During the 1980s, Cosby produced and starred in one of the decade's defining sitcoms, The Cosby Show, which aired eight seasons from 1984 to 1992. It was the number one show in America for five straight years (1985–89). The sitcom highlighted the experiences and growth of an affluent African-American family. He also produced the spin-off sitcom A Different World, which became second to The Cosby Show in ratings. He starred in the sitcom Cosby from 1996 to 2000 and hosted Kids Say the Darndest Things for two seasons.
In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante included him in his book The 100 Greatest African Americans.
In 1976, Cosby earned a Doctor of Education degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His dissertation discussed the use of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids as a teaching tool in elementary schools.
While serving in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman for four years, Cosby worked in physical therapy with some seriously injured Korean War casualties, which helped him discover what was important to him. Then he immediately realized the need for an education, and finished his equivalency diploma via correspondence courses. He then won a track and field scholarship to Philadelphia's Temple University in 1961–62, and studied physical education while running track and playing fullback on the football team.
As Cosby progressed through his undergraduate studies, he continued to hone his talent for humor, joking with fellow enlistees in the service and then with college friends. When he began bar tending at the Cellar, a club in Philadelphia, to earn money, he became fully aware of his ability to make people laugh. He worked his customers and saw his tips increase, then ventured onto the stage.
While many comics were using the growing freedom of that decade to explore controversial, sometimes risqué, material, Cosby was making his reputation with humorous recollections of his childhood. Many Americans wondered about the absence of race as a topic in Cosby's stories. As Cosby's success grew he had to defend his choice of material regularly; as he argued, "A white person listens to my act and he laughs and he thinks, 'Yeah, that's the way I see it too.' Okay. He's white. I'm Negro. And we both see things the same way. That must mean that we are alike. Right? So I figure this way I'm doing as much for good race relations as the next guy."
Cosby remains an actively touring stand-up comedian, performing at theaters throughout the country.