This week marks 25 years since "The Cosby Show" first hit the airwaves. The show documented the rich and often hilarious family life of the Huxtables, an upper-middle-class black family living in Brooklyn. The show starred Bill Cosby as Dr. Cliff Huxtable, an obstetrician, his wife Claire, an attorney played by Phylicia Rashad, and their four (and later, five) children and eventually, grandchildren. The show revolutionized television's portrayal of black families; our friend, Essence Magazine Senior Editor Patrik Henry Bass, has been looking back at the television phenomenon and thinking about how it has aged. We also get a perspective from Ta-Nehisi Coates, who profiled Bill Cosby for The Atlantic last year.
"In terms of American television, there had never been images of African-Americans the way we saw with the Huxtables. You have to remember that "Amos & Andy" was the first vision that white folks had of African-Americans when it debuted in the 1950s, and the images shown on that show were so stereotypical that the NAACP had it removed in 1966. We had "Julia," with Diahann Carroll in the late '60s -- she never had a husband. Her husband was conveniently killed in Vietnam. We had "Sanford & Son," who was a garbageman who had no wife. We had the Evans family in "Good Times" who lived in a housing project where the father was killed three years into the run of the show. We had "Webster," who was this magical negro child who had no family, who was adopted by white parents. And we had the Willises on "Diff'rent Strokes," who were taken in by a white man on Park Avenue, almost like a pedophile ... [laughter] ... so when the Huxtables came on in 1984, no one gave it a shot at surviving. The sitcom had been declared dead; NBC had been declared dead ... It saved NBC and it saved the sitcom. "
--Patrik Henry Bass, senior editor at Essence magazine
"As much as I loved the Cosby Show, I think it always bore the burden -- and any show in that time -- of representing all black people, which I think was always just a little too heavy to carry."