Entertainment

NBC’s Bill Cosby Comedy Is Moving Forward

Past sexual assault allegations have re-emerged against Cosby, but that has not affected the network’s plans.

Bill Cosby Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press / MCT

Though Bill Cosby’s new show still has not been officially picked up, NBC executives spoke glowingly and assuredly on Sunday about its future at the network.

During a press conference at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, Jennifer Salke, NBC’s entertainment president, called it a “classic, big extended-family sitcom.” The show, which is being written now, will revolve around Cosby, she said. “Bill plays the patriarch of the family, dispensing his classic wisdom on relationships and parenthood, with three daughters, husbands, and grandchildren.”

Robert Greenblatt, NBC’s entertainment chairman, said the show could air next summer or in the fall of 2015. It is being created by Mike Sikowitz and Mike O’Malley, the latter of whom might also co-star. Though NBC finished first in Nielsen’s ratings in the 2013–14 season, representing a turnaround in its fortunes, the network has been searching without success in recent years for a comedy hit that would appeal to a mass audience. Last season, The Michael J. Fox Show did not work, nor did Sean Saves the World.

This new project with Cosby is part of that search. Yet when it was announced in January, the resulting hype and nostalgia were accompanied by the re-emergence of allegations of sexual assault in the comedian’s past.

In 2006, Cosby, who was out of the spotlight at the time, settled a lawsuit with a woman who claimed that he had drugged and raped her two years earlier. As part of the lawsuit, the accuser found multiple other women who said they had similar stories about Cosby, and who agreed to testify had the suit gone to trial. It did not. Cosby, who turned 77 on Saturday, has never been charged with a crime.

In February, Newsweek interviewed two of the women who had previously accused Cosby of rape, Barbara Bowman and Tamara Green. Bowman told Katie J.M. Baker (now of BuzzFeed) that she was 17 when she met Cosby, who would fly her to events to see whether she “was worthy of mentoring.” According to her account, Cosby sexually assaulted her a “number of times” when she was 18 and 19.

When asked about the prospect of Cosby having a new show on the air, Green, the other accuser who spoke with Newsweek, said, “He’s going to be Dr. Huxtable again, right? And that’s what the USA thinks he is. They think he’s Dr. Huxtable.”

After the NBC press conference, Greenblatt spoke with a smaller group of TV journalists. He said that the show is still being developed: “We haven’t made a serious commitment to it — we have a big commitment to Bill himself, but not to the show.”

Ellen Gray, the TV critic for The Philadelphia Daily News, pointed out that Cosby has become a more controversial figure than he was during the days of The Cosby Show. Greenblatt asked for specifics. Gray cited the way he talks about the black community; I mentioned settling the sexual assault lawsuit.

Greenblatt said: “All I do is try to put on shows that I think are good, with extraordinary talent. I think he’s extraordinary. And I think the show will be good. All the other things will sort of sort themselves out.”

Asked for a comment, a representative for Cosby said, “I will check with Mr. Cosby.”

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