Ebony ‘Cosby Show’ Issue Sparks Debate As It Explores Family’s Legacy

The November cover of Ebony magazine features an early portrait of The Cosby Show cast, and it has sparked lively debate across social media about whether black America’s beloved TV family are worthy of the feature. The image is overlaid by shattered glass, which serves as a catalyst for conversations within the community about the Cosby TV family legacy.

The Cosby Show came along at a time when black American households were craving positive media portrayals of black people, their lives and interests. The series ran for eight seasons on NBC from September 20, 1984 until April 30, 1992. The show focused on the upper middle-class, African-American Huxtable family, led by comedian Bill Cosby, who for over two decades was dubbed “America’s dad.”

In 2013, Cosby met with network executives about re-creating the magic of The Cosby Show with a new sitcom suited for a new generation. TV Guide reports that Bill Cosby was also looking to develop a new version of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.

A 1992 NY Times article reported on how Cosby was set to make the biggest purchase in TV history with the acquisition of NBC. The report stated that Cosby was confident he could raise the funds to buy the network; at that time, the asking price was $4 billion. Cosby was interested in making quality television shows and he told colleagues that he would surround himself with “good people” to handle all the details of running a network. The deal was never finalized, as the network maintained that it wasn’t for sale, and many in the business recoiled at the notion of an actor and African-American seeking ownership of one of the largest media platforms in the world.

Then came dozens of allegations of sexual misconduct against Cosby, over 50 women have accused America’s former father of rape or drugged-induced sexual assault, with the earliest alleged incidents taking place in the mid-1960s. Cosby and his team of attorneys have denied vigorously the allegations, and he has never been criminally charged. All of which makes the Ebony cover, titled “The Family Issue(s),” a powerful reflection of how Bill Cosby’s reputation as a family man has been tarnished. It may also confirm that his former adoring public, black and non-black, no longer considers him an aspiring figure and influence.

Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who played Cosby’s son Theo on The Cosby Show, says the show’s legacy is now “tarnished” in the wake of sexual assault allegations. Warner told The Associated Press that no matter what negative images about blacks appeared on other shows and movies, viewers always had the Cosby family to depict a different side of life.

“We’ve always had The Cosby Show to hold up against that. And the fact that we no longer have that, that’s the thing that saddens me the most because in a few generations the Huxtables will have been just a fairy tale,” he said.

“If Bill Cosby is finished, what does that mean for Cliff, and the rest of the tribe called Huxtable?” asks writer Goldie Taylor in the cover story. As CNN notes, Ebony editor-in-chief Kierna Mayo and her staff deliberately set out to spark the divisive conversation that is happening online about the cover.

“When you understand the soul of black America and you understand how important iconography is and you understand how important the image of black family perfection… is, you realize that there’s no way to do something like this without it being hugely conversational, if not confrontational, and in many cases painful for people,” Mayo said.

Cosby Protestors

“We are simply asking African-Americans to have a very passionate, a very honest and a very forthright conversation about what this means,” she said.

Bill Cosby’s alleged criminal behavior has been the subject of media reports for at least a decade, and comedian Hannibal Buress reminded us of this last November when he called Cosby a rapist in a stand-up clip that went viral, after which, a slew of women came forward to accuse the actor, author and activist of sexually assaulting them. Most recently, a Pennsylvania woman is suing Bill for defamation, citing denials by his attorney and his wife, Camille, of allegations he repeatedly sexually abused her. As a teen, the woman appeared on a children’s TV show with Bill Cosby in the 1980s, LA Times reports.

[Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for New York Comedy Festival]