I know everybody is sad that “Scandal” won’t be on for another three weeks. (Damn you, Shonda Rhimes, for leaving us strung out on these streets like crack fiends!) But way before Olivia and Fitz were heating up our Thursday nights, there was another groundbreaking, black television show that reshaped how we saw ourselves and would change the lens of black television forever.
Unless you were sleeping under a rock in 1984, there’s no way you could have missed the coming of the “The Cosby Show.” It was absolutely AMAZING to see this brilliant, wonderful, and captivating African American family who showed the absolute best of who we could be. Even though I was just in kindergarten when “The Cosby Show” debuted, I just fell in love with the character “Rudy.” It was the first time that I saw a beautiful, chocolate brown, full and bushy haired, little girl who looked just like me. Her comedic timing was EVERYTHING during the first few seasons and I would always imagine what it would be like live a life like hers.
“The Cosby Show” holds an extra special place in my heart because my father, my brother, Thomas, and I would gather in the family den to watch the show together. Somehow magically every Thursday my father would make me take a late afternoon nap right before the show came on. (As rambunctious and energetic as I was, I’m still not sure how that happened EVERY week!). But right on cue, right around 8:00, I would wake up to see and hear my father and brother already laughing at one of Cliff’s jokes or Theo’s latest antics.
Like most kids who came of age in the 80s and 90s, I grew up with “The Cosby Show.” “Cosby” and eventually “A Different World” (which ranks as a close second behind “Cosby” as one of my all-time favorite TV shows) gave me a different blueprint for who I could be as a black woman. I never thought about going to college until Denise headed off to Hillman College. I didn’t know that it was OK for black girls to be cool and quirky until I saw Vanessa’s avant-garde style. I became more empowered to sing white folk and rock songs and to adopt slightly crunchy ways for living after seeing Sandra and Elvin’s kooky but loving relationship. (Note: I WILL belt out a mean gospel version of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” on demand!) I learned it was perfectly normal to hate your big brother at times (Sorry, Thomas. I’m STILL not over the spitting incident when I was 7!) after viewing many episodes where the Huxtable sisters had to gang up on Theo. “The Cosby Show” gave me permission to be proud, smart, successful, and BLACK in a world where none of those words should have been strung together for a little girl from Baltimore. But because of “Cosby” my dreams for my life could soar far, far beyond my imagination.
When Cliff and Clair danced off the air in the final episode in the Spring of 1992, there were plenty of options to fill my Thursday nights. In high school, there was the hilarity of “Martin,” the fab ladies of “Living Single,” the ever so sexy William and Torres on “New York Undercover” and the never-ending medical thrills on “ER.” My young adult years were filled with the gang from “Friends” and then the doctors of Seattle Grace on “Grey’s Anatomy.” And now my Thursday nights are helplessly devoted to the fascinating complexities of Olivia Pope on “Scandal.” (Seriously, Shonda, you could have given us more warning about this three-week break. Hashtag bitter.)
But no matter how many shows have filled my Thursday nights, I will never forget the first one that changed life. Thank you “Cosby Show” for not just being MUST-SEE-TV but for giving me the freedom to JUST BE ME.