Tuned In

Why NBC’s New Bill Cosby Show Might Not Solve Its Sitcom Problems

The idea of a new Cosby show on NBC is exciting. But as the network learned with Michael J. Fox, even a beloved celeb can't save a limp sitcom.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Jason Merritt / Getty Images for BHH

Actor/comedian Bill Cosby speaks onstage during the 100th anniversary celebration of the Beverly Hills Hotel & Bungalows supporting the Motion Picture & Television Fund and the American Comedy Fund hosted by Bill Cosby at the Beverly Hills Hotel on June 15, 2012 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

While NBC has rebounded a bit in the ratings lately, thanks to The Voice and The Blacklist, as recently as this month network head Robert Greenblatt conceded it’s still having big trouble with its sitcoms. But its philosophy seems to be that there’s nothing wrong with NBC that can’t be solved by what was right with NBC—in around 1984. This season, it gave beloved past star Michael J. Fox an extraordinary full-season commitment for what turned out to be a bland sitcom with anemic ratings. Now, according to a report in Deadline, the network will try to boost its sitcom ratings by going back into business with the leg-warmer era’s favorite dad, Bill Cosby.

Could the 76-year-old Cosby make a great hit sitcom today? Sure. There’s no mandatory retirement age for genius. The Cosby Show was a landmark of smart, good-hearted comedy that holds up well today. His follow up, Cosby, for CBS, was… all right. And as NBC should have learned this season, a famous name is itself no guarantee.

Watch TIME’S Birthday Tribute to Bill Cosby’s Funniest Moments

NBC’s reasons for wanting Cosby back are evident. The question will be: why does Cosby want to go back to NBC? The problem with The Michael J. Fox Show wasn’t Fox, who was and remains a gifted performer. It’s that he was in a tepid, generic show that seemed to have no idea behind it but, “Michael J. Fox, back on your TV again!” Despite a lot of talent, The Michael J. Fox Show almost seemed to go out of its way to be as  unmemorable as possible, leaving it little selling point beyond the audience’s memories of Family Ties.

Likewise, Cosby was a famous name even when he brought The Cosby Show to primetime (with the same producers he’ll be working with now). But that wasn’t what made it great TV. It was that he had distinctive ideas about how to shake up the way families in general, and African American families in particular, were portrayed on TV, and he created memorable characters to express those ideas.

Bill Cosby hasn’t stopped having ideas about the culture and media since then. He said in an interview last year, “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.” (The trick would be to parlay that into a sitcom without a kids-these-days-with-their-loud-parties attitude.)

But is there an idea for a show sparking this deal, or just an idea to get attention? Bill Cosby, like the Jell-O he once pitched, remains a beloved brand. But if his show makes it to air, the proof will be not in the brand but in the pudding.

32 comments
houston2014
houston2014

Cosby's serial date rape drugging/rapist history is the main issue in considering a potential new Cosby show.


Leaving this issue out of the article is inexcusable.

LorieliseGarvin
LorieliseGarvin

I  AM  SURE  IT  WILL  NOT  BE  LIKE  THE  COSBY  SHOW  HOPING  IT  WILL  GET  ME  TO  WATCH  MOR  NBC   BESIDE  THE  NEWS

Rorie
Rorie

Am I the only person in America who likes the Michael J. Fox Show? I think it's very funny and with no laugh track, you have to pay attention to the dialogue, which may be a bit sophisticated for most Americans. But it's a very good show with really talented actors. I will hate to see it go.


Not looking forward to seeing Cosby on TV again. His original series made a statement back in the '80s but it wasn't even that good a show then. The actors were not especially talented either. Lisa Bonet? What's she amounted to? And the oldest daughter? She was so bland--all the kids were except for the two youngest girls, Raven-Symone being the most talented. And the guy who played Theo had a bit part in last week's Michael J. Fox Show. I thought Cosby was all powerful yet he didn't seem to do so well for his costars. Oh, snap.

villandra24
villandra24

Michael J. Fox's problem is poor NBC marketing and scheduling strategy. His program is excellent. I'm about to watch it for the first time tonight - maybe. That 9 to 9:30 block of time sure isn't convenient and they have the usual worthless crap paired with it, and an hour of more worthless before it.


As for O.J. Simpson - whoops, I mean Bill Cosby, he could pull it off in his younger days, when he was capable of convincing viewers he was moral, concerned, and a good parent. I own and still watch that show, and it's the only show I do own in its entirety. Unfortunately he has aged like an O. J. Simpson clone. If anyone can convincingly act like a decent human being it would be Bill Cosby. Unfortunately he isn't one. We are all far too aware of what a terrible parent he proved to be to his illegitimate daughter, and now he looks, well, frankly, like O. J. Simpson looks now.     


HeatherSharp
HeatherSharp

Cosby has said a lot of nasty things about white people since his last show. A racist such as himself will bomb. 

SukMadiq
SukMadiq

Love Bill Cosby, but he is not the least bit funny anymore.   He also plays the "guess how old I am?" card way too much as he is only in his mid 70's!

ChasHorn
ChasHorn

This makes about as much sense as having Bret Favre come back to play quarterback for the Houston Texans.  The memory of what he did with the Packers should remain just that...a pleasant memory.  Same with Cosby...his personal comedic genius transcended all ethnic groups and is a great memory. So let's just have a great recollection of past successes, not a recent memory of failure.  He is 76 and wealthy, so why should he even consider it.

timeserf
timeserf

Maybe they can call it "That's So Bill" and give him psychic powers. Whether whatever format is chosen will fail is not a Cosby Mystery. Maybe they can also haul out Ted Danson to play an environmentalist living with a conspicuous consumer played by Shelley Long.

SusieStewart
SusieStewart

I love Bill Cosby and would watch the show, hope it comes on!

obdoqbopqo
obdoqbopqo

They could make it a spinoff of "Girls", and he could walk around nude for the entire episode.

LapongSmith
LapongSmith

Bill Cosby had his hayday in  the mid 90's. He can help the ratings behind the scenes more, I just don't think a 76 year old man can do it, Of course he can make gest appearancess, but what's needed is a show with a normal solid family structure, Mom and Dad married with kids, but don't make the dad a mumbling idiot like shows today because its hard to apply a idiot dad to a real life scenario like rape,drugs,etc.

Openminded1
Openminded1

Bill Cosby the racist who speaks softly. I remember his support and big mouth for Tewanna Brawley. He got pudding in the face for that one.

Mekaila
Mekaila

The problem with sitcoms on NBC and most other networks is that they cater to a largely white, middle-aged audience.  The idea that these networks can feature an all-white cast, with all-white writers and still draw a huge multi-ethnic American audience is insane. Beside painting an unrealistic, uninteresting and unrelatable picture of American society, this kind of comedy is lame, boring, and not at funny. And please don't think you can throw in the token, stereotypical "ethnic" cast member to appease the public. We're smarter than that.  Hire casts and writers that look like and truly understand the multicultural country we live in.  Otherwise continue to watch your ratings plummet. 

villandra24
villandra24

@obdoqbopqo OMG!   Then he'd REALLY look like O.J. Simpson!    LOLOL!   It's hard to conceal your true character with no clothes on.

essa
essa

@LapongSmith It sounds like you just described Last Man Standing with Tim Allen. Of course, I'd prefer kids who were intelligent, too, but I guess we can't have it all.

SukMadiq
SukMadiq

@Openminded1 

Bill has been very critical of modern black culture, I guess you missed all of that?  Him telling Wanda Sykes to "Speak English" on a live awards show ring a bell?


I bet you supported George Zimmerman, how did that work out for you after he threatened to shoot his girlfriend?

Openminded1
Openminded1

@Mekaila Typical race card bs. Whites do not have an exclusive network like BET. NBC has many black actors all over their entertainment and news departments . Your problem racist is you want a black to be the main star of every show and a all black cast as much as possible . Blacks are in commercials, sitcoms, on the news. You are just not happy because its not all black. NBC, stands for national broadcasting corporation, not the national black corporation.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@SukMadiq Point 1: What does GZ have to do with this story? Point 2: Bill at 73 years of age is finally getting it and as learned what is holding blacks back, the race card, and things like ebonics, and young bloods wearing the pants down to their knees. point3: Zimmerman is a moron I did not give him support, But I also know if the punk Trayvon had just walked home like most 17 year old kids would have he would not have been shot on that day.He most likely would have been killed before he was 20, either by a cop, or another young black thug from the hood somewhere. He was a thug who hated whites and love to fight. GZ is just a wannabe moron. And remember he was not convicted of anything and all the wx wife and girlfriend stuff was dropped. He will mess up someday and will pay the price, much like OJ who is areal murderer and punk now paying the price. Once a punk always a punk. Oj was a thug in Oakland when he was kid, in gangs etc, It never left him no matter how much money and fame he attained.

Mekaila
Mekaila

@Openminded1Besides making a very closed minded assumption about my race, you miss the point entirely.  I'll make it more simple this time...in 2014, major network television shows that do not have casts AND writers who in a realistic way reflect America's diversity (ethnic, cultural, sexual orientation etc.) will not fair well with the large segments of the American public. Period. My happiness is not contingent upon NBC being an "all black" network but thanks for your concern.

MiguelTorez
MiguelTorez

@Openminded1@Mekaila Um this person that wrote the comment never said what race, ethnic group or nationality he or she was from. Clearly, he or she is saying we can do more together than being divided. I believe having more of a mix within a show can add more flavor to the pot per se. It is nice to have a diverse group of writers to feed off one another's talent and energy.

essa
essa

@Openminded1 @Mekaila Openminded, you are not. Remember Family Matters? Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? Sister Sister? Smart Guy? And many others from the 90s. They weren't broadcasted on all-black networks; and they had more than just a black audience.

Mekaila
Mekaila

@Openminded1@MekailaAgain with the assumptions. You have no clue what race I am and for the sake argument... it does not matter.  If you are as black and progressive as you claim to be, perhaps you should spend less time upset about black racists, black race cards, black race crap, black networks and black tv...find a more worthy cause. Paula Dean needs your attention.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@Mekaila @Openminded1 My post name is meant to be ironic, but for your information racist I am of the same race as you. I just say it like it is not pull the race card crap that just put our race two steps backwards every time. I know a racist when i hear one and see one after 63 years of life and 30 of those as a cop in a major city. My happiness is not be a race card racist like most blacks.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@MikeJameson I know more about black america then your white ass does, considering I am black. But that is ok I guess you find it hard to believe that a black man might just say it like it is. because of your narrow mind you jumped to conclusions that where very wrong. There are many racist out there Mike including blacks even famous ones like Bill, oprah and obama. Blacks are far more racist then whites in 2014.

MikeJameson
MikeJameson

I'm sure only a few of us here, "Openminded1," are aware that you not only have your death grip on the pulse of black Americans but also, apparently, know every single one of them. Well done bigotry, my friend (not).

koijido
koijido

@essa@Openminded1@MekailaEssa while your statement about the shows is correct what Mekaila was trying to say is that having a single race of writers doing an ethnic show typically doesn't go well and in the shows you discussed there was a mix of black, white, and jewish writers and the cast also influenced the script sometimes to the point of writing and/or producing episodes themselves which may have helped Michael J Fox's new show. I mean seriously that show was so bland even though Fox does well in the show. Openminded1 just went off on a tangent though it doesn't even seem like it's a response to the post. Also, I appreciate you knowing Smart Guy, it was my favorite show growing up.