Go ahead, bet the house, your wife, the kids and the bank account as well as your life: The chances are practically nil that Bill Cosby’s latest TV venture won’t be some sort of a hit.
New shows don’t come with much better pedigrees than this one. Produced by Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner with Bill Cosby, the gameshow-cum-comedy is the trio’s first collaboration since the demise of their wildly successful “Cosby Show.” And the popularity of this show’s premise can hardly be doubted, since the original Groucho Marx-hosted version lasted 11 years (1950-61) before going into reruns.
Wisely, the producers have tinkered little with the format that made the first “You Bet Your Life” such a hit. Two contestants at a time still stand somewhat awkwardly before the host, who is sequestered behind a podium.
All the entertainment comes in their repartee, not in the rather anemic, low-budget quiz that qualifies this as a gameshow. The contestants have been chosen carefully for the funny stories they have to tell and Cosby, like Marx before him, is quick to react to the strange tales. The first “You Bet Your Life” was heavily edited to cut out anything not chuckle-inducing and a similarly heavy hand has been employed here.
The other original characters are here, too, though in somewhat altered form. The duck carrying the secret word has become a black goose, while Groucho’s faithful foil George Fenneman is now the rather milquetoast “Renfield,” played by what appears to be just another pretty woman, Robbi Chong.
It’s obvious who the real star of the show is, however. The format enables Cosby to indulge in some of the standup-like routines that first brought him to prominence, and the living room setting enhances his comforting, folksy appeal.
Some may doubt whether a product of the mild-mannered ’50s, albeit one of the more racy ones of the time, can thrive in the crack-and-AIDS ’90s. The success of “The Cosby Show” itself, which was, after all, really just a remake of “The Donna Reed Show” and its ilk, should put such concerns to rest.