Believe it or not, it’s been 20 years since America last sat down to watch our favorite TV dad and the Huxtable clan in their Brooklyn, N.Y., brownstone on Thursday nights. Cliff was the doting dad who dished out “zrbtts” to Lil’ Rudy. Clair was always nearby to give that tough-love talk after one of the kids messed up. Theo and Cockroach were thinking up quick schemes to learn Julius Caesar in 24 hours. Denise was setting trends with her eclectic style and jammin’ to reggae. Vanessa was somewhere getting on somebody’s nerves, (badly) playing her clarinet. Sondra and Elvin were somewhere bickering. And when the family was all together, we’d be treated to Ray Charles’ “Night Time Is the Right Time.”
Through these and other classic moments in its eight-season run, The Cosby Show showed everyone what it looked like to raise a family on the small screen, and according to TV Guide, “almost single-handedly revived the sitcom genre in the ’80s.” With Bill Cosby’s comedic lens, the show’s producers’ careful attention to teaching without clobbering viewers over the head and a bevy of black cultural references, the show garnered Emmys, Golden Globes and NAACP Image Awards and was ranked the No. 1 sitcom for five consecutive seasons, according to Nielsen ratings. America — black, white and in-between — loooved The Cosby Show.
“This is a show with a black American family, but what’s important in this show is that our family represents about 90 percent of all people out in the audience,” Cosby told Ebony magazine back in 1985. “This show will work to show all Americans that if they really love our children, all children are the same the world over.”
The Cosby Show set the stage for shows with black ensemble casts to flourish in abundance on network TV for the next 10 years. Urkel was all the rage. Khadijah, Regine, Max and Synclaire were living the single life in Brooklyn. Martin and Gina provided much comic relief on the dynamics of relationships. There were so, so many family-centered shows, including The Parent ‘Hood, Moesha, Sister, Sister, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Hughleys, The Bernie Mac Show and one of the most underrated sitcoms in recent memory, Everybody Hates Chris — one of the last black sitcoms on network television.
You might think that with a black president, we’d have more representation on the small screen. Cosby can’t come up with a good reason for the lack of blacks on television, either.” How is it that there are people of color who are CEOs of companies, that are presidents of universities, but there is no reflection of that on the networks? It is arrogance and it is narcissism,” Cosby told the L.A. Times. “Even the commercials have more black people than the programs.”