NBC Scraps Bill Cosby Comedy in Wake of Rape Allegations

The network follows Netflix in side-stepping the growing controversy around decades-old assault claims
Bill Cosby  AP Images/Invision

Bill Cosby will not be making his triumphant return to NBC after all.

NBC has decided to not move forward with its planned family comedy starring the former Cosby Show star, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. The decision comes after Netflix "postponed" its post-Thanksgiving Cosby special. NBC declined comment. Sources tell THR that NBC never received the final script for the project, which also didn't have a production commitment.

Cosby was poised to star in an untitled comedy from Sony Pictures Television in which he was to play a family patriarch and father to three married daughters with children. NBC handed out a script plus significant penalty for the comedy earlier this year, tapping Rules of Engagement alum Mike Sikowitz and Mike O'Malley (Shameless) to write and produce the comedy. O'Malley was eyed for a co-starring role on the comedy, which NBC Entertainment topper Bob Greenblatt envisioned for a summer or fall 2015 debut.

NBC's decision to scrap the new Cosby show comes after decades-old rape allegations against the legendary comedian resurfaced. In 2006, Cosby settled out of court with Andrea Constand, who claimed he'd sexually assaulted her. According to court documents, the attorneys planned to bring forward 13 other women with similar allegations. Cosby has denied these allegations.

Read more Bill Cosby's Untold Story: Agony, Ambition and a Son's Tragic Murder

In an essay on Hollywood Elsewhere, former actress, music publicist and journalist Joan Tarshis wrote that Cosby drugged and raped her on two occasions in fall 1969 when she was 19. Barbara Bowman, another alleged victim, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week that she was drugged and raped by Cosby in the 1980s.

For her part, Bowman blasted NBC for its plans to put the Emmy winner back on TV in such a role.

"I think it's irresponsible to put him back in a position of a patriarchal father, in an authoritative and trusted position," Bowman said in an interview with THR. "I'm very disappointed that he would be endorsed in that [type of role] again."

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On Tuesday, a new allegation surfaced, this one from former supermodel Janice Dickinson, who claimed in an Entertainment Tonight interview that Cosby raped her in 1982.

The rape allegations resurfaced after critics complained that a new Cosby biography left out the rape allegations and after stand-up comedian Hannibal Buress eviscerated Cosby onstage last month. Then, in an ill-timed move, Cosby's PR team attempted to focus on the comedian's colorful history as a pitchman and star of The Cosby Show with a meme generator effort on social media that instantly backfired.

For NBC, this marks the latest high-profile project to be abandoned after a public outcry. The network ditched its controversial Hillary Clinton miniseries starring Diane Lane after the project sparked a political firestorm. The Republican National Committee voted Aug. 16 to boycott NBC (and CNN) during the 2016 presidential primary debates — even though no script had been written and nothing had been put into production. The project also enraged segments of NBC's news division. Political director Chuck Todd called the Clinton project a "nightmare," and chief foreign-affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell said the concept was a "really bad idea given the timing."

Cosby, meanwhile, has remained silent. The comedian canceled appearances on The Queen Latifah Show and Late Show With David Letterman to support his Thanksgiving comedy special on Netflix. In a statement released Nov. 16, Cosby's rep said the resurfaced allegations are untrue, and Cosby himself refused to respond to questions about the claims during an NPR interview Nov. 15.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit

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