Last night's Season 7 premiere of The Celebrity Apprentice took a bizarre and uncomfortable turn when Bill Cosby became the focus of the final boardroom showdown. Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played Rudy on The Cosby Show, was the first contestant to be fired, specifically because she refused to call Bill Cosby.
Elected as a team leader, Pulliam was tasked with raising money for a charity on the episode. Typically, participants are urged to "use their resources" (read: call their celebrity friends and colleagues) to get donations. While Pulliam insisted she sought out "people I felt can deliver the quickest," Trump and her fellow contestants criticized her refusal to reach out to Cosby.
"If I were Rudy Huxtable," said Kenya Moore, "I would have called my TV dad!" At this Pulliam began to tear up, explaining that she hadn't seen or spoken to Cosby in years.
"I have not talked to Bill Cosby on the phone in I don't know how long," she replied. "So, for me to pick up the phone, having not talked to you for five years — except for when we run into each other for a Cosby event — I feel that's not my place to do."
In the end, Trump fired Pulliam for what he saw as her greatest misstep. "I really believe if you'd called that gentleman he would've helped you — even if you hadn't spoken to him in years — because you were an amazing team with one of the most successful shows ever," Trump said. "I think it would've been a very good call to make for charity. But you have to take responsibility. I think you agree with that."
The episode was filmed months before the rape allegations became headlines, when Cosby was still a lionized figure to most of the public. But, at this point, the boardroom pile-on — and Pulliam's tearful, quiet defense — comes off as awkward and painful to watch. NBC edited out the Cosby discussion in its online clip, but Vulture's Abraham Riesman posted the full scene, writing, "What's truly baffling here is why the show's producers didn't edit this stuff out, trim it down, or make some kind of statement about it beforehand."
This morning, Pulliam went on Today to discuss the episode, briefly touching on the Cosby issue. Asked about his rape allegations, she replied in glowing terms. "You can't take away from the greatness he has done," she said. "That's just not the man I know, so I can't speak to it." Though she was dismayed to have been fired, Pulliam took no issue with the boardroom scene. As for calling Cosby, she maintains that she simply didn't feel comfortable calling someone she hadn't seen in so long.
Donald Trump essentially expressed the same sentiment on Twitter, holding his stance as well: "This show was taped just before the terrible Bill Cosby revelations came to light. She still should have asked him for money — goes to charity."