NBC just announced that Bill Cosby will likely be returning to prime time next fall, 22 years after The Cosby Showended, in a multigenerational family comedy with the sweater king playing the patriarch. In my corner of Twitter, where TV critics and reporters read the ratings like so many tea leaves, this announcement was met with a swift reminder of what happened last time NBC turned to the past for a future hit: This past September’s The Michael J. Foxshow, which features the former Family Ties star in a perfectly adequate single-camera sitcom that has done absolutely nothing in the ratings, nostalgia for Alex P. Keaton be damned.
But Bill Cosby is not Michael J. Fox, even if, like Michael J. Fox, Cosby’s last two TV ventures—1993’s The Cosby Mysteries and 1996’s Cosby, the latter of which even reunited him with Phylicia Rashad—left nary a dent on popular culture. (And yet, in its first season Cosby had 16 million viewers; in its last, 8 million. Either number would be a sizable hit for NBC right now.) Cosby is not just an actor, he’s the creative force behind his series. (And, all due respect to Family Ties, it is no Cosby Show, which has aged beautifully and still makes me laugh.) Unlike Michael J. Fox, Cosby is not relying on someone else to assemble a decent show for him, he’s going to go out and make himself a show—and television could really use a Bill Cosby show right now.