Where else would he go? Back before 500 channels and Hulu, the peacock network and the late programming genius Brandon Tartikoff invented “Must See TV.” Though its marketers tried to make all of NBC a “must see,” viewers knew the tagline really represented the network’s legendary Thursday night line-ups. And that meant, first and foremost, The Cosby Show. Then it meant Family Ties and Cheers–and all that before it meant Seinfeld and Friends. Bill Cosby launched it all, breaking ratings records, racial barriers, and the limits of good taste when it came to sweaters, on the way to making himself the King of Television. (He was already a crown prince of TV, starring in I Spy in the late 60’s and also creating and voicing Fat Albert, who lived on the tube from 1972 to 1985–Hey hey hey.)
The comedy legend, who’s been making the rounds of late night couches, will play a family patriarch–and doubtless a curmudgeonly one. He’s 76, but keeps a stand-up schedule that would make younger comedians need to lie down. Cosby will work with Tom Werner of Casey-Werner, a familiar face and collaborator on The Cosby Show of legend. Raising NBC’s profile and fortunes is a big ask, however, even for a man who once threw the peacock over the moon. In a statement, Cosby said that there is a “viewership out there that wants to see comedy, and warmth, and love, and surprise, and cleverness.” Even in the age of irony, he presumes. Or the age of Breaking Bad and The Hangover. Cosby has won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and enough Emmys to name a shelf Lou Harris. But when he last ruled the TV landscape AMC was just a movie theater chain and HBO pretty much showed old movies. Think he can do it?