Bill Cosby's sitcom for NBC has been dropped, the network has confirmed, although it has yet to offer an official comment.
The end was expected -- Cosby has been reeling from allegations that he raped women over a period of decades. In the wake of those allegations, talk show appearances have been canceled, while Netflix late Tuesday pulled a Cosby special.
Cosby's fortunes have unraveled with almost breathaking speed: His website hastily withdrew a so-called “meme generator” last Monday after Internet users deployed it to recycle decade-old rape allegations against the comedian.
Those allegations had first surfaced in news accounts in 2006, most prominently after a 32-year-old woman, a former Temple University employee, settled a civil lawsuit after claiming she had been sexually assaulted in his Philadelphia mansion in 2004. Nearly a dozen women had filed complaints that he had sexually harassed them over a period of decades, or in some instances, administered so-called “date rape” drugs, then sexually assaulted them.
No charges were ever filed, and only in recent days has Cosby taken steps to rebut them -- saying, for example, in a statement over the weekend that they had been discredited. However, other women have subsequently stepped forward, most recently Janice Dickinson -- a former model -- on Tuesday's "Entertainment Tonight."
Cosby, 77, remains an active -- and hugely popular -- draw on the live comedy circuit, and a year ago, starred in his first televised special in decades. He had been developing a new show for NBC, described by network executives as a “multigenerational” family sitcom, that was expected to air sometime in 2015.
The rape allegations were raised last month by comedian Hannibal Buress during a standup gig, but People magazine was one of the first to raise them in 2006, in a story titled "Cosby Under Fire," and in which the magazine spoke with a number of his accusers.
The piece, dated Dec. 18, included this carefully word key paragraph: "As in so many cases alleging sexual assault, these women make imperfect witnesses. They are talking about events two or three decades old. Many of their recollections are fragmentary, and in some cases, they are not even sure what happened between them and Cosby, though that is not unusual in cases where a possible date-rape drug is involved. None of the women ever contacted police with their stories, either at the time of the alleged assaults or in the years leading up to Constand's revelations, and two of the five women reached by PEOPLE allowed Cosby to pay part or all of their travel and/or living expenses for some time. Three accepted cash from him years after the incidents, and two even went on to have consensual relationships with him."
Then the magazine added this: "The stories these women tell paint a disturbing picture of one of the country's most likeable comedians."
As recently as last week, there was nothing to indicate NBC had reversed itself on the new Cosby show -- and in fact, there were indications that the series had already advanced considerably in the production pipeline.
Jennifer Salke, NBC Entertainment chief, described the series to reporters during the summer press tour: "It’s a multigenerational family show, so it’s very ensemble. Bill Cosby plays the patriarch of the family, dispelling his classic wisdom on relationships, parenthood, everything in life, and it’s a great kind of 'him with three daughters with husbands and grandchildren.' It’s just a classic, big-extended-family sitcom."
Bill Cosby -- as if this needs to even be spelled out -- holds a unique position in NBC history: He was the first African-American actor to effectively break the color barrier in prime time, when he starred as co-lead on the hit series "I Spy" with Robert Culp in the late 1960s; and of course, "The Cosby Show" catapulted NBC's Thursday lineup to a leadership position that it held for well over a decade. His Saturday morning presence was equally indelible: "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" was one of NBC's greatest animated successes, and remains, in the minds of many millions, a very happy memory.
Thus, to cancel a Cosby series holds -- in no small measure -- a degree of symbolism and even emotion for the network (and networks aren't exactly beholden to either). He has been, quite simply, one of television's most beloved and bankable stars for nearly 50 years. Cosby's current travails -- not to mention the pain others have been speaking of in recent weeks -- has been a tragedy. NBC was almost certainly aware that anything it did or said at this point would or could compound that.
Now, it's over. The show is dead.