Comedian, actor and educator Bill Cosby launched his iconic sitcom “The Cosby Show” in the fall of 1984, introducing a successful African-American couple and their children in the borough of Brooklyn.
The show ran for eight years, joining a small and elite class of network long-running television shows with a predominantly Black cast. “The Cosby Show” aired its last episode 21 years ago today, interestingly enough during the height of the race-related Los Angeles riots inspired by the Rodney King case.
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The visionary aspects of Cosby’s show were often criticized by some for only showing a small slice of the African-American family, but that same distinction was also praised by many. With Cosby portraying “Heathcliff Huxtable,” an obstetrician and his co-star Phylicia Rashad playing his attorney wife “Clair,” the show was inspired by much of the main star’s personal journey in education, marriage, and family life. The Huxtables and their four unique but generally well-mannered children were often resistant to Cosby’s teachable moments.
A smash hit in the ’80s — even surpassing long-running CBS evening program “60 Minutes” at one point — the show’s ratings had begun to plummet toward the end. NBC ran an hour-long special episode for the series finale that was centered on lone son, “Theo Huxtable,” graduating from New York University, cementing Cosby’s personal theme of the importance of education. Daughter “Denise,” now married, revealed to her family that she was pregnant, and young “Olivia” goes to join her father and stepmother in Singapore. The show sweetly ends with Cliff and Clair dancing together on the set stage and exiting to raucous applause.
During the first half-hour segment, Cosby taped a small segment pleading to L.A. rioters to cease their actions and instead watch the show.
While some attacked Cosby’s preachy themes, there should be no criticism levied upon the show considering what has been left in its wake. Today, bawdier prime-time shows exist that are replete with suggestive language and situations, certainly not proper for younger viewers.
The sitcom would launch a spinoff series, “A Different World,” focusing on the college life of “Denise Huxtable.”
The show was a hit!
“The Cosby Show” was a rare gem in that it was a fit for all ages, and when the messages and funny bits connected, it left a resonant mark on the mind. It is no wonder, then, why this show is still discussed with passion and adoration two decades later.