Laughter and applause greeted Bill Cosby on Tuesday as he drolly needled ABC for passing on the chance to get "The Cosby Show" last year before the series went to NBC and became its biggest hit.
Addressing NBC's annual affiliates convention at the Century Plaza, Cosby dryly theorized that ABC programmers felt they needed shows with more "cars flying" and "tall white men--with mustaches."
The Cosby series, which helped propel NBC to second place in the prime-time ratings last season, had been offered to ABC--although only in sketchy form--during a brief snag in negotiations with NBC.
ABC had a right to pass it up, Cosby deadpanned, "because all the marketing people said sitcoms are dead. And then, of course, to bring on a black family at a time when sitcoms were dead and black families were dead. . . ."
He gently shook his head as laughter erupted among the 770 officials from NBC's affiliated stations at the closing day of the network's convention.
Referring to ABC Entertainment President Lewis Erlicht, who turned down Cosby's acclaimed family comedy series, Cosby drew even more laughter when he said:
"I don't see why they tried to hang this poor fellow over at ABC. He only was doing what they told him to do. Sitcoms are dead."
ABC finished third in the prime-time ratings, its worst showing in a decade. "The Cosby Show," meanwhile, has been first in the national Nielsen rankings for 13 of the last 15 weeks.
Cosby, who got a standing ovation at the start of his surprise appearance, said that he felt his series has "satisfied our customers."
The comedian, father of five children, said he thought the show's success was due to a longing by viewers for a positive series about family life.
"I think the American public has been waiting for some warmth, some love, some respect, not only of children but of the parents."
He paused, eyes twinkling, and added, "And then the parents making the children respect them--and letting the jokes be in the enjoyment of the parents' winning over the children."
Cosby was introduced by NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff, who later also got a standing ovation from the affiliates. Tartikoff had stood before them a year ago and predicted--accurately, it turned out--that, despite having finished third in the ratings for nine years in a row, NBC would climb out of the cellar this season.