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‘The Carmichael Show’ Takes on Bill Cosby Scandal: ‘You Can’t Be Afraid of Talking About Things Like That’

After a successful summer run, family sitcom “The Carmichael Show,” created by and starring comedian Jerrod Carmichael, returns March 13 for its second season on NBC. Its second time around, the show that has explored religion, gun control and Black Lives Matter will tackle its most controversial topic yet: Bill Cosby.

The episode, titled “Fallen Heroes,” will explore the conflicting question: Can you still enjoy the talents of somebody, if you don’t approve of their actions or moral compass?

“I think Jerrod thought the Cosby issue was a good way to look at that and I think that he accomplished that in the cut that I saw,” NBC entertainment president Jennifer Salke tells Variety of the episode, which includes scathing Cosby-themed jokes from the get-go and does not tread lightly on the comedian’s recent controversial turn-of-events.

News of NBC giving the thumbs up to a Cosby episode turned some heads, as the network was home to “The Cosby Show.” The Peacock also had a Cosby vehicle in the works in 2014, but the net axed the pilot when rape allegations began to surface.

Salke says Carmichael’s ability to take on sticky subject matters is what NBC loves about “The Carmichael Show,” explaining, “When we decided to move forward with Jerrod’s show, we bought into the idea that this is a show that tackles really uncomfortable conversations that should be happening in living rooms all over the country. When he brought up doing the Cosby episode, we thoroughly discussed it and made the decision that we would support him tackling this area, as long as with any of the episodes that he hopes to do that he’s exploring the different points of view around these kinds of topics. Were all really happy with the way the episode turned out.”

“The Carmichael Show” was first network sitcom to tackle the subject of police brutality, in a TV era when family comedies are including more and more controversial topics. Recently, ABC’s “Black-ish” had Twitter talking with their episode that also covered police brutality.

“In a time when networks have to distinguish themselves and be authentic about relevant things and smart conversations, you can’t be afraid of talking about things like that, as long as they’re handled correctly,” Salke says.

Here, Carmichael gives his side of the story, telling Variety why he wanted to create an episode about Bill Cosby.

Why an episode about Bill Cosby?

It was an important topic and still is something everyone is discussing. I want the show to reflect real life as real as it possibly can. We couldn’t wait on a topic that the world seemed to be talking about.

The episode is titled “Fallen Heroes.” Are you aiming to put out a specific message about Cosby?

No. It’s always perspective, never a message. It’s not talking about the right or wrong of it — it is discussing our feelings on Bill Cosby in light of recent things. We kind of turn the dilemma on ourselves. Most shows want to put a bow on things, but we’re not really interested in that.

How did NBC — the network that was home to “The Cosby Show” — react to your pitch?

With the amount of caution that one might expect a billion-dollar corporation to have! They took a chance and a risk, which is so needed in television. They did it with caution, wanting to protect the network but also knowing this could be good television and trusting me enough to get it the right way.

Do you feel any restraints from being on broadcast TV?

We get away with murder! There are certain lines that sometimes I’m genuinely like, “Wait, no one’s going to flag that?” The boundaries that they do create, though, are important. It forces you to be more creative and think in ways that you get a new perspective. “All in the Family,” “Seinfeld” and “Cheers” all lived on network television, looking at the pattern of network shows — and the potential is great.

What other subject matters do you want to cover in the show?

That’s a good question. It’s topics as they come to me and they have to come from such an honest place that were interested to talk about. Like right now, the election, it’s such a shifting thing that I don’t want to talk about it and then not be on topic later, but with something that I have such a perspective on it, I don’t mind talking about it even if it stops being topical.

“The Carmichael Show’s” Bill Cosby-themed episode, “Fallen Heroes,” airs March 13 at 9:00 p.m.

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