COSBY'S NEW GAME Great fan of Groucho combines talk and quiz show in revival of 'You Bet Your Life'


This week, the man probably most responsible for boostin television's sagging sitcom genre eight years ago takes on a new role: game show host.

Why would Bill Cosby, one of America's most popular comedians, decide to fill those shoes in a revival of the classic 1950s staple "You Bet Your Life"?

"I didn't feel like doing another sitcom," said the creator and star of "The Cosby Show." "I stopped that one because I didn't have anything else to say. It was over."

Mr. Cosby said this time around he had no intention of filling a void in television the way he did with the comedy series that ran for eight very successful seasons.

"This is taking something on I feel I can do very, very well in my own style. I feel I can have a great deal of fun with it," Mr. Cosby said. "It's something that is altogether different than working with writers, with actors. We're looking for what America is all about."

The show premieres tonight at 7:30 on WBAL (Channel 11).

In keeping with the format of the original series that starred Groucho Marx, Mr. Cosby's version of "You Bet Your Life" combines the spontaneous chatter of a talk show with the suspense of a game show.

Mr. Cosby said he was a big fan of "You Bet Your Life" while growing up in Philadelphia, where the new series is taped. "It was the first time they had a talk show where they had people who were not in show business and didn't have a book to sell. They came on, and they had a conversation with Groucho. And of course as a viewer, I expected him to say something funny," he recalled.

Mr. Cosby became a lifelong fan of Marx and said he was disappointed when an attempt to demonstrate his admiration for the legendary comedian backfired. "By the time we were into our 50th show, I felt so good and proud with what was happening I felt sure if Groucho [who died in 1977] could watch this he would love what's going on. I said, 'There's a picture of him that I have I would love to put up on the desk of my set. Get permission from the estate.'

"The estate comes back asking for money. This isn't about money. This is about a performer saying, 'I love this man and respect him so much I think it would be wonderful to have his picture there.' "

Mr. Cosby said he is bothered by people who assume that entertainers pursued their craft because of the potentially high salaries.

"That isn't why we got into this business. I know I didn't," said the 55-year-old performer. "I got into it because I thought I had something to offer in terms of entertainment, and I wanted to see if it was in fact something that people wanted to see and enjoy.

"As long as we can still perform, I think we should. I've seen what can happen to a performer who is on in years, where physically the legs are stiff, the back is stiff, but they're still performing, and people still enjoy them. It's a juice. It's a spirit. Those of us in the business -- we really want to do it.

"I work three days a week, six hours a day [on "You Bet Your Life"]. On 'Cosby' I went to work at 10 a.m. and left at 5 p.m. four days a week. This is a different demand, but I do know at the end of each evening with three shows I am tired. But I'm a happy tired."

In addition to "You Bet Your Life," the award-winning comedian, who rose to prominence from the ghetto, is a producer of "A Different World" and "Here and Now," a new series with his

former co-star, Malcolm-Jamal Warner.

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