NBC brings back Cosby

In the first major programming move under new West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer, NBC has reached out to its one-time franchise star, Bill Cosby, in an effort to boost its struggling prime time lineup.

The network has signed Cosby to star in a quartet of TV movies next season — casting Cosby as a detective in a light mystery format — in advance of a one-hour, similarly themed series starring Cosby to premiere for fall 1994.

Cosby comes home to NBC after an ill-fated foray into syndication with a revival of “You Bet Your Life” distributed by the Carsey-Werner Co., which also produced “The Cosby Show.” That sitcom, the highest-rated show of the ’80s, completed an eight-year run on NBC last April.

No production company orshow runner has been set for the new program, though Cosby will likely have a production role on the series, as he did on “Cosby” and various spin-offs, including “A Different World” and the recent Malcolm-Jamal Warner NBC series “Here and Now,” which has been canceled.

In a statement, Ohlmeyer said it was “only appropriate” that the first step “as we set out to re-energize and re-invigorate NBC” be taken with Cosby, who even stepped forward at one point in recent months to say he’d be interested in buying the troubled Peacock web.

Cosby appeared in his first TV series, “I Spy,” on NBC from 1965-68 and subsequently appeared in a number of failed series before “The Cosby Show” took off in 1984, making him the most popular personality on television.

If the new series does bow in fall 1994 it would be a decade after the premiere of “The Cosby Show”– an instant hit that, by its second season, was an integral factor in lifting NBC to the top of the ratings heap, ending a six-year reign by CBS. The concept of the proposed series suggests a beginning by NBC, as well, to pursue a wider audience after cutting loose similarly themed one-hour series — most notably “Matlock” and “In the Heat of the Night”–in an effort to “youthify” the network. When he was first named to the post Ohlmeyer said he wanted to “broaden the tent a little bit,” accusing NBC of trying to get “too young, too narrow, too fast.”

Cosby entered into an exclusive multiyear feature arrangement with Paramount Pictures last June under his SAH Enterprises banner. That deal, inked under then-Par chairman Brandon Tartikoff, included a first-look TV component on at least one unspecified TV project, though Cosby was free to take other ideas elsewhere.

CBS recently announced an “I Spy” reunion movie for next season to star Cosby and Robert Culp. The comic’s role in that series established him as the first black actor to have a starring role in a regular prime time series.

In addition to his other laurels, Cosby was inducted into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame last October.

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