Last month, Deadline broke the news that Bill Cosby made a deal to return to NBC for a half-hour family comedy in which he would star. The story spread quickly, with reporters and critics jumping on both the news and the meaning of it: "Can Bill Cosby save NBC comedy, or will he struggle like Michael J. Fox?" wondered HitFix's Alan Sepinwall.
Historically, thinking about Bill Cosby brings to mind the warm, paternal humor that infused The Cosby Show in the '80s and early '90s — the sitcom that also revolutionized television in its portrayal of an upper-middle-class black family. But after Dylan Farrow's shot-heard-'round-the-world open letter to Woody Allen, accusing him of sexual abuse, the idea of 76-year-old Cosby returning to television has also awoken interest in another story: the past rape allegations against him.
In 2006, Cosby settled a lawsuit with a woman who claimed that he had drugged and raped her in 2004. Thirteen women who said they had similar stories, none of whom planned to sue him themselves, agreed to testify had the lawsuit gone to trial. Since Cosby chose to settle, it never did.
At the time, People magazine covered the story thoroughly. (Here is the Smoking Gun copy of the lawsuit.) And last week, Gawker reminded readers about these allegations about Cosby, who was never charged with a crime. Newsweek has since interviewed two of the women who had accused Cosby of rape, Tamara Green and Barbara Bowman.
It's potentially a toxic stew for a network to get involved in: Is it worth it for NBC? A source there, who would speak only on background, referred to the project as "embryonic."
"The show is in development like so many others," the NBC source said. "There is no writer and no script." There is also, the source said, no series commitment despite the widespread assumption that this show will go forward.
A source close to Cosby confirmed that the show is only in nascent stages. "If they like it, they'll pick up a pilot. But it's not a done deal."
The Cosby source also said the interest in the comedian's past is solely because of Farrow and Allen. "These cases came and were adjudicated at the time, and then they went away. We never hear anything about any of them.
"You had the Gawker thing. And now there's a gal at Newsweek that's frisky, looking at some of these things," the source continued. "I can't see that that has anything to do with him going back to television."
Cosby's publicist had no comment.