happened as they only re-released The Fat Albert Halloween Special and The Fat Albert Easter Special on DVD via distribution partner Genius Products.
On April 6, 2012, it was announced that Shout! Factory had acquired the rights to the series (under license from Classic Media) and planned to release a complete series box set on DVD. The DVD set was released on June 25, 2013.
In 2004, 20th Century Fox released a film adaptation of the series titled Fat Albert. The film stars Kenan Thompson as Fat Albert, Kyla Pratt, and Bill Cosby. The film acts as a sequel to the series where Fat Albert and the boys journey into the real world after jumping out of a television in order to help a lonely girl named Doris (Kyla Pratt) with her social anxiety. The boys enjoy being in the real world but after a meeting with their creator, Bill Cosby, Fat Albert is informed that if he and the others do not return to the television world immediately, they will turn into celluloid dust.
- William Henry Cosby, "An Integration of the Visual Media Via "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" into the Elementary School Curriculum as a Teaching Aid and Vehicle to Achieve Increased Learning" (January 1, 1976). Electronic Doctoral Dissertations for UMass Amherst. Paper AAI7706369. http://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI7706369
- CD liner notes: Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, 1995 MCA Records
- Cosby's character in the TV series _I Spy_, Scottie, when asked his name responded "Fat Albert!" while being interrogated. ["The Trouble with Temple", Season 2, 1967]
- Military.com. Transition Profiles — Bill Cosby. Accessed 20 November 2008.
- "Jazz Articles: Herbie Hancock: Energy in the Environment - By Jeff Tamarkin — Jazz Articles". jazztimes.com. Retrieved 2016-05-12.
- "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids / Classic TV".
- Woolery, George W. (1989). Animated TV Specials: The Complete Directory to the First Twenty-Five Years, 1962-1987. Scarecrow Press. pp. 142–145. ISBN 0-8108-2198-2. Retrieved 27 March 2020.
- "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids : Part Four".
- "Fat Albert". 25 December 2004 – via IMDb.
- "Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids - Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids". Discogs.
- "82, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids". IGN. 2009-01-23. Archived from the original on 2009-01-19. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- TV Guide April 17-23, 1993. 1993. p. 75.
- "TV Guide's 50 greatest cartoon characters of all time". cnn.com. July 30, 2002. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
- Slaton, Joyce (March 14, 2020). "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids Review". Common Sense Media. Archived from the original on May 18, 2021. Retrieved April 28, 2022.
- "BET's Centric Network and Bounce TV have pulled Bill Cosby reruns". Entertainment Weekly.
- "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids - The Original Animated Series, Vol. 1". 8 March 2005 – via Amazon.
- "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids -Vol 2". 11 October 2005 – via Amazon.
- "Fat Albert's Easter Special". 8 March 2005 – via Amazon.
- "Fat Albert's Halloween Special". 6 September 2005 – via Amazon.
- "Fat Albert's Christmas Special". 11 October 2005 – via Amazon.
- "Fat Albert's Greatest Hits The Ultimate Collection". 14 December 2004 – via Amazon.
- "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids". 14 December 2004 – via Amazon.
- "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids DVD news: New DVDs Planned for Classic Cartoon Series - TVShowsOnDVD.com". Archived from the original on 2008-02-01.
- "Fat Albert's Halloween Special". 1 July 2012 – via Amazon.
- "FAT ALBERT EASTER SPECIAL, THE". 1 July 2012 – via Amazon.
- "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids - Press Release Says ALL 3 Shows in Shout!'s Set, WITH Bill Cosby's Help!". TVShowsonDVD.com. Archived from the original on April 15, 2012. Retrieved April 11, 2012.
- "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids DVD news: Announcement for Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids - The Hey Hey Hey Holiday Collection - TVShowsOnDVD.com". Archived from the original on 2012-08-12.
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