Certain pieces of entertainment that were well-loved in their day prove to be a great deal more problematic for audiences years after the fact, and there aren’t many more pointed examples of this than The Cosby Show. Given that the name of the sitcom’s figurehead, Bill Cosby, is right there in the title, it’s pretty much impossible to disassociate the series from what we now know the disgraced comedian to be guilty of.
Despite this, there can be no denying that, at the time, The Cosby Show was a popular sensation with audiences around the world, and groundbreaking in its representation of a middle-class African-American family. Plus, while Cosby may have played the lead and had his name in the title, there were plenty of other talented people working on the show whose efforts deserve to be remembered and celebrated.
With this in mind, here are some interesting facts about The Cosby Show which you might not have known.
10. It broke records by topping the ratings five seasons in a row
When The Cosby Show first took to the air, it was literally one of the most popular things on television. For the first seven of its eight seasons, it was one of the top five most viewed TV shows in the US; and for five seasons in a row, it came in at number one. This was no mean feat, considering it aired on Thursdays at the same time as another of the biggest TV hits of the era, Magnum, P.I.
The Cosby Show is one of only two sitcoms in US television history to hold the number one spot for five seasons in a row, the other of which was 70s comedy All in the Family.
9. Whitney Houston and Vanessa Williams were both considered for the role of Sondra Huxtable
For the role of Sondra, the eldest daughter of the Huxtable family the producers initially considered two young women who went on to huge stardom. One of these was Whitney Houston, who turned the role down in order to concentrate on her burgeoning music career (which we can agree was a good call). The other was Vanessa Williams, who had not long since been crowned Miss America, and would also go on to musical success.
However, Williams was also forced to pass as the officials of the Miss America pageant would not permit it. Ultimately, Sabrina Le Beauf would be cast as Sondra, although she did not become a full-time character on the show until season two.
8. Theo Huxtable was revealed to be dyslexic in tribute to Bill Cosby’s real-life son
The Cosby Show was always a family-friendly and widely accessible show, but it still delved into some sensitive subject matter at times. One example of this was when Malcolm Jamal-Warner’s Theo, the only male Huxtable child, is diagnosed with dyslexia.
This story thread was brought into the show because Bill Cosby’s own son is also dyslexic, and dyslexia’s portrayal in the series helped combat the stigma around the condition.
7. The youngest Huxtable child, Rudy, was originally going to be a boy
When The Cosby Show began, the youngest cast member was Keshia Knight Pulliam, who was just five years old when she landed the role of Rudy Huxtable, the baby of the Huxtable family.
However, it wasn’t always the plan for Pulliam to take the role. Originally the youngest Huxtable was going to be a boy, but when the producers had no luck finding a young male actor to fit the bill, they extended their search to include girls as well.
6. Lisa Bonet’s Denise was given her own spin-off show – but Cosby fired Bonet when she got pregnant
Lisa Bonet became a big name (and a major crush for millions of youngsters) when she was cast as Denise, the second-eldest Huxtable child. Such was her popularity that, once her character had reached college age, Bonet was given her own spin-off series, A Different World, which followed Denise’s experiences in higher education. This spin-off would prove to be a hit in its own right – but Bonet was only in the show for its first season.
The actress had wed rock star Lenny Kravitz, with whom she was having a baby. On learning of Bonet’s pregnancy, Bill Cosby (who was also a producer on A Different World) immediately fired her. Still, the actress was eventually allowed back for occasional appearances on The Cosby Show, and was again a full-time cast member on the sixth and seventh season. However, further clashes with Cosby resulted in her being fired completely before the eighth and final season.
5. Geoffrey Owens made the news after being spotted working as a Trader Joe’s cashier in 2018
Geoffrey Owens joined the cast of The Cosby Show in season two as Elvin, husband of Sondra Huxtable. In the years since, Owens has clocked up plenty of acting credits in TV, film and theatre – but in 2018 he came back into the public eye in a different way, when images were released online of him working as a cashier in a Trader Joe’s grocery store.
While Owens initially attracted mockery for this, soon enough the tides turned and numerous other actors and artists spoke out in his support, and blasted the tabloids that promoted the images for ‘job-shaming.’ Owens insisted he felt no shame about taking the job, although he ultimately had to quit because of the attention he was suddenly getting – although happily, this also led to Owens enjoying a resurgence of acting work.
4. Raven-Symoné was cast as Olivia at only three years old
Raven-Symoné met Bill Cosby when she was only three. Initially, she came in to audition for a role in Cosby’s 1990 film Ghost Dad, but she was deemed too young for the part. However, Cosby was so struck by the young actress’s talent that he decided to add her to The Cosby Show’s ensemble.
Raven-Symoné was cast as Olivia, daughter of Denise’s new husband Martin (Joseph C. Philips), in The Cosby Show’s sixth season. She would remain in the show until its end, and went on to enjoy a successful career as an actress, singer and TV host in the years that followed.
3. Phylicia Rashad’s real-life pregnancy was carefully concealed during season three
Although The Cosby Show intimated that husband and wife Cliff and Clair Huxtable were roughly the same age, in reality Clair actress Phylicia Rashad was a full decade younger than her male co-star. In the show’s third season, around the time Rashad was 38, she fell pregnant with her second child. It was then decided that, rather than work this into the show’s plot, they would simply hide Rashad’s pregnancy.
As a result, Clair’s role in the show was reduced for that season, and she was frequently shot sitting down with her stomach concealed, with a large teddy bear often utilised as a convenient barrier between the actress and the camera.
2. The show was eventually crushed in the ratings by The Simpsons
The Cosby Show may have been able to hold its own against Magnum, P.I., but one contender in the Thursday night ratings proved that bit too formidable: The Simpsons. After the animated comedy series started airing on the Fox Network at the same time as The Cosby Show, the Huxtable family quickly lost the spotlight.
On its sixth season in 1989, The Cosby Show fell to number two in the ratings; on its seventh in 1990, it fell to number five; then in its eighth and final season in 1991, The Cosby Show plummeted to 18th place.
1. It’s been suggested that the Huxtable family helped prepare America for the Obamas
The Cosby Show broke new ground for television in that it centred on an African-American family while rarely commenting directly on race. This was a major factor in why the show appealed to all audiences regardless of ethnicity – and, in the eyes of some, it may have helped prepare America for its first black President.
Karl Rove, a former White House strategist under George W Bush, remarked on the eve of Barack Obama’s 2007 election, “We’ve had an African-American first family for many years in different forms. When The Cosby Show was on, that was America’s family. It wasn’t a black family. It was America’s family.”