Show Business: He has a hot TV series, a new book - and a booming comedy empire

He has a hot TV series, a new book -- and a booming comedy empire

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In an industry where faceless collaborations are the rule, Cosby is an auteur involved in nearly every aspect of his series, from editing scripts to selecting theme music. The Huxtable family is modeled closely on Cosby's own, and many of the episodes are drawn from ideas he suggests. While filming his movie, for example, Cosby heard Ray Charles' recording of It's Not Easy Being Green. He asked the show's writers to build an episode around the song. Result: in one of this fall's segments, a sulking Rudy goes into her room for a wordless sequence set to Charles' music. Many of Cosby's ideas are the merest kernels of plots, which a staff of six writers must work to flesh out into 30-minute episodes. "We're concerned about structure," says one writer, Gary Kott. "But if Bill has an idea for a scene, he doesn't care how we get there as long as it is logical and fun."

Cosby's influence is also seen in the show's frequent, but uninsistent, references to black culture. When Son Theo has to read a book for school, chances are it will be Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man; when Denise is considering colleges, all-black schools are the topic of discussion. Each script is reviewed by Poussaint to ensure psychological credibility and avoid negative stereotyping. His sanitizing hand can be as heavy as a network censor's. In the original script for one Halloween episode, Vanessa and a friend were to dress up as a witch and Captain Hook. Poussaint vetoed both, arguing that witches perpetuate an offensive image of women and that the captain's hooked hand reinforces the idea of handicaps being evil. The youngsters wore more innocuous costumes instead, with Vanessa dressing up as an African princess.

The upbeat, sometimes preachy tone of the series has annoyed some. "Bill seemed to want the family to be good, and to me, good isn't funny," says Earl Pomerantz, head writer for the show's first eight episodes. Others complain that the series slipped a bit last season, with some segments being especially flimsy and plotless. A few critics have raised more substantive issues. One charge is that the well-to-do Huxtables are hardly representative of the vast majority of black families in this country. (Or many white ones, for that matter; no problem with child care in this two-income family.) Critic Mark Crispin Miller has claimed that the show provides the white audience with false reassurance that racial troubles have vanished. "On The Cosby Show, it appears as if blacks in general can have, or do have, what many whites enjoy," he writes. "And there are no hard feelings, none at all, now that the old injustice has been so easily rectified."

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