When Networks Pull The Cosby Show, It's Women Stars Who Pay For Bill Cosby's Transgressions

Photo: NBC-TV/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
After years of high-profile legal tumult, accused serial sexual assaulter Bill Cosby can simply be called a serial sexual assaulter, no qualifiers necessary. The disgraced comedian was officially found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault on Thursday after he drugged and sexually assaulted longtime accuser Andrea Constand in 2004. The verdict felt like a sigh of hard-fought relief, as Constand has been in and out of courtrooms with her abuser since 2005, and a long line of other women have been accusing Cosby of rape for decades. Months after the #MeToo movement took hold of culture, a Hollywood institution of a man had finally faced real, legal consequences for his monstrous actions.
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Following Cosby’s conviction, Bounce TV, which credits itself as “the first African-American broadcast network,” announced all reruns of the criminal’s The Cosby Show would be pulled from its schedule. The move followed years of other streaming and traditional television networks ditching the history-making sitcom from their lineups — Bounce was the final holdout. For people who have wished to see justice for Cosby’s victims, the knee-jerk reaction to the network’s decision is one of elation. Finally, the image of Bill Cosby, secretly a calculated sexual predator, as the paragon of harmless, lovable, sweater-wearing fatherhood and masculinity would be eradicated from television.
But the decision isn’t so simple. After all, Bill Cosby isn’t the only person who appeared on The Cosby Show, and is therefore not the only person losing out on possible residual checks. Rather, the rest of the cast was a veritable matriarchy, filled with the flawless Phylicia Rashad and Lisa Bonet, along with the likes of consistent Cosby defender and single mom Keshia Knight Pulliam. As is wont to happen in culture, while we’re appropriately punishing the Cosby Show patriarch for his horrific misdeeds, the women around him are also being made to pay, this time literally.
The Cosby Show, which ruled television for eight seasons as a critical and commerical juggernaut, left our airwaves just over two-and-a-half decades ago. It’s easy to assume after that amount of time, residual profits from syndication, which arise when a project continues to air on whatever network purchases the rights, don’t exactly amount to much in 2018. Yet that is far from what the cast itself has said about the financial cushion the series still provides 26 years later. Malcolm-Jamal Warner, the series’ only male star other than Cosby, has been the most vocal about the subject, telling The Wrap in 2016 of his TV family, “I’m not talking to anybody about their bottom line. I’m not familiar with anybody’s bottom line. But I can say there are financial repercussions that we experience because of that.”
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Months later, Warner said on The Real of television’s Cosby Show boycott, “It’s literally taking money out of my pocket. So I got my own personal feelings about that, because it personally affects me.”
Although the women of Warner’s sitcom family haven’t commented on their series’ television erasure, it’s likely the moratorium has affected their bottom line as well. Knight Pulliam, who played the precocious Rudy Huxtable, appeared in just one episode more than Warner, so the pair likely nets the same in residuals —the residuals Warner obviously cares about keeping. Tempestt Bledsoe, who played Vanessa Huxtable, is also in that ballpark of Cosby Show credits.
While both Knight Pulliam and Bledsoe went on to act in more projects, neither scored another iconic, lucrative TV series like their NBC hit. The same can even be said for Tony winner Phylicia Rashad, who recently had a lengthy guest arc on Empire, and Lisa Bonet, who has favored guest stints since leaving the Cosby empire (she starred in one season of a spinoff, A Different World) in 1991.
While some might say the Cosby cast shouldn’t be allowed to complain about missing coins, those people are missing the point. These are performers, a majority of whom are women, who worked tirelessly for nearly 10 years. They didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, all they did was show a version of the Black family television had never seen before. The Huxtables proved to millions of viewers Black people could be intelligent, loving, and wealthy enough to own a massive Brooklyn brownstone. In the 1980s, such a portrayal was revolutionary. Yet, after all that culture-changing work with decades of staying power, these individuals are now losing the money owed to them, and it's all thanks to one man’s horrifying behavior. It doesn’t matter if they’re losing a dime or $1 million, Bill Cosby’s actions stole that from them.
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While we certainly don’t need The Cosby Show back on the air — reminding us of Cosby’s greatest long-con: tricking the world into trusting him by deploying goofy faces and pudding pops every week for eight years — this habit of penalizing the people around a predator, especially the women closest to him, has become a habit.
Months after Harvey Weinstein was revealed to be an alleged serial rapist, USA Today asked if his wife Georgina Champman’s famed fashion line Marchesa could “ever recover” from Weinstein’s scandal. This month, The Hollywood Reporter revealed Chapman, who was never accused of any wrongdoing, was plotting a “comeback.” Why does someone who never harmed a single person need to come back from anything? Similarly, the world questioned whether FX would cancel Better Things, helmed and led by Louis C.K. collaborator Pamela Adlon, after C.K. admitted to many chilling allegations of sexual harassment. Again, Pamela Adlon hurt no one, but was expected to lose her beautiful, tender, relentlessly female show. Thankfully, that didn't happen.
Unfortunately, this problem isn’t limited to the entertainment industry. For proof, we simply need to look at the saga of Anthony Weiner, whose explicit text conversations with a minor in 2016 led to then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton being re-investigated by the FBI days before the election. The reason? Weiner’s estranged wife is Clinton top advisor Huma Abedin, of course. We all know what happened 11 days later (spoiler alert: Weiner wasn't the one to lose an election).
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That’s why it feels as though the only way to make up for Cosby wrecking other people's finances is to give The Cosby Show a reboot. It already seems like every other show from that era is getting a new coat of paint right now. Roseanne, which shared the airwaves with the Huxtables for four of its nine seasons, is broadcast television’s greatest success story this year. Feminist game-changer Murphy Brown, which shared those same aforementioned fours years during its 10-year run, is heading back to television this fall, with original titular lead Candice Bergen back in the anchor chair. A revival for sitcom Mad About You, which began the year Cosby Show ended, is being written as you read this.
At this point, it should be pretty clear our descent into nostalgia-flavored TV could already use a little — or a lot — more melanin, whether Bill Cosby dented his co-stars bank accounts or not. So, why not allow the women and Malcolm-Jamal Warners of the Huxtable family to return their iconic series to its former greatness, without a stitch of their fallen former leader? You can even name it The Huxtable Show. Or, might we suggest The Rashad Show?
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