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THE '80s A Special Report : TASTE MAKERS : Presenting the big players and major ideas that--for better or worse--shaped the 1980s. This is Calendar's fifth annual Taste Makers report, expanded this time to cover the last 10 years in the following categories: Show Business Execs, Film Producers, Film Directors and Writers, Stage, TV, Music, Dance, Pop Music, Jazz, Comedy, Radio, Art and Restaurants. : TELEVISION : BILL COSBY

December 24, 1989|RICK DU BROW

Bill Cosby was more than TV's biggest star of the 1980s. He changed the course of TV and had historic impact on the medium.

He took one of TV's oldest formats, the family sitcom, gave a modern twist to "Father Knows Best" and, in one fell swoop, helped destroy decades of insulting black stereotypes on the home tube and in show business overall.

"The Cosby Show" started as a longshot. When it debuted on Sept. 20, 1984, TV comedy--especially with a family setting--was considered dead. The biggest hits were soap operas like "Dallas" and "Dynasty" and action shows such as "Magnum, P.I." and "Simon & Simon."

But after the ratings success of "Cosby," family sitcoms blossomed again: "Family Ties," "Growing Pains," "Who's the Boss?", "The Wonder Years."

Nothing was more important, however, than the dignified and natural portrayal of blacks through Cosby, as pediatrician Cliff Huxtable; Phylicia Rashad as his attorney-wife, Clair, and their children.

Some critics carped that the Huxtable family was an unrealistic, idealized depiction of blacks--as if "Father Knows Best," "My Three Sons" and "Family Ties" were any different for whites.

Cosby had been a TV star previously in "I Spy." But what undoubtedly boosted his new popularity on his return to series TV was his public identification with educational and children's matters in private life and on the tube.

The Taste Makers project was edited by David Fox, assistant Sunday Calendar editor.

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