|Cosby (1996)||$1,000,000 /episode (1996)|
Bill Cosby is one of the world's most well-known entertainers and comedians. William Henry Cosby, Jr. was born on July 12, 1937, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Anna Pearl (Hite), a maid, and William Henry Cosby, Sr., a U.S. Navy sailor. After tenth grade, Cosby joined the Navy and completed high school through a correspondence course. He later took up an athletics scholarship at Temple University, supporting himself during his studies by tending bar, where his easy-going style and witty joking with the clientèle prompted suggestions that he try stand-up comedy. This he did and was soon to be discovered by the legendary Carl Reiner.
In his early twenties, he appeared on many well-known variety programs including Toast of the Town (1948) (aka "The Ed Sullivan Show"). His big break came in 1965 when he appeared as "Alexander Scott" in I Spy (1965), winning numerous Emmys for his performance. He later appeared in The Bill Cosby Show (1969), playing a teacher, although originally the show only lasted for two years. He then created a Filmation cartoon based on many of his high school buddies including Weird Harold, Dumb Donald, Mushmouth, and others: the show was, of course, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972). The theme was humorous but also focused on Cosby's more educational side. He studied for many years during his career in the 1960s and 1970s, and he received a doctorate in Education from the University of Massachusetts. Cosby also starred in some highly successful movies such as Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Let's Do It Again (1975), A Piece of the Action (1977), Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976), and California Suite (1978). During his early years he also made some comedy albums that sold very well; his most notable comedy song being "Little Old Man." He was one of the original cast members of The Electric Company (1971), and he was featured in the series Pinwheel (1976) during the late 1970s and then appeared in the mediocre The Devil and Max Devlin (1981).
In 1984, 'Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids' stopped production, and The Cosby Show (1984) commenced. The show was originally intended to follow a blue-collar family, but finally ended up portraying a white-collar family. It was originally rejected by ABC, accepted by a then-floundering NBC, and was an almost instant success. From 1985 to 1987 the show broke viewing records, with Cosby becoming perhaps the strongest driving force in television during the eighties. Despite this great success, he arguably created his own downfall. The Cosby Show led what was considered by many at that time to be the best night of television: the line-up included Night Court (1984), Hill Street Blues (1981), and Family Ties (1982), which all followed The Cosby Show.
Cosby was dissatisfied with the way minorities were portrayed on television. He produced the TV series A Different World (1987) and insisted that this program should follow the Cosby Show, rather than Family Ties. A Different World was set in an historically Black college and concentrated on young people and education. Impact was felt on the show immediately; at its peak, the Cosby Show logged an estimated 70 million viewers. However, after the scheduling reshuffle, the show lost roughly 20% of its massive audience. However, Cosby was still riding high in the early nineties until massive competition from Gia Dinh Simpsons (1989).
The Cosby Show finally ended in 1992, conceding to Gia Dinh Simpsons (1989), with the final production considered to be one of the highest-rated shows of the season and featured a pleading Cosby asking for peace in riot-torn Los Angeles during the height of the Rodney King riots. Cosby never seemed able to top the success of the Cosby Show; his film Leonard Part 6 (1987) was considered to be one of the worst American films in history and may have contributed in part to his downfall as a film actor, along with his performance in Ghost Dad (1990). He did attempt a minor comeback in 1996 starring in the Robin Williams film Jack (1996), which was directed by Francis Ford Coppola; and in another show, Cosby (1996), (starring Phylicia Rashad, who appeared as his wife in the previous Cosby Show). Since then he has produced films such as Men of Honor (2000), and shows including Little Bill (1999).
Sadly, his son Ennis was murdered in 1997. Throughout the years, Bill Cosby has taken a socially conscious tone, often associated with family values, coupled with a distinctly urban spin on his style.