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Cosby heatedly defends the Huxtable clan against these attacks. "To say that they are not black enough is a denial of the American dream and the American way of life," he says. "My point is that this is an American family -- an American family -- and if you want to live like they do, and you're willing to work, the opportunity is there." Others rush to the show's support. "One of the unfortunate things about television is that the black middle class is never seen," says Sidney Poitier. "We see an awful lot of guys pushing dope on street corners." For Anne Roiphe, co-author of Your Child's Mind, the show's idealized picture of family life is healthy for both blacks and whites. "The show demonstrates what Americans wish the world was like," she says. "This is what is missing in our lives -- the strong support of a family."
Wish fulfillment or role model, Cosby's TV family shows no sign of losing its appeal. The star himself may be the one who finally calls a halt to the program's fabulous run. He says he will wrap up the series after just two more seasons, in order to spend more time on other projects. Plans for a third book, on love and marriage, are in the works; so are more feature films. And, of course, the seemingly endless commercials, concerts and other public appearances.
Indeed, if anything threatens the fortunes of Cosby, Inc., it is overexposure. Cosby is not worried. "The measure of overexposure is not how many times people see you on TV or in the bookstores," he says. "It's whether you can maintain the quality of your entertainment. If you can, people will always be glad to see you." Such pronouncements may seem risky in the fickle world of show business. But Cosby hasn't been wrong yet.