Forty years ago — yesterday, to be precise, Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids debuted on CBS as part of Saturday morning television programming. Coincidentally, just eleven days ago, I snagged me a few mint, unused, new old stock (NOS) copies of the Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids Fun Book.
Published by one of Western Publishing‘s many imprints, Merrigold Press, the Fun Book (number 3203-21), is a coloring book with puzzles and other activity pages for children. The copyright, held by William H. Cosby (aka Bill Cosby) and Filmation Associates, is dated 1973 — making the book an early release in the Fat Albert load of merch, which would eventually include comic books, records, t-shirts and other clothing items, figures, books, and tons more stuff.
To be fair, Fat Albert is older than 40. The character was first heard in Cosby’s stand-up comedy routines; a story about Fat Albert, “the baddest Buck Buck breaker in the world” who “weighed 2,000 pounds”, was included on Cosby’s comedy album Revenge, in 1967. And Fat Albert was seen not much later too; he made his public debut on television on NBC’s Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert on November 12, 1969. The show, a one night prime-time special, featured a combination of live-action and animation with Fat Albert and other characters based on people from Cosby’s childhood.
But it’s the cartoon series which is most recalled and loved.
In 1971, already working on The Electric Company (Cosby was a cast member for the first two seasons), he began developing an educational and inspiring cartoon about the inner-city kids (what we’d call “urban youth” today), featuring typical and often serious issues, hoping to get it on NBC’s Saturday morning cartoon line-up. But NBC refused, stating it was too educational. However, CBS picked the cartoon up, and the Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids series was born.
The series (under several names, including The New Fat Albert Show and The Adventures of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids) would run for twelve (not continuous) years, accumulating a total of 110 episodes and four specials from 1972 through 1985. (In 2004, there was a film adaptation as well.) For all those television years, Cosby himself was the voice of Fat Albert as well as the voices of Mushmouth, Dumb Donald, William “Bill” Cosby, Mudfoot Brown, and The Brown Hornet.
The animated TV series would earn an Emmy Award nomination in 1794, and, in 1976, Cosby would earn a Doctor of Education degree with his doctoral dissertation entitled An Integration of the Visual Media Via ‘Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids’ Into the Elementary School Curriculum as a Teaching Aid and Vehicle to Achieve Increased Learning.
Unlike some shows, Fat Albert and the gang didn’t sell-out, the show wasn’t watered-down, as the years passed. In fact, the opposite was true. The rather corny let’s-sum-everything-up Junkyard Band songs at episode end (a la The Archies) left, and more serious themes were brought in. In short, Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids became even more relevant.
Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids was more than a pioneering educational television program, but an endearing one. The result is a hot area of collecting which will only grow in the next few years, surpassing the nostalgia for many other cereal-eating shows of the period. The love of Fat Albert runs as deep as the character was wide.