On a 1986 episode of The Golden Girls, the girls are planning a funeral, but of course they can't hold it on Thursday night, because of The Cosby Show.
During the 1990-1991 tv season, The Simpsons was facing off against The Cosby Show on Thursday nights, inspiring participants in The Rocky Horror Picture Show to alter Frank's line "I'll remove the cause, but not the symptoms," to "I'll remove The Cos, but not The Simpsons."
It didn't work -- The Simpsons fled to Sunday nights, leaving The Cos intact. For ten years, every series that aired opposite The Cosby Show floundered in the ratings. Does anyone remember Our World, The Charmings, Knightwatch, or A Fine Romance? But anything that aired after The Cosby Show was guaranteed gold: Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court, Wings, L.A. Law...
What was this comedy juggernaut, and why did it resonate so much with audiences during the 1980s conservative retrenchment?
Bill Cosby, previously featured on I Spy, The Bill Cosby Show, The New Bill Cosby Show, and Fat Albert, was the Art Linkletter of the 1970s. As black comedians became increasingly angry and politicized, their jokes aimed at fighting The Power, Cosby retreated into a cozy suburban world about henpecked husbands, sullen teenagers, and kids who say the darndest things.
When his tv series, The Cosby Show, premiered in 1984, it featured something tv audiences had never seen before: an affluent black family for whom being black was incidental.
No one expressed surprise over seeing an affluent black family. No one experienced racism, or even remembered racism. In fact, race was not mentioned at all, except for an occasional nod to African-American culture ("remember when we danced at the Apollo?") and very, very occasional references to the Civil Rights Movement as a relic of the long-dead past ("see what we overcame?").
That was just what 1980s conservatives wanted to hear. There's no racism. If you're poor, it's your own fault. You'r just too lazy to get a job as a doctor or lawyer, like the Huxtables.
In West Hollywood, my roommates and I watched it sometimes -- we had to, or face accusations that we were racist -- but not often. It had some other features that appealed to 1980s conservatives, but not to us:
More after the break.
Honorable Mention: Carl Anthony Payne as Cockroach, Theo's friend. He was fired after only 12 episodes for challenging Cosby's authority.
5. Geoffrey Owens as Elvin, Sondra's husband.
That's right: a distaff household, six girls, one boy. Apparently the producers thought that girls would be less threatening to a mainstream (i.e., white) audience than lots of strapping, muscular men.
Therefore there was no beefcake. None. At all. Theo (Malcolm Jamal-Warner) eventually developed an impressive physique, and other actors, playing daughters' boyfriends, strutted across the stage. Theo had an every-changing collection of best buddies and school friends. No one ever fumbled with a button. Every one of these pictures is from the actor's other tv work or modeling.
4. Merlin Santana as Stanley, Rudy's boyfriend
Plus, this was a gay-free Brooklyn. In an era when "gay army buddy visits" or "brother comes out" episodes were commonplace in sitcoms, The Cosby Show never mentioned gay people at all, ever. They did not exist.
There was not a lot of gay-friendliness among the cast. In his stand-up routines, Bill Cosby frequently expressed horror over men with feminine traits, although he never (to my knowledge) used the word "gay."). In 2013, when Raven Simone, who played the toddler Olivia, came out as a lesbian, none of her former coworkers commented, and one doesn't see a lot of gay roles among any of them.
There were some amusing episodes. I liked "Happy Anniversary," where the Huxtables lip-synch to Ray Charles' "Night Time is the Right Time," and "The Night of the Wretcheds," when Vanessa sneaks off to a concert, and Claire turns into a Dragon Lady: "You went to BALTIMORE for BIG FUN with the WRETCHEDS!!!"
You can see them on youtube (Happy Anniversary and Big Fun), and skip the rest of the series. In the end it's just another example of 1980s heterosexism.
And the #1 Top Hunk?
Come on, who could resist that face?
See also: The Golden Girls in West Hollywood; and What Happened to the Black Beefcake?