Looking back at season 1 of The Cosby Show
, it's easy to forget that momentous history was being made. Not only did this immensely popular sitcom hold the #1 spot among all network TV shows for five consecutive seasons (a record that still stands), but it promoted an evolutionary progression that influenced the entire TV industry from that point forward. African Americans had enjoyed sitcom success in the past (on Julia
, The Jeffersons
, and Good Times
), but the idealized family of Cliff and Clair Huxtable (Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad) represented a new and quietly revolutionary perspective; married for 21 years with five children (one in college, a detail unmentioned in the pilot episode), the Huxtables were happy and successful (he's a doctor, she's a lawyer), and issues of race were almost entirely irrelevant to the show's universal appeal. Making their Thursday-night debut on September 20, 1984, they were conceived by Cosby (as "executive consultant Dr. William H. Cosby Jr., Ed.D."), cocreators Ed. Weinberger and Michael Leeson, and executive producers Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey, with a matter-of-fact approach to upgrading the African American image, built upon Cosby's rubber-faced popularity as a stand-up comedian and rooted in the complete and unbiased integration of the black experience into the American mainstream. More to the point, The Cosby Show
was eminently respectable family entertainment, perhaps too squeaky-clean for some tastes, but immediately popular at a time when Eddie Murphy (in Beverly Hills Cop
) was honing a more profane image that Cosby disapproved of.
The show was also perfectly cast for mass appeal, from the irresistible precociousness of Keshia Knight Pulliam (as the youngest and most charming Huxtable daughter, Rudy) to the stylish adolescence of Lisa Bonet (years before her controversial role in Angel Heart) as 16-year-old Denise; Malcolm-Jamal Warner as outspoken teenager Theo; Tem