On this day in comedy on March 21, 1971 The Bill Cosby Show aired its series finale on NBC.
Premiering on September 14, 1969, The Bill Cosby Show was the first time an African-American starred in a self-titled sitcom. It was also the first time Cosby worked on TV alone. He’d made his breakthrough in the ground breaking action series, I Spy, co-starring alongside Robert Culp. The Bill Cosby Show was also unique because it did not employ the use of a laugh track. Cosby felt the home audience was smart enough to know where the jokes were and didn’t need the producers to give them blatant hints. Risky, for prior to this, it had been awhile since 1950s shows such as The Trouble with Father and The Beulah Show had tried the no frills formula.
The Bill Cosby Show shot for realism. The series focused on the life of Cosby’s character, Chet Kincaid, a high school PE instructor in Los Angeles, California. Chet’s a bachelor with an eye for the ladies, but who still manages to help people out who he’s not trying to date. The episodes dealt with broader lessons and not just quick solutions to challenges. Being in a high school allowed the writers to delve into universally relatable situations. Cosby would often find himself moderating disputes between teachers and students, students and students and of course teachers and teachers.
Cosby himself drew in little known veteran talents as well as legendary super-stars. During its two season run, The Bill Cosby Show featured the likes of Moms Mabley and Mantan Moreland (as Cosby’s aunt and uncle), Rex Ingram, Lillian Randolph (as Cosby’s mother), Henry Fonda, Don Knotts, Dick Van Dyke, DeWayne Jessie, John Marley, Elsa Lanchester, Cicely Tyson, Tom Bosley, Wally Cox, Antonio Fargas, Isabel Sanford, Mike Farrell and Lou Gossett.
The show’s theme song, “Hikky Burr” was written by Quincy Jones and Cosby and “sung” by the latter. Though no critical darling, viewers loved it, keeping the sitcom ranked high in the Nielsen ratings week after week.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
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