New Sitcom Star Bill Cosby Is Older Than ‘The Golden Girls’ Were


The actor breaks down another barrier by dramatically increasing the visibility of older people on TV

In the 1960s, Bill Cosby proved an African-American could lead a hit show with his Emmy-winning role on “I, Spy.” In the 1980s, he presented one of television’s first prosperous African-American families, changing a generation of TV stereotypes.

Now he will break another barrier: The 76-year-old, who will star in a just-announced NBC sitcom, is more than a decade older than any of “The Golden Girls” were when their show premiered in 1985. That show was lauded at the time for presenting older people with rich, active lives.

Also read: Bill Cosby Tapped to Star in Family Comedy at NBC

But Cosby is dramatically increasing the visibility of older Americans at a time when they are often portrayed as doddering, racist fools — if they are portrayed at all. The insulting portrayals of older people is one of the most obvious ways television panders to the 18-49-year-old demographic most desirable to advertisers.

Fox’s “Dads” is based around two retirement-aged fathers who can’t seem to speak without saying something offensive. The recent “New Normal” featured 59-year-old Ellen Barkin as a grandmother who routinely fired off racist, homophobic remarks. Often when older people are portrayed on television, they represent the backward views that the cool, younger stars are supposed to wince over and attempt to correct.

Cosby’s new show may be a sign that that is changing. Another NBC show in the works, Amy Poehler‘s “Old Soul,” will feature Natasha Lyonne as a woman working with seniors as she tries to find herself.

See photos: 7 People We Mock Now But Will Praise When They’re Gone 

Cable arguably has a better record of presenting older people. TV Land has become a haven for actors who qualify for the AARP: TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland” features “Golden Girls” star Betty White, one of the few older actors who is as celebrated now as she has been at any point in her career.

The 92-year-old’s schtick is that she is often sharper, more outrageous, and even more sexually voracious than people two generations younger, and NBC built a prank show around it. On “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers,” older people shock younger ones with their wild, unpredictable behavior. The show has since moved to Lifetime.

See video: Bill Cosby to Jon Stewart: Stop Swearing 

Cosby’s new show is built around family, not the novelty of old folks still having a blast. It’s especially significant because NBC is currently television’s top network — at least in that beloved 18-49 demo.

The most-watched network overall, however, is CBS — which also happens to be the network with the oldest audience.

It seems like TV may finally be taking note.

  • saborlatino

    If Cosby and NBC are serious then I hope the show is funny and not too preachy. I’ll watch the show if it is well written and sufficiently comedic. I’m old enough to know the difference between good and evil. As for Jon Stewart, I expect him to curse on his show and don’t wince when he does. His message sometimes needs some peppering to make it work. There’s room for both approaches.

    • Stuart W

      Good and evil is easy. Funny vs crass may prove a bit-too-subtle for you!

  • Michael Difani

    I was a fan of Cosby in the mid-60s with his one man show gigs….one was God talking to Noah about the Ark…”Just one rabbit Noah, just one…” When Noah screwed up it was “Noah, how long can you tread water?” I heard an interview with the actor who was Theo on the “Cosby Show”…the Huxtable kid. He was typecast and still is. Two or three of those on “Friends” were typecast too. As for “I Spy” with Robert Culp who played German WWII field marshal Rommel in some movie, I wonder about casting directors at times and their judgment.