Forgotten Shows of My Nonage #26: The Other Cosby Show

Mantan, Moms and Cosby

Mantan, Moms and Cosby

ADDENDUM: The post below was written and published prior to the revelations about Bill Cosby’s personal life, which of course have diminished my admiration for the man considerably. 

Okay! We all have to celebrate Martin Luther King Day in our OWN way…this is mine. As I wrote in No Applause, show biz is possibly the single most powerful force for  social transformation in our culture. I celebrate its role with pride and without embarrassement (and without glossing over those many times when the entertainment industry has been — and continues to be — the opposite of progressive).

At any rate, a pathbreaking figure in that history is Dr. William Cosby, Ed. I’ll be writing much more about this man, whom I much admire, on his birthday in July. Now: much ink has been spilled about the historic nature of his better known The Cosby Show, launched in 1984, because it was the first major show to depict an affluent, happy, normal, successful African American family (The Jeffersons? Not so happy or normal). However, probably much more groundbreaking in some ways was his earlier though now forgotten The Bill Cosby Show (1969-1971). Cosby had already broken new ground in the mid 60s as the co-star of I Spy. In The Bill Cosby Show he starred in his own series, in which he played a high school gym teacher –a far cry from Amos and Andy, which had been the standard in African American depictions on television only a decade before. Furthermore, he generously used the show as a platform to showcase some of his own heroes, African American actors and comedians otherwise unknown to most mainstream television audiences of the time. For example, in one episode, no less than Mobs Mabley and Mantan Moreland play Cos’s feuding uncle and aunt. Happy MLK Day and historic second inauguration!


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