NBC has halted development on its Bill Cosby sitcom. In the wake of mounting rape allegations against the legendary comedian, the broadcaster has shelved its plan to return The Cosby Show star to prime time.
The move follows Netflix “postponing” its plan to stream a Cosby stand-up special next week.
NBC first announced an untitled family sitcom starring Cosby last January, with a pilot to be written by former Glee star Mike O’Malley and sitcom veteran Mike Sikowitz. NBC intended to potentially debut a series next fall.
Despite the traditional-media and social-media tempest, Cosby has never been convicted with a crime related to the allegations. The allegations accuse Cosby of crimes during the 1970s and ’80s. Cosby has also declined to answer questions about the accusations.
The sitcom news first put Cosby’s name back in the headlines and some media outlets began to report on past allegations against the star, where women have accused Cosby of drugging and sexually abusing them. When asked about the issue at NBC’s press tour in July, entertainment president Jennifer Salke told reporters, “We’re very committed, and that’s an important show for us.” While NBC’s entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt told reporters after the network’s panel: “All I do is try to put on shows that I think are good, with extraordinary talent. I think he’s extraordinary. And I think the show will be good. All the other things will sort of sort themselves out.”
The allegations significantly spiked in media attention last month after a video of stand-up comic Hannibal Buress calling Cosby a rapist went viral. A few weeks later, a meme-generating social stunt on Cosby’s website backfired when users took the opportunity to mock the comic for the allegations. Then late last week, Cosby canceled a planned appearance on David Letterman’s CBS late-night talk show.
On Sunday, after Cosby refused to answer questions about the allegations during an NPR interview, Cosby’s attorney John P. Schmitt released this statement: “Over the last several weeks, decade-old, discredited allegations against Mr. Cosby have resurfaced. The fact that they are being repeated does not make them true. Mr. Cosby does not intend to dignify these allegations with any comment. He would like to thank all his fans for the outpouring of support and assure them that, at age 77, he is doing his best work. There will be no further statement from Mr. Cosby or any of his representatives.”
Yet on the heels of the statement, another woman surfaced with a new allegation of sex abuse by Cosby when she was 19 years old. Then on Wednesday, Entertainment Tonight broke the story of former America’s Next Top Model judge Janice Dickinson also accusing Cosby of rape when he was on The Cosby Show.
This week, the media has swiveled to focus intensely on NBC’s project, as well as a Cosby stand-up special, Bill Cosby 77, which Netflix plans to stream on the day after Thanksgiving. Variety took a poll and found 72% surveyed said NBC should cut ties with Cosby over the allegations.
For NBC, the situation represented a tough spot: Cosby was the star of the network’s top-rated sitcom, which aired for eight seasons. His return was touted by the current executive brass. And essentially nothing has changed since most of the allegations have been around for years.
Yet as the media din increased, it became clear NBC had little choice — the Cosby brand has turned toxic, at least for now. As Cosby’s disastrous meme-generating stunt proved, any effort to market a show starring the comedian would be met with considerable criticism. Still, this rejection by the network that became synonyms with the actor’s success and brand represents a key moment in the fall of “America’s dad.”