The Bill Cosby Show (1969–1971)
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The Fatal Phone Call 

Chet gets himself into a jam when he answers a pay phone and then tries to locate a guy who doesn't want to be found.

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(created by), (created by) | 2 more credits »
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Cast

Episode complete credited cast:
...
...
Calvin (as Victor Tayback)
John Hawker ...
Mack
Victor Millan ...
Detective #1
Craig Chudy ...
Policeman #1
Jay Powell ...
Policeman #2

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Storyline

Chet gets himself into a jam when he answers a pay phone and then tries to locate a guy who doesn't want to be found.

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civil rights | race | See All (2) »

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Comedy

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Release Date:

14 September 1969 (USA)  »

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(RCA Sound Recording)

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1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

A recurring gag in this episode is that people keep thinking that Chet (Bill Cosby) is from Ohio because he is wearing an Ohio State sweatshirt. When the police detective asks him where he is from, Chet responds that he was born "in the City of Brotherly Love" (i.e., Philadelphia). Bill Cosby, of course, is indeed from Philadelphia. See more »

Goofs

During the early scenes when Chet Kincaid (Bill Cosby) is talking to Calvin's wife on the pay phone, various crew members and objects can be seen reflected in the glass of the phone booth. These include someone sitting on a low chair or stool, a tall yellow deck chair, and a man in a blue shirt and tan pants leaning against something near the booth. During the sequence when Calvin's wife gives Chet her telephone number, a hand holding a pen and turning pages can also be seen in a reflection near the lower left side of the screen. See more »

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User Reviews

 
Premier Episode Set the Tone for Unconventional Series
17 October 2009 | by (Ukiah, California) – See all my reviews

"The Fatal Phone Call" was the first episode of Bill Cosby's solo television effort (following up on his three Emmys for "I Spy"), and it sets the tone for one of the most unconventional television series of the era. Knowing that it will be viewers' introduction to the show, series producers usually try to pick a first episode that establishes the main character's home or work life, along with the secondary characters, so that that setting will be established for the rest of the series.

In that respect, "The Fatal Phone Call" breaks almost all of the rules. It begins "in media res," with Cosby as Chet Kincaid jogging down a Los Angeles street, imagining a conversation between his feet and his brain. Then he briefly intervenes in a pick-up football game involving a half-dozen or so neighborhood kids. Finally, as he jogs by a phone booth and hears it ring, he ponders why someone would call a pay phone, and imagines a lovely female spy trapped somewhere, wriggling free of her bonds and calling a random number in an attempt to escape. So he answers the ringing phone and we're off to the races as he intervenes in another fellow's domestic problems.

Although Chet's home and his job as a high school gym teacher would be featured prominently in later episodes, they are nowhere to be seen here. In many ways, it's more of a "concept" episode, with one unlikely event leading to the next, much of it unspooling in real time and not, as in some episodes, over a period of days. It also features a fair amount of Cosby talking to himself or, in a sequence when he's in the back of a police car, engaging in a long, nervous monologue.

But precisely because of those elements, it's a worthwhile introduction to a series that also featured an odd scat recitation (instead of lyrics) spoken over the jazz theme music; no laugh track (something almost unthinkable for a 1960s-era comedy series); and frequently, not all that much comedy. Cosby's influence as a producer is also there, because even though he famously avoided race as a topic for his stand-up routines, in this series there are black kids playing football with white kids, a black and a white police officer working side-by-side, and a diverse group of people in the pool hall Kincaid visits in his effort to help the man whose phone call he intercepts.

It's a shame that this satisfying (and often quite funny) series only ran for two seasons. Though Cosby would eventually go on to much greater success with the Huxtable clan in the 1980s, it's worth remembering this rewarding, offbeat series that began with this particularly offbeat episode.


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