NBC first aired The Cosby Show on September 20, 1984 and for the eight seasons that the show was being produced, it had a profound impact on the television industry. This situational comedy starred Bill Cosby and was centered on the Huxtable family. The Huxtables are an upper-middle class black family living in Brooklyn, New York. The patriarch of the family, Cliff (played by Bill Cosby), is a doctor while the matriarch, Claire, is an attorney. Together, Cliff and Claire have four daughters and a son that show the issues that the family faces through a comedic lens.
The Cosby Show made a deep impact on the television representations of blackness. Prior to The Cosby Show, blacks had been the center point of television shows that have either been set in a lower class lifestyle, as seen in Sanford & Son, or one that lacks a patriarchal family structure like that seen in Julia. The Cosby Show was a critically transformative moment for the representation of blacks on television because it completely changed the way that the culture of blackness was viewed. The Huxtables were universally appealing because they featured an upper-middle class family that happened to be black and in doing this they brought to light a region of blackness that hadn’t previously been highlighted. They showcased the complexity of blackness that encompassed a middle class lifestyle. Through its feature of such complexity, it brought to light the upward social mobility being made by blacks which would expand the black middle class and make way for changes in African American culture. The Cosby Show also attempted to cast such a black middle class lifestyle with a dominant nuclear family unit in direct opposition to the Moynihan viewpoints that blamed the lack of a patriarchal family structure for lack of upward mobility in the black culture. The Cosby Show was written strongly with the underlying theme of “unity,” which did come at the cost of placing the significant differences within “unity” on the backburner. Overall, The Cosby Show opened the door to introduce whites to the upward mobility of blacks and the television industry to these new, reformed representations of blackness and African American culture.
The Cosby Show generated a moment in television programming that changed the way in which we viewed blackness. The Huxtables allowed us to see the upward mobility and middle class lifestyle of blackness within a prototypical family structure. The show was a one that cast blacks in a way that could be understood by all, which came with some critiques, but overall paved the way for more shows to cast blackness within a similar setting. Therefore, we can say that starting September 20, 1984, the Crosby moment paved the way for a reformed viewpoint of African American culture via television programming.
Written by Mike Petronek