Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Toon Legends: Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids (1972)

It is, easily, Filmation's most successful series in the near quarter-century the company was operating. After all, Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids lasted for about half of that time.

To be fair, CBS nearly didn't get the series. An early pilot showcasing Weird Harold had aired on NBC, produced while series creator-star-co-executive producer Bill Cosby had his first self-titled sitcom on the air, I believe. However, Weird Harold was made at a different animation studio, and so Filmation landed a gold mine by signing on with Cosby.

Fat Albert bowed in 1972, but for the entirety of its CBS run, was left to air at lunch time (12 pm ET), which historically means bad news for a lot of children's shows. Despite a 12 year run at CBS, there weren't that many episodes made, just enough to get the series into syndication in 1984, which would be Fat Albert's final season, as Cosby moved back to primetime and NBC, and, of course, the rest is history.

Cosby had left the original Electric Company to focus on Fat Albert, but, then, he also sold tons of Jell-O through commercials. Toward the end of the run, Cosby would add a superhero satire, Brown Hornet, as a show-within-a-show that the gang would watch, and would take over the Picturepages segment of Captain Kangaroo. Can you imagine if Cosby & Danny Kaye, America's other ambassador to children, ever did anything together?

Following is an open-close from the mid-70's:

Rating: A.


magicdog said...

Have you forgotten that episode of The Cosby Show in which Kaye guest starred as Rudy's dentist? Cos & Kaye were sharing a scene or two together.

The "Tooth Shuttle" was a great bit!

Kaye was still wonderful to watch even into his last years! I think the ep aired shortly after his passing.

As for Fat Albert, it was a good series and as Cosby promised at the beginning of the show - we all learned something before it was done!

At the time I didn't know the characters were all based on Cosby's childhood in Philly - or that Weird Harold, Russell, et al were real (or at least based on real people from the neighborhood). Like Gabe Kaplan's Sweathogs, they were also part of Cosby's stand up act.

I remember an early sketch of Fat Albert - and it looked nothing like the final version - that Albert was dressed in a nice suit, jacket and tie (!) but the buttons just barely held the jacket closed.

Hey! Hey! Hey!

hobbyfan said...

Considering I haven't yet done a piece on the Cosby Show, I'll keep an eye out for the Kaye-Cosby summit.......

Jennifer Schillig said...

In the later years (syndicated) of Fat Albert, they really got into some daring subjects. Many remember the "scared straight" prison visit--the gang was caught in a car that had been stolen by a pal of theirs. (They had no idea the car had been stolen, which begged the question of why the police wanted to hammer this lesson into them when they hadn't done anything wrong!) Cosby said at the beginning that there was some strong language used in this episode, but it must've been cut out of the showing I saw.

Even more shocking was the episode that dealt with gang violence. I remember seeing that in the mid-eighties, at the age of twelve or so. The gang was friends with a young would-be comedian whose brother was in a gang. When violence flared up between the brother's gang and another one, young Fernando went out to warn his brother and ended up taking a bullet for him. I thought, "Oh, I know what's gonna happen...he'll recover and the brother will be so relieved he'll mend his ways..."

...and then the brother cried out, "He's DEAD!" And my jaw hit the living-room rug.

Amazing that a show that started out so lighthearted pulled no punches!

hobbyfan said...

Jennifer: The episodes you cite are, as you noted, from the lone season of 1st-run syndication, in which Filmation no longer had censors to deal with, and were prepared to give Fat Albert and friends some harder lessons. These were stories you'd never see on CBS back then. Cosby picked up the gauntlet and took the challenge, but of course we know how it ended.

Steven Dolce said...

We need a new Fat Albert cartoon ASAP.

hobbyfan said...

Unfortunately, Steven, given the scandal surrounding Cosby presently, it ain't gonna happen.