The Cosby Show: A Work in Progress

Today is the last blog of the series on our favorite sitcom families and the last blog of the year. We have been to Long Island, Detroit, and Los Angeles, and now we are heading back to New York. Today we are going to visit the Huxtables.

Photo: people.com

I will admit, I have put off writing this blog for years. It is a very difficult one for me to write about. Writing this blog makes me mad, sad, and strangely joyful at the same time.

It makes me mad because of Bill Cosby’s despicable behavior. It makes me sad because this amazing show has been tarnished through no fault of its own. After Cosby’s arrest, the show disappeared from the airwaves. The rest of the cast has to suffer because of the bad behavior of one person. But, if I take my own advice, and I choose to celebrate the characters, not the people behind them, I can still find joy in this well-written and truly funny show.

Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner were two ABC executives who had worked on Mork & Mindy, Three’s Company, and Welcome Back Kotter. They were looking for a celebrity to star in their new show. Bill Cosby helped create this show which became The Cosby Show and was a staple on Thursday nights on NBC for eight seasons. It was the number one show on television for five of those years.

Photo: chicagotribune.com

The Huxtables were an upper-class family living in a Brooklyn Heights brownstone. Father Cliff (Cosby) was an obstetrician and mother Clair (Phylicia Rashad) was an attorney. They had five kids: Sondra (Sabrina Le Beauf), Denise (Lisa Bonet), Theo (Malcolm Jamal Warner), Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe), and Rudy (Keisha Knight Pulliam).

Vanessa Williams and Whitney Houston were both considered for the role of Sondra. Originally Rudy was planned to be a boy, and Jaleel White was brought in to audition.

A couple of famous kids who appeared on the show went on to be stars including Alicia Keys and Adam Sandler.

Photo: tripsavvy.com

The brownstone they lived in was a house we got to know well. It was actually located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

The theme music, “Kiss Me,” was composed by Stu Gardner and Bill Cosby. Seven different versions showed up during the run of the series. Under Stu Gardner’s supervision, two albums were produced: A House Full of Love: Music from the Cosby Show in 1986 and Total Happiness in 1987.

When daughter Denise went off to college, a spin-off show was created. A Different World was about her time at Hillman College, a fictional historic black college.

The show often promoted art and music. Musicians like Miles Davis, BB King, Stevie Wonder, and Sammy Davis Jr. appeared on the series. Much of the artwork that was featured in the house was by Synthia Saint James and Varnette Honeywood.

Photo: pinterest.com

This was an important series for so many reasons. It was the one of the first shows to have an upper middle class family who was black. At this point in time, the sitcom had become a dying art. This show was responsible for bringing the sitcom back to life. It featured music, art, and culture which is seen on very few sitcoms. It was well written and very funny, yet had its heart-warming moments. The kids all were very different just like our own families, so everyone had someone they could identify with. I do understand the human behind the character is often not what we would hope for.

A lot of stars have disappointed us with their behavior behind the scenes. Usually I can move beyond that. However, I have had two times when it has been extremely difficult for me. I love The Philadelphia Story and Harvey. They are two of my go-to movies when I am looking for something to watch on a weekend. When I heard about the racist comments Jimmy Stewart made during his career, I did not watch them for years. It was really hard for me to view them in the same way I did before that knowledge.

The Cosby Show was the other difficult one for me. I remember a story my dad told me. He was staying at a hotel in Illinois for business; he went down to the restaurant this quiet weekday evening for dinner and a drink. He was sitting at one table, Bill Cosby was sitting at another table, and only two other tables were occupied by diners. At one of these tables sat two women who were obviously excited to see him, and finally, they approached him to ask for an autograph. My dad said he rebuffed them and was quite rude, and they went back to their table, extremely embarrassed. That unkind and egotistical behavior always stuck with me. While, I totally appreciate that stars have a right to refuse to sign autographs, there is a kind and tactful way to say no.

Photo: philadelphiatribune.com

In the New York Times, Wesley Morris wrote an article on June 18, 2017, titled “How to Think About Bill Cosby and The Cosby Show.” He described the importance of the show for its “portrayal of black people as happy, stable, well off, and free of white oppression and guilt; for sneaking into typical sitcom high jinks the occasional, hilarious, often poignant lessons about gender equality, friendship, and marriage; and for proving that such a depiction could be a ratings winner.”

He then went on to talk about Cosby’s court trial. He summarized, “Guilty or not, Mr. Cosby’s courthouse behavior acknowledged an additional trial: the one going on in our hearts. I don’t need a jury to know that this trial has worn mine out.” I could not agree more. It took me some time, but I have come to love this show again. I find the show innocent of any negative connotations placed on it because of Cosby’s behavior. However, the trial inside myself did wear my heart out. While I am still trying to like Cliff Huxtable, it’s hard not to remember the hardships brought about by Bill Cosby. It’s a work in progress.

4 thoughts on “The Cosby Show: A Work in Progress

  1. So true. Love the show. Find Cosby despicable. I remember him all the way back to my childhood which made it even tougher. Excellent show.

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  2. I remember Cosby more from Kids Say the Darndest Things and I’m not sure I’ve seen this show (and it doesn’t sound like I will get the opportunity!). Being the #1 show 5 out of 8 years is impressive. It is a delicate balance when 1 person’s behavior affects something that so many other people put a lot of time and effort into.

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