TV Land tonight (Sept. 23) will pay homage to the 25th anniversary of The Cosby Show with a three-hour retrospective of the comedy show’s most memorable episodes.
It’s impossible to ignore the influence that the series, which debuted Sept. 20, 1984 on NBC and focused on the lives of an upper income African-American family, has had on the TV comedy sitcom genre and on American culture.
“The Cosby Show was unquestionably a landmark sitcom that proved an African-American family could be portrayed at the center of a successful series,” said Michael Wright, executive vice president, head of programming for TBS.
Wright traces the audience acceptance and success of TBS’ Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and Meet the Browns – two comedies with predominately African-American casts that are also the two most watched original comedy series on cable today — to the legacy of The Cosby Show.
The show — which featured a obstetrician father, a lawyer mother and five mostly well-behaved, well adjusted children — did have its detractors who said the show offered an unrealistic portrayal of a typical African-American family. But no one disputes the fact that the series served as a catalyst for the resurrection of the family sitcom genre in the 1980s.
Yet despite its legacy, Christopher H. Smith, professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California argues that if The Cosby Show were pitched as a new series today it would have a difficult time getting launched on broadcast or cable networks. That’s because most of today’s popular comedies have moved away from The Cosby Show’s traditional family values message and have instead become increasingly more edgy as television tries to keep pace with popular culture.
“In the wake of the fact that so many aspects of our cultural landscape have a more acerbic bite to it, the kind of straight forward, earnest kind of wholesome portrayal that The Cosby Show offered is not as current with how people are feeling today,” he said.
Even so, the show remains timeless to a generation who grew up with the Huxtables. It is also finding an audience among a new generation of television viewers who are watching and laughing at Cosby Show reruns on cable networks like Nick At Nite and TV Land. That’s because along with being a cultural milestone in television’s history, The Cosby Show at its core is very funny … and enjoyable to watch.