4. 'The Cosby Show' (1984-1992)
In 1969, Bill Cosby became the first African-American to star in his own eponymously titled sitcom — The Bill Cosby Show, which ran on NBC for two seasons — and he enjoyed enormous success in the 1970s with the Saturday morning cartoon Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, whose characters were based on the childhood memories he humorously mined for his popular stand-up routines. But not even Fat Albert could touch the overwhelming pop cultural influence and Must-See TV bona fides of The Cosby Show.
As with Cosby's stand-up act and his best-selling comedy albums, this NBC hit was strictly family-oriented fare that never played race for laughs, despite its predominately African-American cast; in fact, many of its episodes would have been just as humorous if they'd been shot with an all-white cast. But Cosby's decision to make the show revolve around an upwardly mobile black family (as opposed to the working class family of his routines) was also key to the show's success; at a time when the crack epidemic was ravaging so many of America's African-American communities, the Huxtables were seen as a paragon of aspirational blackness. Recent events have undeniably cast the show and Cosby's friendly paterfamilias character in a different light, to say the least. But you can't ignore the fact that the show remains a primetime gamechanger and a great example of translating and expanding a comic's voice for the small screen.