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.
During each episode, Fat Albert and his friends (aka The Junkyard Gang), dealt with an issue or problem commonly faced by young urban children, ranging from stage fright, first loves, medical operations, and personal hygiene to more serious themes (though toned down for younger children) including vandalism,stealing, racism, smoking, being scammed by con artists, sexually transmitted diseases, child abuse, kidnapping, drug use, gun violence and death.
At the end of most episodes (with some exceptions in the case of particularly serious themes), the gang would sing a song about the theme of the day. This sequence, similar to those seen in other Filmation shows including The Archie Show, has often been parodied. The musical sequence was dropped during the Brown Hornet/Legal Eagle years.
The series would enjoy one of the longest runs in the history of the Saturday morning cartoons.
The show started as a special which aired on NBC, and 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.