The Bill Cosby Show
September 14, 1969 – March 21, 1971
The Bill Cosby Show is an American situation comedy that aired for two seasons on NBC's Sunday night schedule from 1969 until 1971, under the sponsorship of Procter & Gamble. There were 52 episodes made in the series. It marked Cosby's first solo foray in television, after his co-starring role with Robert Culp in I Spy. The series also marked the first time an African American starred in his or her own eponymous comedy series.
In this light-hearted comedy, Bill Cosby played the role of Chet Kincaid, physical education teacher at a Los Angeles high school, bachelor, and average cool guy trying to earn a living and helping people out along the way. The Bill Cosby Show was humorous but not a laugh-out-loud sitcom. The show entertained with intelligent character studies and plausible, real-life situations, conveyed in the classic Cosby style.
The show ran for two seasons, 52 episodes in all. While only a modest critical success, The Bill Cosby Show was a ratings hit, finishing eleventh in its first season.
With the high school as the setting of most episodes, story lines comprise: life lessons, students and fellow teachers, family drama, a coach's purview, and a few challenging forays as a substitute teacher of algebra or English. Cosby was lauded for using some previously unknown African-American performers such as Lillian Randolph (as Kincaid's mother) and Rex Ingram. Well known guest stars appear as well; including Henry Fonda and veteran comedians Mantan Moreland and Moms Mabley as Kincaid's married—and feuding—uncle and aunt.
The show's horn-centric and groovy theme song, "Hikky Burr," was written by Cosby and Quincy Jones, with Cosby providing the vocals. A new version of the theme was recorded for later seasons.
Notably, the show did not use a laugh track, which at the time was unique for a half-hour situation comedy. According to commentary on the show's Season 1 DVD, Cosby and NBC were at odds over his refusal to include a laugh track in the show. Cosby felt that viewers were intelligent enough to find the humor themselves, without being prompted. While a few comedy-dramas already aired without laugh tracks, few sitcoms went without and those that did had studio audiences.