By the time the 1990s rolled out, Bill Cosby was huge. He’d had many great efforts in television and other forms entertainment. He was supercool superspy Alexander Scott in the groundbreaking I Spy series. He was producer and host of the award-winning Fat Albert Series. However, his greatest success was the Cosby Show, which provided 1980s family friendly comedies that had gone missing for so many years (and have since disappeared again.)
Cosby in the 1990s brought two classic TV concepts back to the American screen.
The first was Groucho Marx’s classic, You Bet Your Life. Cosby was a huge fan of Marx and considered him one of the four best comedians of all time along with Charlie Chaplain, Buster Keaton, and W.C. Fields. Unlike the other three, Cosby actually got to know Marx a bit. More than anything else, he’d admired Marx for You Bet Your Life. Cosby had even met the old producers of You Bet Your Life to get a chance to do it and been turned down. In the 1990s, on the heels of the Cosby show and becoming a $90 million man, Cosby could pretty much get any project he wanted and so he got to follow in the footsteps of one his heroes in the 1992-93 version of You Bet Your Life.
The show may have been a little too early. A revival of You Bet Your Life could have gone well in the reality TV era, but alas made it only one season in syndication, and was not widely viewed or known. The only video clips available are from those folks sharing appearances by their relatives on the show. These two clips from the show are priceless comedy, although they go on a little long, it’s worth a viewing:
Cosby wasn’t done bringing classic concepts to a new audience. In the late 1990s, he revived another vintage TV concept. Art Linkletter did his House Party show for 24 years over CBS radio and television, and had been best remembered for its Kids Say the Darnedst Things segment.
Cosby once again revived a classic concept as he took his turn questioning kids and hearing the surprising answers they gave.
The big difference between You Bet Your Life and Kids Say the Darnedst Things is that Art Linkletter was still alive and in fact Linkletter worked with Cosby on the program. When I watched Kids Say the Darnedst Things for the first time, I was very curious as to who Linkletter was. I had no idea, growing up.
Cosby introduced Linkletter to a new generation. Most episodes of Kids Say the Darnedst Things featured some footage of some of Linkletter’s most hilarious moments. Linkletter, in his mid-80s at the time, appeared frequently on the show. Cosby always showed a warm regard for Linkletter and never illustrated it better than with a touching surprise tribute to the man on CBS:
Those who saw Linkletter and Marx in their prime feel that Cosby’s efforts were not as good. There’s certainly something to it as both Linkletter and Marx performances were definitive.
I don’t think the point of Cosby’s effort was displace either of these two legends. Rather, Cosby did the shows because he enjoyed and loved the originals, and his efforts helped to bring awareness of the originals back into the public mind. And there’s nothing better for a top entertainer to do than that.