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The New Bill Cosby Show
:Bill Cosby on TV in the Seventies:/ / PART TWO - - - Read Part One Here------
by
Billy Ingram


CosAfter a year away from weekly series television, Cosby returned on September 11, 1972 - this time on CBS - with The New Bill Cosby Show, his best series to date, in my very humble estimation.

This very funny variety hour, produced by Laugh-In creator George Schlatter, co-starred Lola Falana (dancing and announcing), Foster Brooks as a perpetually drunk CBS programming executive, Oscar DuGruy, and blonde skit player Susan Tolsky. Music was provided by the magnificent Quincy Jones Orchestra (active in television in the seventies, creating some of the most memorable theme songs of that era).

Dan Brooks adds, "Quincy Jones' theme to The New Bill Cosby Show was called Chump Change. It was released as a single on Jones's 1974 album You Got It Bad, Girl and was used that same year as the theme music for the game show Now You See It which also aired on CBS."

The New Bill Cosby ShowOne regular feature had Bill Cosby reminiscing about his childhood, giving the comic an opportunity to reprise and expand on his classic sixties stand up routines. "I'm not following anybody else," the comedian was quoted as saying. "My humor, dig it or not, has to be real - something that happened or is happening."

Lots of air time was given over to Bill Cosby for his involved and lengthy monologues; they were more in the tradition of storytelling than jokes, with routines lasting seven or eight minutes. "I'm only 34 years old," the star was quoted as saying in 1972. "My time is now. If it isn't now, it may be never. And I can't afford never. I never could."

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cosby adGuest stars for the premiere were Sidney Pointier and Harry Belafonte, who introduced the program with a satirical look back at Bill Cosby's life. Belafonte also sang Tone the Bell Easy on that episode - music was an important part of this variety show, Bill Cosby and Quincy Jones were hosts to some fine musical performances from a wide range of guest-stars.

Cosby had a lot riding on this series. He had recently parted with his long-time management firm (in which he was a major investor) and a Las Vegas preview for his new show, with columnists flown in from around the country, turned into a disaster when Cosby became distracted by a worker during his set, went backstage to angrily confront the guy, then returned to hastily finish his act before storming off the stage.

Producer George Schlatter somewhat diplomatically said this in 1972 about working with Cosby on this show: "I don't care if he is difficult and demanding. And I don't want to change him. I just want to stretch him a little. We have eight writers on this show. But all eight of us are listening to Cosby, grabbing at his bright, intelligent, articulate ideas.

New Bill Cosby Show Guests during the series' short run included Peter Sellers, Lily Tomlin, Buddy Hackett, Connie Stevens (who sang a bizarre medley including "Shaft" and "Do Your Thing"), Don Rickles, The Smothers Brothers, Teresa Graves, Don Knotts and The Staple Singers. Highlights included Bill singing "Look What They've Done With My Song, Ma" with Ray Charles, an appearance by a young Richard Pryor and Foster Brooks and Cosby's hilarious interactions.

"I remember a special episode of The New Bill Cosby Show," TVparty-er Ernie A. Mehaffey tells us. "At the top of the show, Bill came out to announce he had a very special guest star, Groucho Marx. Then he did a monologue about going to the movies when he was a kid which he ended by putting on a fake mustache and eyebrows and walking around the stage doing some of Groucho's best known lines. At the end of this routine, the real Groucho joined him and sang 'Hello, I Must Be Going.'

"There was a very funny interview routine between Bill and Groucho. At one point, Groucho looked at Bill and said, 'You smoke cigars I see.' Bill replied that he really became interested in cigars because of Groucho. Groucho replied, 'They're a handy thing to have for a comedian - assuming, of course, you are a comedian!' Bill's genuine affection for Groucho also made a strong impression on me."

No matter how good the production, if you're stuck in a lousy timeslot you don't stand a chance. Bill Cosby was immensely popular with the male audience, but lost them to Monday Night Football on ABC; adding to Cosby's woes, The Doris Day Show that preceded his program was on it's last legs and no match for the Monday Night Movie on NBC.

The New Bill Cosby Show lasted only one season, a year when there were seven variety shows crowding the primetime schedule.

Cos and Effect

cos Cos (originally to have been titled 'The Bill Cosby Comedy Hour') was Cosby's second attempt to get a variety show off the ground, this time on ABC. To appeal to a younger audience, another new Bill Cosby was presented to the public on September 19, 1976.

Gone were the long form jokes, this was a 'hipper' Bill Cosby, the backdrop for the show was an enormous yellow smiley face with an afro (a graphic carried over from his previous series).

Produced by Chris Bearde, (half of the producing team for The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour), this Sunday night family-oriented program featured Charlie Callas (the comic sidekick on Switch), Rod Hull and his Emu (from the Hudson Brothers shows), Jeff Altman (Pink Lady and Jeff), and comedian Willie Bobo as regulars.The show delivered all of the usual fare one expected from a Chris Bearde produced vehicle, lots of zany skits and bombastic musical numbers.

Bill CosbyProducer Bearde said at the time, "It's a program the whole family can sit down and watch together. A child will see it one way, a teenager another, and an adult another." Good concept, except that it came off like an hour-long Jello commercial and nobody tuned in.

Lots of big name guest stars were recruited for Cos in order to secure a large audience. On the September 19th premiere alone the bulging guest list included: Lynda Carter, Gabe Kaplan, Cindy Williams (singing Don't Go Breaking My Heart while a wind machine blew her clothes off), Olympic swimmer Bruce Jenner, cartoon character Jabberjaw, the rock group Chicago (performing If You Leave Me Now) along with a tribute to Peanuts and an animated segment about a chocolate bar and a sourball.

(Chris Bearde went on to produce The Gong Show for Chuck Barris - sounds like they might have gotten the idea from this series.)  

Another episode found Bea Arthur, Abe Vigoda, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the O'Jays fighting for screen time with comedy skits like Godzilla doing a foot powder commercial and an inane interview with Fred the Cockatoo from Baretta.

In his review of the show in TV Guide Gerry Nadel nailed Cos as, "The television equivalent of going down to the delicatessen to watch them run the bread slicer. If Cher's bellybutton couldn't beat Disney, Cosby's foot in his mouth won't do it either." Rough!

Sensing the guest star clusterfuck concept wasn't working, an attempt was made to put more of the focus on Cosby himself. On October 17th a new regular segment with Bill as the owner of a swinging night club was unveiled but, as far as the network was concerned, it was too late for tinkering.

Cos was one of the first casualties of the 1976 season, the final episode airing on Halloween night.

Fortunately, Cosby did have a hit show in the seventies. Debuting in 1972 on CBS, the same year as The New Bill Cosby Show, was Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids which ran for a whopping twelve years on Saturday mornings.

Based on the hit 1969 NBC prime time special, this long-running children's series turned out to be the most brilliant move in his career. Because of that show, Cosby was seared into the young minds of an entire generation, the same youngsters that grew up to watch his NBC sitcom The Cosby Show (now out on DVD), a program that was number-one in the ratings from 1985 until 1990.

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"The Paul Ashley Puppets appeared on the pilot of Cos in 1976 unfortunately, the comedy that the executive producers Blye& Bearde wanted Mr. Ashley and his puppets to perform on the show was political humor meant for adults; a celebrity roast of Dr. Joyce Brothers (where she was insulted by puppet versions of Jackie Gleason's Reggie Van Gleason the III, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. etc.) was not family friendly.

"The pilot was picked up by the heads of ABC TV but the Paul Ashley Puppets were dropped from the show.

"I was lucky enough to interview Paul Ashley in in March, 1979 when he and his wife were still living in New Rochelle, N.Y. and he told me that he felt that he was being taken advantage of and he never worked with Cosby, Blye and Bearde again."

- Kevin S. Butler


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