Peter Costa, who played Huxtable neighbor and Rudy's playmate Peter suffered stage fright, and due to that, would often forget his lines. This resulted in his character's communication via trademark facial expressions and always running out of the house at the sign of trouble.
The character of Sondra, the Huxtables' eldest daughter, was added almost as an afterthought. In the pilot, Phylicia Rashad's Clair Huxtable mentions the couple's four children (Sondra makes it five). They decided there should be another child that represented the results of a good upbringing, hence a daughter in college. When casting the role, it came down to two actresses: twenty-six-year-old Sabrina Le Beauf and twenty-one-year-old Whitney Houston. LeBeauf's theater experience won her the role.
Inspired by I Love Lucy (1951), Cosby intended for Clair to be a Dominican who would go into Spanish tirades when she got angry. Phylicia Rashad, who learned fluent Spanish from living in Mexico as a child, won the part by demonstrating her language skills, but this idea was dropped before the pilot was taped. Clair is shown speaking Spanish in a few episodes.
Nobody gave this sitcom much chance for success partly because it was on Thursday night against Magnum, P.I. (1980). The sitcom eventually became the number one show on the air and routinely beat Magnum, P.I. (1980) in the ratings. In one episode of the show, Cosby wore a Magnum baseball cap.
Malcolm-Jamal Warner failed his initial audition for the show. When reading a scene with Bill Cosby, Cosby felt that that Warner was speaking in a disrespectful nature. When Cosby asked Warner if he spoke to his own father that way, Warner replied "no", earning him a second chance to audition.
After the 2008 election, Republican strategist Karl Rove credited The Cosby Show (1984) with paving the way for America to elect an African-American President, since, in Rove's words, "we've had an African-American first family for many years in different forms. When The Cosby Show was on, that was America's family. It wasn't a black family. It was America's family."
Phylicia Rashad was pregnant throughout much of the third season. As a result, her scenes were greatly reduced and what little she was used in, she had to hide her condition, such as sitting behind a desk.
During the early 1980s, Bill Cosby regularly served as substitute host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962). Reportedly, when NBC Program Executive Brandon Tartikoff was up late one night tending to his infant daughter, he happened to turn on an episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962) hosted by Cosby. Watching Cosby's monologue, which centered around observations of his family life, Tartikoff was struck by the inspiration to develop a family sitcom starring Cosby for NBC.
Ironically, on this show, which shattered so many stereotypes, Cliff was originally going to be a chauffer. Cosby's real-life wife Camille suggested making him a doctor, more fitting with the show's agenda to shatter racial stereotyping.
In November 2008, The New York Times reported that during the mid-1990s, University of Massachusetts communications professor Sut Jhally got Bill Cosby to donate sixteen thousand dollars to him so that he could do research on why this show had been popular with white viewers, as well as black viewers. Dr. Jhally insists that Cosby's money did not bias the study, and the book that Jhally wrote as a result of that research, "Enlightened Racism: The Cosby Show, Audiences, and the Myth of the American Dream", was critical of the show.
For the first season, A Different World (1987) was a smash ratings hit, but was slammed by the critics for being a lame Cosby clone, riding on the coattails of its predecessor. Phylicia Rashad suggested that Cosby hire her sister, Debbie Allen, former star and producer of Fame (1982), to take over producing and directing duties for A Different World (1987), to try to turn the show around. That she did, and under her leadership, A Different World (1987) became critically acclaimed, and very successful, lasting for six seasons, one season after this show wrapped.
In one of the earlier episodes, Theo bought a shirt by Gordon Gartrelle. Throughout the series, the real-life Gordon Gartrelle worked in various jobs for the series, and was listed as a producer of the show during the last few seasons.
One of the challenges in developing and launching the series was at that time, sitcoms were widely viewed as a dying genre. The success of the series helped inspire the creation and launch of several new sitcoms, and the show is generally credited with helping to revive the sitcom genre.
The first episodes of the show's seventh season had an opening in front of a Mother Hale mural. However, when there was a disagreement over what compensation would be paid to the kids who painted the original mural, the show switched back to its previous season's Apollo Theater-themed opening with an added graphic for Erika Alexander, who became a regular on the show. Some episodes began with Bill Cosby and Raven-Symoné telling the viewers that it was not a repeat. The final season used a slightly modified version of the Mother Hale opening.
When Lisa Bonet spun-off into her own successful sitcom, A Different World (1987), and then got pregnant, A Different World (1987) producer Debbie Allen suggested to Bill Cosby that they make Denice pregnant as part of the storyline. Cosby refused, and brought her (Lisa) back to this show show, where she would appear regularly for about another season, and then be fired altogether.
The Sondra Huxtable Syndrome can be seen as the opposite of the Chuck Cunningham syndrome, a never-mentioned-before child suddenly materializing when the show has already established that there were less children, versus a child suddenly vanishing without any explanation to their disappearance.
During the third season, Lisa Bonet appeared only sporadically, as Denise was away at college. In season four, Bonet was spun-off into her own series, A Different World (1987), portraying Denise's life at the fictional Hillman College. Bonet's real-life pregnancy resulted in her being forced to leave A Different World (1987), which would continue a successful run without her. Subsequently, Bonet returned to this show for season five, and remained on and off until being let go, due to creative differences during season seven.
Before this show premiered in 1984, most television executives were predicting the death of the sitcom, since most network evening shows were either soaps, action adventures, mysteries, or police procedurals. This show's success changed this, and sitcoms have since returned to their former prominence.
Adam Sandler played a classmate and friend of Theo's in a couple of episodes (even though he's four years older than Malcolm-Jamal Warner). When asked about his involvement with this show, Sandler claims he had no idea there was any sexual misconduct on the set.
During season two, episode two, "The Juicer", the exterior of Dr. Huxtable's office is shown, in which the nameplate "Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable" is hanging. However, in the first episode of the last season, Clair called him "Heathclifford".
When Rudy was to be a boy, Jaleel White was among those who auditioned for the part, and was a front runner for the role. Coincidentally, one of White's first television appearances was in a Jell-O Pudding commercial with Bill Cosby.
At one point during the series, on the back of Rudy and Vanessa's room door, was a poster of Whitney Houston. Whitney Houston was originally considered for the role of Sondra Huxtable, but wanted to do her music.
African-American conservative commentator and personality Joseph C. Phillips, who played Denice's husband Martin Kendall on this show, is the only regular cast member from this show who has stated that he thinks Bill Cosby is guilty of the sex abuse allegations, and who could tell that something was wrong, even when the show was being produced back in the 1980s. Cosby's other cast members have all said either that they don't know, or that they think the ladies are lying and he's innocent. Phillips even says he knows someone else who was victimized by Cosby, who hasn't come forward.
In season six, episode eleven, "Cliff La Dolce", Cliff (Bill Cosby) is sitting on the couch reading an issue of Essence Magazine that has his real-life wife Camille Cosby on the cover. While reading it, he holds the magazine straight up so it is clearly visible that it is Camille Cosby.
The popular classic episode, "A Shirt Story", in season one, is where Denise makes Theo an irreverent fashionable shirt to surpass the popularity of the fictional Gordon Gartrell shirts among his teenage friends on the show. "Gordon Gartrell" was the name of one of the producers of this show.
Although the name of the medical school Cliff attended is never mentioned, it is alluded to that it was possibly Temple University School of Medicine. In his medical office located in his home's basement there is a framed logo of the "T" that is the same symbol used by Temple University. The fictional Hillman College is known as the college he attended undergraduate school. Also, Bill Cosby earned his bachelor's degree from Temple in 1971, so this allusion could be homage to his real-life alma mater.
With the exception of Sabrina Le Beauf (Sondra) and Keshia Knight Pulliam (Rudy), the actor and actresses who played the Huxtable children are almost or accurately the same age as their real-life counterparts: Lisa Bonet is a year younger than Erinn Cosby, Malcolm-Jamal Warner is a year younger than Ennis Cosby, and Tempestt Bledsoe was born the same year as Ensa Cosby.
The medical school that Cliff Huxtable, M.D. attended is never named. It is only mentioned several times throughout the series that he finished undergraduate college at the fictional Hillman College in Virginia. Clair and Russell were also graduates of Hillman.