The New Adventures Of Old Bill Cosby

The New Adventures of Old Bill Cosby

With his warm, open face and gentile approach to comedy, Bill Cosby once wore the title of “America’s Favorite Father,” and now in an era of guilty-pleasure reality shows, sexed up cable dramedies, and snarky modern families, The Cos has decided it’s high time to mount another comeback. And despite the aforementioned factors, he’s still sticking to what he knows.

The 76-year-old TV icon joined forces with his former producer Tom Werner (of Carsey Werner Productions, the team behind his definitive series, The Cosby Show) to ink a deal with NBC to bring him back into the living rooms of a whole new generation of audiences. But it’s a very different generation — and the audience might not even own a TV set anymore.

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This doesn’t seem to phase Cosby who will offer his trademark ruminations on marriage and parenting as the fictional patriarch in a multi-generational family (no word yet on whether jazz music legends will make guest appearances as friends and extended family—but one can hope!).

It’s a gamble given the style of television today that favours sharp sarcastic humour, breaking of the fourth wall, and the absence of laugh tracks (if you recall, The Cosby Show was always shot “in front of a live studio audience”).

Cosby On The Set
On the set of The Cosby Show, 1987. Credit: Getty Images

Another possible hurdle: cost. Traditional multi-camera setup TV is a lot more expensive to produce than Keeping Up with the Sex That Sent Me to The ER: Atlanta Edition type of television that has been popular on the small screen for over a decade.

Still, as a proven bankable star with name recognition spanning several decades, Cosby (and apparently NBC) believes he can make it work. As he told Yahoo! TV in November: “…there is a viewership out there that wants to see comedy, and warmth, and love, and surprise, and cleverness, without going into the party attitude. They would like to see a married couple that acts like they love each other, warts and all, children who respect the parenting, and the comedy of people who make mistakes… I assume, that we could get enough people week after week after week to tune in, to come along with us.”

That’s a big assumption and an even bigger order to fill. His last sitcom, Cosby, lasted four seasons (1996-2000), failed to crack the top 20 in the rankings, and existed before the rise and popularity of online video.

Plus, The Cos has met scrutiny several times over the past few years for his critical rants directed at African Americans he believes are too concerned with superficial pursuits. At some point, America fell out of love with him and assigned Cosby a new role, that of a curmudgeon older relative laying down self-righteous sermons. Whether you agree or disagree with his outspoken comments (and the venues in which he chooses to spout them), in some minds he has shifted from a loveable comic actor to a ranting septuagenarian monied type.

And yet, for others, there is a pleasant nostalgia attached to his persona. He represents a gentler time, a more wholesome time, a simpler time (this is all perception of course, the 80s and early 90s were no less tumultuous than our current day).

But, with witless TV shows like Two and a Half Men winning the ratings race, and reality show stars earning million-dollar salaries, one has to wonder if the climate isn’t right for quality Must See TV to reign once again on the conventional dial. Maybe Cosby’s smarter than us all, and the time has come to bring back those 22-minute family comedies a la Growing Pains, Family Ties, and Who’s the Boss?

So, who will his show appeal to and what reality will it reflect? His challenge will be to find his footing between what he does best (finding humour in relatable family trials and tribulations), without losing touch with the kind of stories audiences are accustomed to seeing on TV now (much edgier than what he’s used to). And above all else, he should remember to keep the rants to a minimum. You can do it your way Cos, but please papa, don’t preach.