September 20, 1984:
On this day The Cosby Show premiered on NBC and changed the landscape of network television. It provided a representation of the black family that centered on black pride and racial progress.
As the most watched situational comedy in television history, The Cosby Show aired on NBC from 1984 to 1992. For eight seasons, the show taught Americans 30-minute ethical and moral lessons through the lives of Cliff and Clair Huxtable and their children. The Huxtables were a middle-class, nuclear black family living in a Brooklyn, New York brownstone surrounded by a cast of multicultural friends. The Cosby Show served as a counter narrative to the portrayal of blacks on sitcoms and in the news. Also, unlike other shows that portrayed Black folks as coons, sambos, junkies, thugs, etc., The Cosby Show featured a predominantly-black cast that was educated and close knit. Additionally, The Cosby Show provided a representation of the black family that centered on black pride and racial progress. Cliff Huxtable’s African American paintings, love for jazz, propensity towards Historically Black College and University apparel, and obsession with tap dancing were conscious decisions made to showcase the culture of black Americans and to link black culture with respectability. The show was also criticized for its lack of a real potrayal of what Black folks were really going through in everyday life. Many believed that the show gave credence to the idea that racism wasn’t prevalent and that there wasn’t a huge gap in wealth disparity.
Throughout its run, The Cosby Show did four different but very important things: it revitalized NBC as a network; it revived the sitcom genre as a whole; and it broke down and transcended black stereotypes while also establishing a realistic portrait of a family on TV. And lastly, it gave us A Different World which inspired untold amounts of Black kids to attend HBCUs. When people discuss the legacy of The Cosby Show, you can’t ignore any one of these achievements.
You can watch the full pilot episode here.