Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids is an animated series created, produced, and hosted (in live action bookends) by comedian Bill Cosby, who also lent his voice to a number of characters, including Fat Albert himself. Filmation was the production company for the series. The show premiered in 1972 and ran until 1985 (with new episodes being produced on an “on and off” basis during that time frame). The show, based on Cosby’s remembrances of his childhood gang, centered on Albert (known for his catchphrase “Hey hey hey!”), and his friends.
The show features an educational lesson in each episode, emphasized by Cosby’s live-action segments. In addition, at the end of the early episodes, the gang typically gathers in their North Philadelphia junkyard to play a song on their cobbled-together instruments, summarizing the show’s lesson.
The character Fat Albert first appeared in Cosby’s stand-up comedy routine “Buck Buck,” as recorded on his 1967 album Revenge. The stories were based upon Cosby’s tales about growing up in inner city North Philadelphia. In 1969, Cosby and veteran animator Ken Mundie brought Fat Albert to animation in a one-shot prime-time special entitled Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert.
The special, which aired on NBC, was a hybrid of live action and animation. The music for the special was written and performed by jazz pianist/keyboardist Herbie Hancock in 1969 and was released on the Warner Bros. album Fat Albert Rotunda. For the animated portion of the special, it was necessary to develop the actual appearance of each of the Fat Albert Gang’s characters. For this, Ken Mundie relied on animator Amby Paliwoda, a former Disney artist. Paliwoda not only created all the Gang’s characters, but painted a “group portrait” which was eventually shown on the front page of TV Guide magazine shortly before the showing of the special.
The producers wanted NBC to bring Fat Albert to Saturday mornings, but the network programming managers refused because the series was too educational. Bill Cosby and a new production company, Filmation Associates, then took the property to CBS. The Fat Albert gang’s character images were primarily created by the artist Randy Hollar with the assistance of one-time Disney animator Michelle McKinney, under the direction of Ken Brown.
Retitled Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, the series premiered on September 9, 1972, on CBS. Production lasted for 12, though not continuous, years. It also spent another season in first-run syndication (1984–85). Three prime-time holiday specials (Halloween, Christmas, and Easter) featuring the characters were also produced. Like most Saturday morning cartoons of the era, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids contained an adult laugh track, which was eliminated during the final season. The series was rerun on NBC Saturday mornings and on the USA Network in 1989.
On January 15, 2013, Bill Cosby posted the following on his Facebook page, “I’m telling you there are people at work who, I think, will make Fat Albert happen again. And it will be loved by all generations to come”, hinting that the series might be brought back once again. No further word has been given yet.
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