First of all, I find it very odd that NBC is the network doing this. Not too long ago, there was exciting buzz about that channel bringing back Michael J. Fox in a family sitcom, and NBC was so confident in the project that it ordered a full 24 episodes before the series made it to air. Roughly halfway through its freshman run, The Michael J. Fox Show is a ratings failure, sure to never get a sophomore season. With its last place numbers, especially on the night that was once Must See TV, it seems like NBC is doubling down on a failed idea.
But no two people are like, and so, too, will no two shows be exactly the same. Just because Fox couldn’t find something fresh and new (his sitcom, which I finally gave up on in November, definitely feels like one that would have worked well in days gone by, just not now) doesn’t mean the Cosby can’t. Judgment should be reserved.
Now, Cosby has already attempted and failed at a second go-round. Cosby, which began a few years after The Cosby Show ended (and also followed up the even more short-lived The Cosby Mysteries), ran for only four seasons. That may seem like a lot, and the death of series regular and comedy star Madeleine Kahn may have had something to do with it ending then. But that run is rarely remembered by anyone, a footnote in Cosby’s career despite its Emmy nominations and the return of Phylicia Rashad as Bill’s wife.
TV audiences crave a good new family sitcom. Modern Family is aging and The Middle and Raising Hope barely get by. Most of the popular comedies on television today don’t revolve around a mother, a father, and their children. Surely, everything clever about such a unit has not already been told? We just need a new style to tell it in.
However, this may be not be the direction NBC is going with the new show. One idea being bandied about is to bring back many of the actors from the original The Cosby Show, and making this new venture a continuation, a la Dallas. Dallas works, though, because it balances a new cast with the old. Since most viewers would tune in for Cosby himself, would this potential series be able to do that? Nostalgia can only carry things so far, and as great as The Cosby Show is, its era seems to be over. They might be better served doing something completely fresh.
It might not be a bad idea to try to provide other draws for the show besides Bill Cosby himself, if they go in that direction. He is getting up there in the years, and given that most successful comedies run for close to a decade, that should be taken into account when sketching out the premise.
Age has not weakened Cosby’s humor, though. Doing a fresh stand up (to be more accurate, sit-down) special for Comedy Central last fall, he landed joke after joke. The whole thing was hilarious. He doesn’t need to convince anyone who saw it that he can still deliver in the humor department. And he did so by mainly sticking to the type of material he’s known for.
So maybe I’m wrong that a traditional family program can’t succeed today. Maybe it just needs that special Bill Cosby touch. Maybe his brand is exactly the right one to catch that lightening again, and he can be a television legend once more. We’ll see.