In 1984, Bill Cosby helped save an entire television network.
Thirty years later, he's toxic to an entire industry.
It was in '84 when NBC, lagging far behind brethren CBS and ABC in ratings to the point of being a national joke, brought in Cosby and built a sitcom around him.
Cosby was 46 years old and though he'd been canceled in the past with other television vehicles, his star power on TV was still heavy. Viewers still had "Fat Albert" and Jell-O commercials fresh on their minds.
The sitcom idea was novel. NBC decided to cast Cosby and his TV family as well-to-do African-Americans living in a tony brownstone in upper Manhattan. This was no "Good Times" scenario.
The presentation on TV of blacks living a life that wasn't in poverty wasn't new (witness "The Jeffersons"), but Cosby was a doctor and his wife was a lawyer. With all due respect to dry cleaner moguls, this was different. Plus, Cliff and Clair Huxtable had kids---lots of kids. George and "Weesie" Jefferson's TV lives were pretty much presented sans children, even though they had a son, Lionel---but he wasn't emphasized.
So here came Bill Cosby to save NBC in the fall of 1984.
"The Cosby Show" ran for eight seasons (1984-92) and was a phenomenal hit for NBC. The case could be made that Cosby did, indeed, save the network at a time when it was floundering.
I grew up with Bill Cosby, as did tens of millions of Americans. I am old enough to remember his "Bill Cosby Show" of 1969-71, when he was high school gym teacher Chet Kincaid.
I owned a couple of his comedy albums. I saw him perform live at Pine Knob in 1985. I must have watched his video special, "Bill Cosby: Himself" at least a dozen times. I liked that he was into sports, as well as having played football at Temple University.
I have history with Bill Cosby.
It would have seemed unfathomable to me as I grew up with Cosby's comedy, to think that one day he would be toxic.
But he is.
As accusations swirl that Cosby drugged women to have sex with them, dating back to the 1960s, no one on TV wants to have anything to do with him.
A potential new sitcom featuring Cosby, to be aired on NBC, has been scrapped.
TV Land has pulled reruns of "The Cosby Show" indefinitely.
Think about that last one for a moment. TV Land doesn't even want Cosby's likeness on its airwaves from a show produced 30 years ago.
This is O.J. Simpson-like toxicity.
Precious few in the entertainment business have come to Cosby's defense. He and his camp have been mostly silent as one woman after the other comes forward with a "Cosby drugged me and sexually assaulted me" story.
In America you are innocent until proven guilty.
That's in the courtroom. In the court of public opinion, it works the opposite.
Right now it seems that too many women with nothing to gain, really, from fabrication, are coming forward for at least some of this disgusting behavior to not be true.
There often isn't a "smoking gun" when it comes to sexual assault allegations, particularly when the alleged incidents happened many years and even decades ago. It's classic "he said/she said" stuff, except that in this case, it's pretty much all "she said."
Cosby's radio silence is ear piercing.
All we've gotten from the Cosby people is that they're not going to dignify these allegations with a reply.
That may be good enough if it was just one woman calling Cosby out. But there seems to be a whole cadre of women allegedly victimized by Cosby. The sheer number of women coming forward makes it no longer acceptable to just roll your eyes and shake your head, if you're the Cosby camp.
Could there be one crackpot looking for a buck or her 15 minutes? Possibly. But do you really think there is a growing faction of crackpots? Or is it a growing faction of victimized women feeling empowered now that the first domino has been tipped?
The answer is probably the latter.
Personally, I feel victimized as well---though not at all to the extent of the women that Cosby allegedly sexually assaulted.
I'm in that other boat of victims---the fans who, like me, have fond memories of Bill Cosby's comedy attached to our childhood hips.
I don't know about you, but I certainly can't look at Cosby the same way again. How can you?
Now, you can stick to your legal guns and urge everyone to wait until the courts have at this brouhaha before we render judgment.
You would, technically, be on the right side of the argument if you took that tack.
But emotions and memories and gut feelings don't ride technicalities.
I am sure that many of us have tried and convicted Bill Cosby in our minds. That's our prerogative, frankly. We are all entitled to our opinions.
The challenge now is to put aside our personal disappointment in Cosby, should these allegations prove to be true, and focus our empathy on the women he may have victimized.
If Cosby is proven to have drugged and sexually assaulted even one woman, it's Olly olly oxen free. All bets are off and his image should be sullied forever.
If Cosby did these despicable things, we've all been victimized. We've all been made fools of, for decades. We would have fallen in love with a fraud and a sexual predator.
But we still would not have suffered as his alleged victims have, for lo these many years.
Let's not forget that.