Bill Cosby sobered up an otherwise light-hearted TV Hall of Fame induction ceremony with a 15-minute lecture decrying how African-Americans are depicted in prime time, “begging” assembled industry heavyweights to “stop this horrible massacre of images being put on the screen.”
Cosby was inducted into the Hall on Saturday night along with five others–Andy Griffith, Ted Koppel, Sheldon Leonard, Dinah Shore and Ted Turner–at the first Hall of Fame ceremony held here under a recently struck long-term agreement between the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and Disney , although plans for an outdoor groundbreaking at the new Disney-MGM Studios Hall of Fame Plaza site were canceled due to the uncooperative weather.
Cosby’s impassioned address also came on the heels of some other noteworthy remarks, as Walt Disney Studios president Richard Frank capitalized on a press conference earlier in the day to deliver a sort-of policy statement on TV during which he called network recognition of the intelligence of viewers “an idea whose time has come.”
Accepting his award after all the others, Cosby lamented the many black sitcoms currently on TV, repeating over and over the problem of a “drive-by” mentality persisting and alluding to the desire for a return to “Amos ‘n’ Andy.”
“Clearly, none of these images (of blacks in sitcoms) happen to be the kind of people that you can imagine graduating from college,” Cosby said, whose own series, “The Cosby Show,” culminated with the graduation of his on-screen son.
“If I am … in this Hall of Fame, then who am I and who really and truly are these African-Americans that I come from?” Cosby asked, later saying, “Don’t write about us if all you have is a ‘drive-by’ image. … I’m begging to you all , now, stop this horrible massacre of images being put on screen, because it isn’t us.”
Cosby also questioned industry’s minority hiring record, saying, “How far is our commitment? Do we send (minority youths) to college and then not give them a job?”
Cosby saluted another honoree, Sheldon Leonard, who gave Cosby his start by casting him in “I Spy,” for never including a joke about his color in the series , quipping earlier in introducing Leonard, “I met this man 27 years ago, and he swears he’s the reason why I’m rich.”
Much has been written this season about the many new sitcoms with black casts and the concern that blacks are largely relegated to comedy and under-represented in dramas. It also bears noting that Cosby exec produces one of those new shows–the NBC series “Here and Now,” starring Malcolm-Jamal Warner , in association with NBC Prods.–as well as the continuing Carsey-Werner Co. series “A Different World.”
Although he’s voiced similar complaints before, Cosby’s sometimes disjointed comments — interspersed with occasional jokes and thanks for his induction — proved notable for the venue and their jarring tone compared to the rest of the evening.
Most of the other honorees, toasted and roasted by their presenters, limited their remarks to their appreciation at being honored, with Leonard saying he was “rewarded for durability” and Griffith saying, “I’m really happy I’m still working.”
The six new inductees bring the total roster to 56 in the Hall of Fame’s eight-year history. More than 500 attended the black-tie event, over 200 of those flown in from Los Angeles at the studio’s expense in addition to the thousands of media brought in for the weekend’s other festivities.
In a different setting the same day, Disney’s Frank, at an event to showcase stars of the studio’s series, criticized the networks for relying too much on passe notions like hammocked time periods and promotions within overpaid-for sports events.
Mirroring an oft-repeated Brandon Tartikoff quote that “tried and true is dead and buried,” Frank said “safe is no longer safe” in terms of programming, requiring broadcasters to take risks because viewers don’t want to see what they’ve seen before.
“Failure as such isn’t the issue. It’s how you fail that matters,” Frank said , using two past Disney series to differentiate between a “bad” failure–the cookie-cutter comedy “The Fanelli Boys”–and a “good” failure, the musical NBC series “Hull High.”
Frank criticized the networks for creating “unintended confusion” through repeated scheduling changes and derided efforts to manipulate the audience through scheduling and promotion. “Viewers are wise to what’s going on,” he said , and, due to remote controls, can’t be counted on to watch a poor show just because it airs behind an established hit or “because (the network) aired the Olympics the previous summer.”
As an example of the faulty thought processes at work Frank cited the many youth-oriented ensemble dramas patterned after “Beverly Hills, 90210,” saying of Aaron Spelling’s three new hours (“Melrose Place,””The Heights” and “The Round Table”), “Watch ’em quick, (because) they’re not going to be there in January.”
“Melrose,” in fact, has already been picked up despite its shaky recent performance, but Frank was out to make a point, maintaining that only consistently strong programming will cultivate network loyalty. Disney, he added , is already practicing the policy he’s preaching on the Disney Channel and with network shows like “Dinosaurs,””Herman’s Head” and post-apocalyptic sitcom “Woops!”–cited as examples of new takes on an excepted form.