The Cosby Show: 25th Anniversary Commemorative Edition

After eight seasons and countless years of reruns, there is now a generation of TV fans who grew up thinking, "Man, Clair Huxtable is the coolest mom ever!" And I am happy to report, following a chat with elegant Tony Phylicia Rashad winner about the recently released 25th Anniversary Commemorative Edition of The Cosby Show, that we were right: She is the coolest! This is such a great show to re-watch.
Phylicia Rashad: Oh, yeah. What was it like, basically inventing Must-See TV?
Rashad: In the pilot we were bonding. I think we shot it in a couple of days, We worked on it for a few days and then came to taping. It was wondrous and new, and that wonder stayed with us through the eight years. And each of us was having our own experience of those eight years, as witnessed by our retrospective show [included in the extras]. When you listen to what the younger actors say, you think "Oh, I didn't know that was happening." [Laughs] But we were in it together. You must have felt like a true family.
Rashad: Oh, we did. With Clair being based on Bill Cosby's wife, how much did you get to contribute to her evolution?
Rashad: Everything. The script was written, and I understood the character's sensibilities right away. Not foreign to me, at all. Here is a beautiful woman, an educated woman, a very capable woman who was in full function as wife and mother as she continued in her work. And she was supported by her husband, a very handsome, educated, well-accomplished man with whom she had shared all of those preparatory years. The college years, they had shared together. They did what people do when a marriage is going to mean something and last: they built a life together. And she was originally going to be a housewife, right?
Rashad: People say that, but I didn't feel that way. I know, originally, she was bilingual. I don't know what they had thought before the show was cast — this is the second time I've heard that — but it was never my understanding. In our first discussion, Mr. Cosby [said] "We want her to have a profession." He was thinking law and I said and architecture is another good profession. And she ended up being a lawyer. Do you have any favorite episodes?
Rashad: You know, there are so many of them. From beginning to end, from the death of the fish to Theo's graduation, which was our final episode, there are so, so many of them. I loved it when Vanessa came home with a fiancée! That was so funny, I loved it! Madness! I loved it when we did our Thanksgiving show and Cliff kept having to go out in the weather to get every last thing. We would have these episodes that were based on things that really happened to people. Something that people really cared about, that they thought about. It was a very thoughtful show.
Rashad: It was. The writers worked diligently, and they worked well. Any superfluous comedic fluff was cut right away. One of the things Bill Cosby made known from the beginning was that he didn't want 40-year-old people in 5-year-old bodies. The children were children, and they were going to act like children. They would be respectful and make their mistakes, but they were going to make their mistakes like children, not some smart-mouth. They weren't going to be like that. He said "a child in my house wouldn't be living, talking like that." Exactly. And if this were a show today, Cockroach would be hitting on Claire.
Rashad: You know what? That wouldn't have happened, because that's not the truth. People have gone crazy today. [Laughs] I was watching television and thought "OK, is this really where we are?" The thing that makes some of it bearable is that some of the actors are good. But come on, storyline, come on... What are you watching these days?
Rashad: Not a lot, because I'm in theater and that's in the evening. Ugly Betty is fun. Another show filmed in New York like yours!
Rashad: Well, Mr. Cosby said that he'd had two shows that were filmed in L.A. cancelled, so the next time he was canceled, he wanted it to be in New York. And he never got that cancellation! [Laughs] Now, tell me about the series finale. Who came up with that iconic ending?
Rashad: We were on set in the living room, preparing to tape the final scene, and we had done a couple of takes. Then Bill whispered in my ear "I am going to dance you right off this set and out of this studio." That is so awesome.
Rashad: And it was awesome. The director didn't know it was going to happen, so it was to our advantage that he was skilled to handle things like that.  Jay Sandrich had returned to direct that final episode and when the time came and he danced me right off that set and right in front of the camera — oh my God, I'm welling up as I think about it — it was really a beautiful moment and a beautiful way to end those eight years.

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