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 always had an educational lesson emphasized by Cosby's live-action segments, and in early episodes the gang would usually gather in their North Philadelphia junkyard to play a rock song (summarizing the lesson of the day) on their cobbled-together instruments at the end of the show.
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 they 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 (1984-1985). 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.
The Cosby Kids:
"Fat" Albert Jackson (voiced by Bill Cosby) - Fat Albert is based on Cosby's childhood friend Albert Robertson. The main character in the series, he is the heart and soul (and often the conscience) of the Junkyard Gang. Though depicted as being obese, he is shown to enjoy sports, often playing in different games with the rest of the gang. Civic-minded and wise beyond his years, Fat Albert works hard to maintain integrity in the gang and with others, and is the lead singer as well as bagpipe-accordion (made from a funnel, radiator and an airbag) player in the Junkyard Band.,
Mushmouth (voiced by Bill Cosby) - Mushmouth is a chinless, slack-jawed simpleton wearing a red knit hat and a blue scarf who always speaks in virtual Ubbi Dubbi, tantamount to an overdose of novocaine in the mouth, which Cosby would later use in the "Dentist" monologue from his 1983 film, Himself. He plays a homemade bass guitar in the Junkyard Band.,
"Dumb" Donald (voiced by Lou Scheimer) - "Dumb" Donald is a lanky but dimwitted fellow. He always wears a green long-sleeved jersey three sizes too big, and a pink stocking knit cap covering his entire face except his eyes and mouth. In the Junkyard Band, he plays a trombone made out of plumbers' pipe and a morning glory horn from an old Victrola.,
William "Bill" Cosby (voiced by Bill Cosby) - William "Bill" Cosby is a character based on Cosby himself. Like the others, Bill is an all-around good athlete, but more often he spends his time trying, though not always successfully, to keep his little brother Russell out of trouble. Like Fat Albert, Bill is usually the voice of reason in the gang, although at times a little more stubborn. He also acts as Fat Albert's second-in-command. In the Junkyard Band, he plays homemade drums made from a discarded foot-pedal trash can using spoons for sticks.,
Russell Cosby (voiced by Jan Crawford) - Russell Cosby is Bill's younger brother (based on his real-life brother--whom he often talked about in his routines) and the smallest and youngest of the Junkyard Gang. He always wears a heavy jacket, boots and a Ushanka winter hat regardless of the weather. Russell has a penchant for making blunt observations (much to his older brother's consternation). Russell often insults and antagonizes Rudy, usually when Rudy is being his typical arrogant self. His catchphrase is "No class." He plays the xylophone in the Junkyard Band (made out of empty cans and a discarded coat rack).,
"Weird" Harold (voiced by Gerald Edwards) - "Weird" Harold is a tall, skinny, beady-eyed kid who always wears a beige dress blazer, a brown sock on one foot and a red sock on the other, and is usually clumsy. In the Junkyard Band, he plays a harp made from bedsprings, and on occasion plays a "dressmaker dummy" in the percussion section. In the film adaptation, he is called "Old Weird" Harold, like he was in Cosby's stand-up routines, rather than Weird Harold.,
Rudolph "Rudy" Davis (voiced by Eric Suter) - Rudolph "Rudy" Davis is a sharp dressed, smooth talking, somewhat antagonistic huckster whose smart-aleck attitude gets him into trouble more often than not. In fact, Rudy's poor attitude and dismissive demeanor is often the catalyst for a typical plot's conflict. But inside he has a good heart and often learns his lesson. In the Junkyard Band, he plays a makeshift banjo, whose parts include a broomstick handle and sewing-thread spool to hold the strings. However, when shown playing apart from the others, Rudy plays an electric guitar (personalized with a big "R"). He wears an orange flat cap, purple vest, pink turtleneck, regular bell-bottom jeans, and boots. Rudy's personality in the Fat Albert movie is much different as he is portrayed as a shy, kind-hearted, gentleman who falls in love with the female lead Doris (Kyla Pratt).,
Bucky (voiced by Jan Crawford) - As his name indicates, Bucky has a large overbite. He is shown to be really fast and flexible. Bucky plays a stovepipe organ in the Junkyard Band.,
Miss Berry is the kids' first teacher and mentor, a matronly black woman, later replaced by Mrs. Breyfogle. In later seasons, the kids went to a different school where their teacher and mentor was Miss Wucher, a blonde Caucasian All three characters were voiced by Jay Scheimer, wife of executive producer Lou Scheimer.,
Mudfoot Brown (voiced by Bill Cosby) - Mudfoot Brown is a wise old man and unemployed vagrant who gives advice to the gang, often using reverse psychology to get his point across. (He makes a minor appearance in the film adaptation, at the beginning and end of the film, voiced by Earl Billings--however, he is never referred to by name in the film.),
Cluck - A duck that followed the gang regularly in early episodes, but stopped appearing after season 1.,
The Brown Hornet (voiced by Bill Cosby) - The Brown Hornet is the title character of a show about an African-American superhero whose cartoons were watched regularly by the gang. He is a parody of the Green Hornet.
Stinger (voiced by Lou Scheimer) - Stinger is the Brown Hornet's beefy sidekick whose gruff exterior masks a soft heart.,
Tweeterbell (voiced by Erika Scheimer) - Tweeterbell is a female robot assistant to the Brown Hornet and Stinger.,
Legal Eagle (voiced by Lou Scheimer) - Legal eagle is another show-within-a-show, involving a crime-fighting cartoon eagle.
Moe and Gabby - Two lazy, klutzy squirrel underlings that work with Legal Eagle as police officers.,
Margene (voiced by Erika Scheimer) - Margene is a white classmate and good friend of Fat Albert's. In one episode she and Albert ran for co-president of the Student Council and beat out two other candidates, both of whom were running on platforms of racism (one was black, the other Caucasian). A straight-A student, Margene occasionally got in with the wrong people but always managed to rebound; in a different episode she got hooked on drugs, and in another she got innocently involved in a violent white supremacy cult.,
Dennis - Dennis is a skinny kid who follows all the bigger kids around.,
3 River Blockbusters - The 3 River Blockbusters are the Junkyard Gang's main rival when it comes to competing in sports such as baseball and football. The Blockbusters stole the title of being champions in a competition called "buck buck". They make an appearance in the film adaptation featuring totally different members and the leader, dubbed as Crips, voiced by Catero Colbert credited as Lead Teen.,
Pee Wee (voiced by Erika Scheimer) - Pee Wee is a small boy who looks up to Fat Albert and the gang. While being small in stature, his best athletic skill is kicking a football at a long distance. When the bigger kids could not get anything out of a tight crevice, Pee Wee is there to retrieve it.,
Educational lessons and songs:
Fat Albert was honored and noted for its educational content, which included Cosby earning a Doctorate in Education. In every show's opening Cosby would playfully warn:
"This is Bill Cosby comin' at you with music and fun,
and if you're not careful you may learn something before it's done.,
So let's get ready, OK? (Fat Albert voice) Hey, hey, hey!"
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.
Revamps and renames:
In 1979, the show was re-titled The New Fat Albert Show and featured a new segment titled "The Brown Hornet" detailing the adventures of a larger-than-life African-American crime fighter in outer space whose design resembled a caricature of Bill Cosby, who also performed vocal talents on the character.
In 1984, the show was syndicated and renamed The Adventures of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. The lack of network restrictions allowed the producer to delve into more mature subject matter. A notable episode ("Busted") featured the kids having an inadvertent brush with the law and given a Scared Straight!-style tour of an occupied maximum security prison, even contained utterances (by the jail's inmates) of the words "damn" and "bastard" (Cosby had appeared in the beginning of the episode advising viewers that those words would be used as part of the story's dialogue to realistically depict jail life). Another notable episode, "Gang Wars", featured a child being shot and killed. Another new segment was added: "Legal Eagle", a crime-fighting eagle with a pair of bumbling police squirrels. Production of new episodes ceased in 1985.
A cover of the show's theme song, performed by Dig, is included on the 1995 tribute album Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, produced by Ralph Sall for MCA Records.
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was named the 82nd best animated series by IGN.
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids received an Emmy nomination in 1974. Production of the final season of the series overlapped with the start of production of Cosby's live-action sitcom, The Cosby Show, which began airing in the fall of 1984.
In 1993, TV Guide named Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids the best cartoon series of the 1970s in its issue celebrating 40 years of television.
In 2002, Fat Albert was placed at number 12 on TV Guide's list of the 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time.
As of 2013, Fat Albert is seen Saturday mornings on Retro Television Network (RTV), TheCoolTV, and weekdays and Saturdays on Bounce TV, both of which are digital networks. It can also be seen weekdays on Angel Two (ANGL2), Kids & Teens TV (KTV), and World Harvest Television. Fat Albert is also available streaming online from www.HallmarkSpiritClips.com.
In 2004, Urban Works acquired the rights to the series, subsequently releasing several Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids DVDs including a three-volume collection featuring 36 episodes from the original animated series, as well as all the Fat Albert specials to coincide with the theatrical release of the feature film adaptation of Fat Albert. Vol 1 contained 2 dvds with episodes 1-12, airdates 9/9/1972-11/25/1972, along with a CD containing the opening theme, the closing theme, and 12 songs from each of the 12 episodes shown in vol. 1 Vol 2 contained 2 dvds with episodes 13-24, airdates 12/2/1972-9/13/1975, along with a CD containing the opening theme, the closing theme, and 12 songs from each of the 12 episodes shown in vol 2 Vol 3 contained 2 dvds with episodes 24-36, along with a CD containing the opening theme, the closing theme, and 12 songs from each of the 12 episodes shown in vol 3. In addition Urban Works released a Greatest Hits four-disc box set and a five-best episodes set via Ventura Distribution. In 2008 Urban Works lost the distribution rights and as a result all of Urban Works' DVD releases are now out of print.
In 2008, Classic Media acquired the rights to series and stated at the time that they intended to release the entire series on DVD. Unfortunately this never happened as they only re-released The Fat Albert Halloween Special and The Fat Albert Easter Special on DVD via distribution partner Genius Products.
On April 6, 2012, it was announced that Shout! Factory had acquired the rights to the series (under license from Classic Media) and planned to release a complete series box set on DVD on July 31, 2012. The release was postponed. However, it is now scheduled for June 25, 2013.
On September 4, 2012, Classic Media re-released all three holiday specials together in one collection entitled The Hey Hey Hey Holiday Collection on DVD in Region 1.
On June 25, 2013, Shout! Factory released Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids: The Complete Series box-set on DVD.
Gold Key Comics did a comic book adaptation of Fat Albert, which ran for 29 issues, from 1974-79.,
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids made a cameo in a MetLife commercial in 2012.,
Fat Albert characters made a cameo in South Park episode "Imaginationland.",
In 2004, Twentieth Century Fox released a film adaptation of the series titled Fat Albert. The film stars Kenan Thompson as Fat Albert. In the film, Fat Albert and the boys journey into the real world after jumping out of a television in order to help a lonely girl named Doris (Kyla Pratt) with her issues. Fat Albert enjoys being in the real world. But after a meeting with his creator Bill Cosby (portraying himself), he is informed that if he and the others don't return to the television, they will turn into celluloid dust.