Cosby's 'Little Bill' sends the right message to kids

Critic's choice: Television

November 28, 1999|By David Zurawik

Have you ever seen a children's show on commercial television that told kids not to buy the stuff they see advertised on TV? I never had -- until I screened the pilot for "Little Bill," a new prime-time animated series created by Bill Cosby that premieres tonight at 8 on the Nickelodeon cable channel.

"Little Bill" explores the world of a 5-year-old boy with a big imagination. It's one of the sweetest and smartest kids' shows I have seen since "Gullah, Gullah Island" debuted on Nick in 1994. And it's not just for kids. By scheduling the series to air Sunday nights at 8, Nickelodeon is responding to parents who say there is nothing safe for them to watch with their young children at night. "The idea behind 'Little Bill' is to give parents and their young children a choice," says Cosby.

In tonight's show, Little Bill and his friends are watching their favorite show, "Space Explorers," when they see an ad for the "Space Explorers Video Game" for $49.95. Little Bill's mom (voiced by Phylicia Rashad) and dad (Gregory Hines) tell him that's too much money for a video game, but the parents of one of Bill's friends do buy it for their child. Bill and his multicultural group of friends rush over to play the game only to discover that it is less exciting than the versions of "Space Explorers" they make up out of their own imaginations. The moral of the story is not going to be a big hit on Madison Avenue. But it is a message kids desperately need to hear, especially now, when sales pitches go into holiday overdrive.

Cosby uses educational advisers on the series, including Harvard University's Dr. Alvin Poussaint, who has worked with him since the 1980s on "The Cosby Show." Cosby himself has a doctorate in education.

"Little Bill" is just what the doctor ordered for those who want better kids' TV.

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