Sunday, September 28, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: The Cosby Mysteries Comes and Goes

Last week, I reminisced about The Cosby Show on the occasion of that show's thirtieth anniversary, so I figured I'd keep the Cosby conversation going this week by briefly remembering Bill Cosby's follow-up to his groundbreaking family sitcom. Unfortunately for the Cos, this one didn't enjoy quite the same pop culture shelf life, and the only real mystery today is that The Cosby Mysteries once existed. Don't believe me? For proof, watch the intro below, and keep reading after the jump!

In fall of 1993, Bill Cosby could do no wrong. He'd reinvented the sitcom. He'd saved NBC. And now, like the warrior king who rules all he surveys, he hungered for new challenges. That's where The Cosby Mysteries came from. By then Angela Lansbury had engaging in weekly whodunnits on Murder, She Wrote for more than ten years on CBS. Andy Griffith had been doing his thing as Matlock for seven, and Dick Van Dyke's weekly mystery Diagnosis: Murder had also just premiered, and would eventually enjoy eight seasons on CBS.

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It stands to reason that Cosby, who'd already conquered the half-hour format, was ready to slide over alongside his comedy compatriots and see what he could do with a sleuthing skein. The resultant offering, created by David Black and William Link, cast Cosby as Guy Hanks, a retired forensic expert who finds himself frequently drawn in to ongoing investigations by former partner Sully (James Naughton, of Planet of the Apes: The Series), who relies on his homespun wit and wisdom to help solve the case.

The Cosby Mysteries premiered as a TV movie that NBC aired in January of 1994. That flick did well enough to warrant a full pick-up, and the weekly edition premiered that September (exactly twenty years ago last Sunday, as it happens). Despite Cosby's high-profile presence, Mysteries struggled out the gate. It was neither funny enough for a Cosby show, nor serious enough for a mystery show. Eventually it was benched for February sweeps and ultimately cancelled at the close of an abbreviated 18 episode season (20, if you count the pilot movie).

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Here's an SNL parody featuring host Patrick Stewart, and Adam Sandler as the Cos:

Today, while The Cosby Show is rightly revered, The Cosby Mysteries is a strange little asterisk in his career (though it did serve as one of the earliest credits for rapper Mos Def, as Cosby's protege). Of course, Mysteries' cancellation wouldn't be the end of Cosby's TV career. In fall of '96 he'd return to sitcoms (with Cosby Show wife Phylicia Rashad in tow) for CBS's Cosby, which lasted four years. Although he's been away from series TV since, as of last month it looks like the star is planning to bring another sitcom to NBC.

Will the legendary star be able to recapture the glory of his sitcom heyday? It's a mystery.

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