Monday, May 22, 2017

What Might've Been: The Cosby Mysteries (1994)

After flopping with a remake of You Bet Your Life, Bill Cosby returned to NBC in January 1994 with a TV-movie that served as the pilot for his first dramatic series since I Spy.

Unfortunately, there was still a bit of audience fatigue with Cosby, two years removed from his award winning The Cosby Show (1984-92), which would explain why his version of Bet failed. The Cosby Mysteries suffered also from the fact that there was an increasing amount of crime dramas seeking to duplicate the success of CBS' Murder, She Wrote, which was still on the air. That series' co-creator, William Link, co-created The Cosby Mysteries.

Cosby doubled as an executive producer, as had been the case with Bet and The Cosby Show. His supporting cast included rapper-actor Mos Def (credited under his real name), Lynn Whitfield, and Rita Moreno, marking the first time Moreno & Cosby had worked together since season 1 of the original Electric Company.

So, where did it go wrong? NBC smartly avoided putting it on Thursday, where Cosby had thrived with The Cosby Show and I Spy. They opted for Wednesdays, but got 18 episodes out of Cosby Mysteries before putting it to bed for good. Cosby had ended his association with Marcy Carsey & Tom Werner, the folks behind The Cosby Show and the 1993 You Bet Your Life, among other things, and switched studios to Columbia Pictures Television (Now Sony Pictures Television). While I never saw the show, I think folks just weren't buying into Cosby as a retired forensic scientist with the NYPD who gave up the gig when he hit the lottery. They saw it as a knock-off of not only Murder, She Wrote, but also Dick Van Dyke's CBS hit, Diagnosis: Murder. Ironically, when Cosby tried another series two years later, it was another sitcom, this time for CBS, and that managed to last a while.

The Rap Sheet offers the intro:

After being a steady presence, between a grand total of 7 series (he only lasted 1 year on Electric Company, but it counts) and a zillion commercials for Jell-O, America was telling Cosby they needed a break.

No rating.


Mike Doran said...

For its first two seasons, I Spy aired on Wednesdays; for its final season, it was moved to Mondays.
So there goes that argument ...

hobbyfan said...

Why did I always think it was on Thursdays? Maybe because I thought it was a lead-in to Dean Martin.....

Mike Doran said...

Belated Follow-up:

The Cosby Mysteries just found its way into the collectors marketplace (ok, bootleg), so I picked up a DVD set for my Wall.

I just watched the pilot; standard stuff, C-level maybe, but there's one real highlight (for me, anyway).
At one point, Cosby starts taking lessons in playing bass clarinet (which looks more like a baritone sax to me, but what do I know?).
The guy who's giving him the lessons is played by William Link - I'm sure this is the only time that gentleman ever appeared on camera (correction welcomed, if needed).
A bit part, an inside joke, but it counts.

And (as another TV detective used to say) just one more thing:
In the pilot, Cosby's housekeeper was played by Alice Playten (the "giant dumpling" lady from the old Alka-Seltzer commercial).
Rita Moreno came in when they went to series, probably as a favor to Bill Cosby.
Just so you know ...