NBC has scrapped The Bill Cosby Show comedy that was under development, the second outlet within a day to put off or abandon a project involving the long-beloved comic as a sexual assault scandal continues to spiral around him.
NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks said Wednesday the Cosby sitcom "is no longer under development." Both the NBC sitcom and Netflix' Cosby standup comedy special, which has been indefinitely postponed, were halted within a day after actress Janice Dickinson, in an interview with Entertainment Tonight, became the third woman in recent weeks to allege she'd been assaulted by Cosby - charges strongly denied by the comedian's lawyer.
The developments, which involve allegations that were widely reported on a decade ago as well as new accusations, have threatened the 77-year-old comedian's reputation as America's TV dad at a time when he was launching a comeback. A year ago a standup special - his first in 30 years - aired on Comedy Central and drew a hefty audience of 2 million viewers. His prospective new series was announced by NBC in January.
Cosby has never been charged in connection with any of the allegations; Former Pennsylvania prosecutor Bruce L. Castor Jr., who investigated a woman's claims that Cosby had sexually assaulted her in 2004, said Wednesday he decided not to prosecute Cosby because he felt there was not enough evidence to get a conviction. "I wrote my opinion in such a way as I thought conveyed to the whole world that I thought he had done it, he had just gotten away with it because of a lack of evidence," the former Montgomery County district attorney said.
If Cosby hadn't been cooperative with the investigation, "I probably would have arrested him," he said. Cosby has continued working as a stand-up comic, and has at least 35 performances scheduled throughout the U.S. and Canada through May 2015. None of the performances has been cancelled.
At one of the venues, the Sandusky State Theater in Sandusky, Ohio, there's been no negative feedback, said David L. Taylor, the site's executive director. There's been one query from the community about whether the scheduled Jan. 30 performance is still on. "If the show were to cancel, everybody would obviously get full refunds," Taylor said.
The Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art has not changed its plans for an exhibition featuring Cosby's African-American art collection alongside African artworks. The show opened this month on the National Mall and is scheduled to remain on view through early 2016.
"The exhibition has been very well received. We've actually had record numbers through the door," spokesman Eddie Burke said, adding the museum has had no complaints.
Cosby was asked about the growing furor by an AP reporter when he was promoting the exhibit earlier this month.
When the AP interviewed Cosby, on Nov. 6, the story involved long-circulated accusations from several women and recent criticism from comedian Hannibal Buress. Cosby declined to comment, saying "We don't answer that." The AP mentioned the allegations and Cosby's decision not to comment at the end of its story, which, like the interview, was primarily about his donation of more than 50 artworks to the Washington museum.
Since then, two women have come forward publicly to accuse him of sexual assault, Netflix and NBC cut ties and Cosby canceled appearances on David Letterman and Queen Latifah's talk shows. In recent days, as the allegations gained increasing attention, AP went back through the full video of the Nov. 6 interview and decided to publish Cosby's full reaction to questions about the claims.
The AP was among a handful of news organizations granted interviews with Cosby in connection with the art donation. After his initial refusal to comment - as the interview was winding down but with the camera still running and Cosby wearing a lapel microphone - the comedian asked the AP to not use the brief on-camera denial he had just made about the allegations. "And I would appreciate it if it was scuttled," he said.
The interview was on the record. The AP had made no agreement to avoid questions about the allegations or to withhold publishing any of his comments at any time. The NBC project was in the very early stages, without a script or commitment to production. But it would have brought Cosby back to the network where he had reigned in the 1980s with the top-rated The Cosby Show.
There's some precedent for a network burying a project because of stories involving a star's personal life. NBC shelved a two-hour TV movie, Frogmen, starring O.J. Simpson in 1994 after the former football star was implicated in his wife's death.
Dickinson told Entertainment Tonight that Cosby had given her red wine and a pill when they were together in a Lake Tahoe, California, hotel room in 1982. When she woke up the next morning, "I wasn't wearing my
and I remembered before I passed out I had been sexually assaulted by this man."
Cosby's lawyer, Martin Singer, said in a letter to The Associated Press that Dickinson's charges were "false and outlandish" and were contradicted by Dickinson herself in a published autobiography. Cosby's spokesman, David Brokaw, has not returned calls for comment.
Singer said the first Cosby heard of any assault allegation came in the Entertainment Tonight interview, and suggested Dickinson was "seeking publicity to bolster her fading career."