One fan letter, framed and hanging on the wall in Bill Cosby’s dressing room, speaks volumes for the popularity, dignity and impact of the most successful show on television.
“Dear Bill, I just wanted to congratulate you on the continuing success of your show. I’m a big fan and it’s well-deserved. Warmly, Tom Selleck.”
Selleck’s “Magnum, PI” on CBS used to be the dominant show Thursday night, until Cosby’s parenting lessons became weekly family rituals.
“The Cosby Show” enters millions of American living rooms precisely because it so well mirrors those living rooms. Sure, the Huxtable family is funnier, wealthier and more idealized than most families, but the kids do argue and tattle and care and support. And Cliff and Clair are parents, not overgrown kids.
“I want people to say, ‘How did you get into my house’?” Cosby said. “All I was looking for was the show to stay along so that I could get my ideas across about what I thought should be on television.”
His often-expressed concern was that prime-time TV had too much violence, car chases and sex and not enough problem-solving, cooperation and love. Cosby said he’s been gratified not only by the sheer numbers who watch, but by the vast numbers who seem to be listening and understanding.
Cosby said, “I heard one mother say, ‘I used to yell and scream and get angry, then I saw Clair (Phylicia Rashad) laugh one time when a child did something stupid. It registered that it is funny sometimes.’ And so maybe there’s a 40-55 shot that she’s laughing sometimes.”
“The Cosby Show” has been criticized by some black educators for not delving deeply enough into racial problems and prejudice. But Cosby says he doesn’t have any greater responsibility in that area than Bob Newhart does. “The Cosby Show” is about the American condition, not the black condition, he said.
More to the point, it is about the human condition. Already, “Cosby” is broadcast to more than 60 countries, ranking first or second in many places, according to Viacom, the show’s distributor.
Could a show about a family that happens to be black help diminish racial prejudice?
“I don’t think that it will change many people,” Cosby said. “But it does make people feel good.”