Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was a long-standing Saturday morning cartoon about a group of urban adolescents growing up in a Philadelphia neighborhood. Stories centered around the real-life social issues and moral dilemmas confronting young people; ranging from topics dealing with the feelings of having a first crush or acting as an individual, to subjects like stealing, smoking, skipping school and vandalism, to more serious themes involving gun violence and child abuse. The show sought to impart life lessons while it entertained, helping the kids watching make smart decisions when faced with similar situations.
Characters were loosely based on the childhood friends of comedian Bill Cosby, who himself appeared throughout the show in live-action segments that helped to promote or clarify the educational theme of the episode. The backdrop of his live-action segments was made to look like the junkyard where the gang had their clubhouse and spent much of their time.
Fat Albert was the cornerstone of the series. Anyone familiar with the show will remember his catchphrase “Hey, Hey, Hey.” The level headed leader of the gang set a strong moral example, and he always made an effort to keep the peace. Other members of the gang included Bill—a younger, animated version of host Bill Cosby—who was good at sports and kept a watchful an eye on his younger brother Russell, who had a talent for wisecracks and telling it like it is. Russell directed most of his punch lines at Rudy, the smooth talking huckster of the group who was apt to get into trouble and whose ego needed periodic deflating. Dumb Donald wore a pink stocking cap down to (actually below) his eyes and had a predisposition for missing the obvious. Mushmouth had a serious speech impediment that filled his sentences with the “ba” sound… “It’s ba getting late ba, one ba more ba game ba.” Weird Harold got his name for his unique way of doing things. He was tall and lanky and wore trousers that were too short for his height, revealing the mismatched red sock and brown sock he apparently overlooked while dressing (at least in the early episodes). Finally there was the quiet and unassuming Bucky, so named for his buckteeth.
The show ran for thirteen seasons, accumulating a strong supporting cast in the process. The kid’s parents often made appearances and several extras became well known to the viewing audience, like Mudfoot Brown—a vagrant old timer, well known by the kids for telling tall tales—and the boys’ school teacher Mrs. Bryfogel, and in later episodes Miss Wucher.
The series had several “show-within-a-show” elements that played as segments during the episodes. The initial series, which began in 1972, included a song performed by the kids with their makeshift, junkyard instruments. When the show was re-titled The New Fat Albert Show in 1979, a new segment called Brown Hornet took the place of the musical number. Brown Hornet was a favorite TV program of Fat Albert and the gang, and the kids raced to the television in their junkyard clubhouse whenever the latest installment aired. Occasionally a Mudfoot story or song took the place of the Brown Hornet segment. In 1984 the title of the show changed once again, this time to The Adventures of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, and a new segment called Legal Eagle sometimes took the place of the other segments.
Series production wasn’t consistent. For some television seasons no new episodes were produced, but a combination of reruns and new episodes stayed on the air with CBS for twelve seasons. The show aired for an additional, syndicated season of new episodes in 1984.