Facts about The Cosby Show that You Probably Didn’t Know

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“The Cosby Show” is a TV comedy that aired on NBC from 1984 to 1992, featuring Bill Cosby. It’s about the Huxtables, a well-off African American family in Brooklyn, New York. The dad, Cliff Huxtable, is a doctor and the son of a famous jazz player, and his wife, Clair, is a lawyer. They have five kids: Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa, and Rudy, each with unique challenges that keep their parents busy.

Despite the controversies involving Bill Cosby, it’s clear that “The Cosby Show” left a big mark on American culture and changed TV by challenging stereotypes of black families. It brought back the family comedy genre at a time when most TV shows had kids outsmarting their parents without any consequences. On this show, the kids were clever, but the parents were always a step ahead and clearly in control.

The series also paved the way for other shows with mainly African American casts, like “In Living Color” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” It led to the creation of “A Different World,” a spin-off that lasted six seasons from 1987 to 1993. In this article, we are going to give you some of the most interesting facts about The Cosby Show that you probably didn’t know.

Interesting Facts About the Cosby Show

Bill Cosby wearing a sweater in 1990, similar to the ones he wore on The Cosby Show in the role of Cliff Huxtable

Here are some facts about this groundbreaking comedy that you probably didn’t know:

Bill Cosby was worried about the reaction of the studio audience to the pilot.

The pilot episode of The Cosby Show was filmed in front of a live audience, and Bill was a little worried that the audience wasn’t embracing his overall vision of the series. In one scene, Theo defends the “D” on his report card and makes a speech, “If you weren’t a doctor, I wouldn’t love you less because you’re my dad. So rather than feeling disappointed because I’m not like you, maybe you should accept who I am and love me anyway because I’m your son.” The audience spontaneously applauded after this. Luckily, the audience also applauded more enthusiastically when he replied, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life!”

The Huxtable couple almost had different jobs.

In the original pitch for the show, Cliff was to play a limousine driver, and Clair was to be a union plumber. They also wanted Clair to be Dominican and have her resort to native Spanish whenever she became frustrated. However, Bill’s real-life wife, Camille Cosby, told her husband that the TV couple should be more reflective of their real life. The executive producer Marcy Carsey sided with Camille’s idea, so Cosby made the characters as two white-collar professional parents.

Initially, the Huxtable children were only four.

There was a scene in the pilot when Clair asked, “Why did we have four children?” Cliff responds, “Because we didn’t want five.” Originally, Denise was the oldest child, followed by Theo, Vanessa, and Rudy. But as the series became a hit, they later added Sondra, the eldest Huxtable child. Sondra attended a university at Princeton to show an example of successful parenting.

Cosby’s sweaters were not random.

Cliff Huxtable’s sweaters were iconic, and it even became Bill Cosby’s signature style. It looks random, but one artist designed them. In one show episode, Cosby wore a unique sweater designed by Dutch fashion designer Koos Van Den Akker. Mail poured in as viewers asked where they can buy the same sweater. Because of that, Cosby asked Van Den Akker to make more of the unique sweater, and a legacy was born. The designer describes creating each shirt as a painting, throwing various colors and patterns of fabric pieces together on a wool or jersey blend canvas.

Phylicia Rashad’s stare helped her get the role.

Of all the actresses who auditioned for the role of Clair, Phylicia Rashad’s performance during a screen test stood out. All the candidates were tested on how they would argue with Theo, but unlike the others, she didn’t wag her head or place her hand on her hip – instead, she simply gave Theo a look that was frightening enough to get a child to submit. Immediately, Cosby knew that she would be Clair.

Whitney Houston almost played the role of Sondra.

The late Whitney Houston almost played the role of the over-achieving daughter Sondra. Sabrina LeBeauf won the role over Whitney and even future Miss America Suzette Charles because she had more theater experience. Cosby was partly impressed by her because she is well-educated, just like Sondra, as LeBeauf was a recent graduate of Yale, just like the character he had in mind.

Urkel almost played Rudy.

Initially, the character Rudy was supposed to be a boy – a younger brother who looked up to Theo. Eight-year-old Jaleel White had auditioned so strongly that his agent told his parents to start looking for apartments in New York, where The Cosby Show was filmed. But the producer still had more kids to consider. Keshia Knight-Pulliam came in and charmed everyone. The director moved her to the top of the shortlist and switched the character to a girl. For Jaleel, of course, the role of Urkel in Family Matters went to him, so he did just fine.

Theo was supposed to be taller.

The role of Theo was originally a part for a 6’2″ tall 15-year-old, But Malcolm-Jamal Warner was just 5’5″ and only 13. At his audition, he played the role in a very bratty way – hands on hip and rolled eyes. Everyone was amused except Cosby. He asked the young actor if he would act like that with his real father, so Warner gave it another go with that in mind and nailed it.

Vanessa went to college because Tempestt Bledsoe did.

When actress Tempest Bledsoe wanted to go to college, the writers wrote it into the show that her character Vanessa would also go to college. Season 7 started with a back-to-school episode where Cliff and Clair happily ushered their children out the door. Vanessa was carrying a suitcase back then because it was revealed that she attended summer classes so that she could graduate high school early. This changed Vanessa’s story arc and was done because Cosby wanted to help her as much as possible. The show’s shooting schedule was also adjusted so that Bledsoe could go to school full-time.

Some of Dr. Cliff’s family members were named after Cosby’s real-life family.

Bill Cosby has incorporated names from his own real-life family to his sitcom relatives. Back then, Bill Hank’s wife was Camille Olivia Hanks, and Clair Huxtable’s maiden name was Hanks. Denise’s stepdaughter was named Olivia. And his mother’s name in the show was Anna, just like his real-life mom. Grandpa Russel was named after Bill’s real-life brother.

Gordon Gartrelle was a real person.

There was a running gag on the show that whenever Malcolm-Jamal Warner attends a formal event, there’s always one wise guy who would ask him if he’s wearing Gordon Gartrelle. Theo’s memorable yellow satin shirt with two-tone pockets has become entwined with garish, ill-fitting couture. But Gordon Gartrelle wasn’t just a random, made-up designer; he was a writer and producer on the show.

The spin-off series came because of Lisa Bonet’s nude photos.

In the show, Denise was the wild child. She always wore the craziest outfits and dated boys her father couldn’t stand. In real life, the actress playing Denise (Lisa Bonet) sometimes tried Cosby’s patience even more than her character did, as she sometimes showed up late for tapings or didn’t bother to come at all.

The turning point for the actress and her character came in 1986 when 19-year-old Lisa Bonet did a film entitled Angel Heart, which was pretty racy and promoted topless photos of her. Cosby had to consider the younger TV siblings and the audience, so he thought it would be better to send the character Denise to college. This is how the spin-off A Different World, a series set at Hillman College, came to be.

During filming, there have been baby bumps along the road.

While filming season three, Phylicia Rashad was pregnant. But because Bill Cosby didn’t want to add babies to the series, they took extreme measures to conceal her burgeoning baby bump. At some points, Clair had to be away at a conference or confined in bed, which had a specially constructed mattress that was scooped out so her tummy wouldn’t protrude under the covers. This resulted in a pinched nerve in her back. In one episode, Clair is seated on their living room sofa with a giant teddy bear in front of her, with no explanation or mention in the scene.

Also, when Lisa Bonet eloped with musician Lenny Kravitz in 1987, she announced that she would be with her child by 1988. She was filming for the spin-off back then, and a pregnant college freshman wasn’t what they wanted. Bonet was canned from the show and was rehired back on The Cosby Show for season five. During her pregnancy, she wore oversized jackets and loose-fitting shirts in the show until she was given permission by Cliff and Clair to go to Zaire to accompany a photographer.

Little Alicia Keys made an appearance on the show.

Before Alicia Keys became the musical pop star she is today, she had one of her first acting gigs as a four-year-old. She played one of Rudy’s friends on the show and appeared at Rudy’s birthday party, where she sat on Cliff’s lap when she was playing a riding horse. Besides Alicia Keys, Adam Sandler also had his first acting gig on the show as a friend of Theo named Smitty.

They had to change the name of the show to Italy.

The Cosby Show was a hit not just in the US but also worldwide, with minor tweaks made for non-US audiences. In Italy, the surname “Huxtable” was hard to pronounce, so the family’s name was changed to The Robinsons for their convenience. The name was chosen in honor of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American in Major League Basketball.

“The Cosby Show” did not use a laugh track.

“The Cosby Show” made a notable choice in its production by opting not to use a laugh track. Unlike many sitcoms of its era that relied on canned laughter to cue viewers when to laugh, “The Cosby Show” trusted the genuine reactions of its live studio audience. This decision added a layer of authenticity to the show, making the comedic moments feel more natural and the family’s interactions more genuine.

By forgoing the laugh track, the show allowed its humor to stand on its own, trusting that the quality of the writing and the performances were enough to elicit laughter from the audience. This choice reflected Bill Cosby’s approach to comedy—rooted in real-life experiences and the natural humor found in everyday family life. It also contributed to the show’s warm, inviting atmosphere, as viewers felt more like they were part of the Huxtable family’s living room gatherings.

The Cosby Show had jazz influences.

“The Cosby Show” deeply embraced jazz, reflecting Bill Cosby’s love for the genre. Jazz music was woven into the fabric of the show, from its theme song to guest appearances by legendary jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey. This inclusion of jazz also educated audiences about the richness of African-American musical heritage. Jazz elements in the show also underscored the cultural sophistication and complexity of the Huxtable family, making “The Cosby Show” a pioneering force in celebrating and popularizing jazz within mainstream American television.

The exterior shots of the Huxtable Home were not in Brooklyn.

The exterior shots of the Huxtable home were actually of a brownstone located at 10 St. Luke’s Place in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, not Brooklyn, where the family was said to live. This setting was integral to the show, providing a realistic and relatable environment where much of the comedy and heartfelt moments unfolded, making it an iconic symbol of family life in 1980s American television.

Cultural Impact and Innovations of The Cosby Show

Comedian and creator Bill Cosby plays Dr. Cliff Huxtable, Clair's husband who is marginally less stern than she is as a parent

“The Cosby Show” made a lasting impact on American TV, changing how African-American families were seen and inspiring future shows. Here’s how it made a difference:

  • Breaking Stereotypes: When “The Cosby Show” aired, it was groundbreaking to see an African-American family portrayed as educated, successful, and down-to-earth. This positive image was a big shift from the usual stereotypes and helped pave the way for more complex and varied portrayals of African Americans on television.
  • Tackling Important Issues: The show didn’t shy away from tough topics. It dealt with serious issues like teen pregnancy, drug use, and civil rights with a mix of humor and care. This approach made “The Cosby Show” more than just entertainment; it was also a tool for social education and conversation.
  • Setting Trends: Beyond its stories, “The Cosby Show” left its mark on fashion and culture, too. Bill Cosby’s unique sweaters became a style icon of the ’80s. The show also influenced music, language, and how families talked about big topics at home.
  • Inspiring New Shows: The success of “The Cosby Show” opened doors for more sitcoms about African-American life, such as “Family Matters,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and “Martin.” Its legacy lives on in the diverse family stories and characters we see on TV today.

By presenting a loving, complex, and relatable African-American family, “The Cosby Show” reshaped TV and had a lasting effect on how we see and understand family, culture, and society.

Awards and Accolades of The Cosby Show

“The Cosby Show” enjoyed a successful eight-season run, earning praise and numerous awards that highlighted its excellence and influence on TV.

  • Emmy Awards: The series was celebrated at the Emmy Awards, securing wins for Outstanding Comedy Series, along with accolades in directing and editing. These awards underscored the show’s high-quality storytelling and production.
  • Golden Globe Awards: At the Golden Globes, “The Cosby Show” won Best Television Series – Comedy or Musical, and Bill Cosby received honors for his performance, marking the show as a standout in entertainment.
  • NAACP Image Awards: The NAACP Image Awards recognized the show and its cast for presenting positive portrayals of African-American life, highlighting its importance in film, TV, music, and literature.
  • Peabody Award: A Peabody Award was given to “The Cosby Show” for its significant contribution to broadcasting. The show was celebrated for its focus on family, educational content, and its efforts to promote racial equality on TV.
  • Television Hall of Fame: The series’ induction into the Television Hall of Fame solidifies its status as a pioneering and impactful show. This honor commemorates its lasting legacy, innovative approach to sitcoms, and its role in enhancing diversity and representation on television.

These recognitions not only celebrate The Cosby Show’s critical acclaim but also its enduring impact on the TV industry, acknowledging its cultural importance and groundbreaking contributions.

Conclusion

“The Cosby Show” is a very important part of TV history. It’s famous not just for being funny and entertaining but also for how it changed the way African-American families were shown on TV. Even though there’s been some trouble with its main actor, we can’t ignore that this show was a big deal. It broke old stereotypes, included important lessons, and led the way for new TV shows.

The many awards “The Cosby Show” won prove just how good and important it was. These awards show us that the show really did change American TV for the better. Looking back at “The Cosby Show,” we see that it helped make TV a place where more stories and different kinds of families could be seen. This has taught both viewers and TV makers a lot about diversity, talking about tough topics, and understanding each other better.

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