Synopsis by Hal Erickson
The series that literally rescued the moribund situation comedy genre from oblivion, NBC's The Cosby Show made its first appearance on September 20, 1984. By the time its first season was over, the series was the second-highest-rated program in the country, enabling NBC to build a brand-new sitcom empire with such popular offerings as Frasier, Seinfeld, and Friends. Bill Cosby was of course the creator of the series, in concert with the Carsey-Werner Company, whose later efforts included Roseanne, 3rd Rock From the Sun, and That '70s Show. Cosby played the leading character, Dr. Cliff Huxtable, a successful obstetrician who lived in a fashionable Brooklyn townhouse with his attorney wife, Clair (played by Phylicia Ayers-Allen, later billed as Phylicia Rashad). The couple's children included daughters Sondra (Sabrina Le Beauf), Denise (Lisa Bonet), Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe), and Rudy (Keshia Knight Pulliam) and son Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner). Among the many other characters were Cliff's dad, Russell (Earle Hyman), and mom, Anna (Clarice Taylor); Sondra's boyfriend -- and later husband -- Elvin Tibedeaux (Geoffrey Owens); Theo's pal Cockroach (Carl Anthony Payne II); Rudy's friends Peter (Peter Costa) and Kenny (Deon Richmond); Vanessa's boyfriend Dabnis (William Thomas Jr.); Clair's second cousin, Bedford-Stuyvesant refugee Pam Turner (Erika Alexander); and Pam's friends Slida (Mushond Lee), Charmaine (Karen Malina White), and Lance (Allen Payne). Also, after briefly leaving the series to star in her own series, A Different World, Lisa Bonet returned in the role of Denise, then-married to Lt. Martin Kendall (Joseph C. Phillips) and stepmother of Martin's daughter, Olivia (Raven-Symone). Increasing the number of family members were Sondra and Elvin's twin children, Winnie and Nelson, played during the series' final season by Jessica Vaughn and Gary Gray. Unlike many sitcoms with African-American casts, The Cosby Show did not overemphasize its racial aspects, nor did it traffic in stereotypical characters or dialogue. Put simply, the Huxtables could have been any upper-middle-class family of any color, and it was their normality and universality that made the series a hit with viewers from all ethnic groups. The winner of innumerable industry awards, and America's top-rated sitcom for a remarkable five years in a row, The Cosby Show finished its network run on September 17, 1992, and has been a welcome fixture in the syndicated-rerun field ever since.