DO WE really have to lose "The Cosby Show"?

Don't look here for a defense of Bill Cosby. I believed accuser Andrea Constand in 2005 and nothing that's happened in recent days has surprised me, much less changed my mind.

I understood why NBC was finally ready to drop the idea of a new Cosby sitcom - it never seemed like a very good one, anyway - and why Netflix decided that Thanksgiving weekend might not be the right time to release a new Cosby special.

I'm not sure, though, that TV Land needed to take the Huxtables off the air just because the man who brought them to life isn't the man he pretended to be.

Because it's all pretend, you know.

Whether any of the things Cosby's alleged to have done to an ever-growing list of women meets the legal definition of rape is something a jury's unlikely to ever get to decide. The accusations, though, are sickening and I think this time they'll stick.

But we've known since 1997, when the comedian admitted to having had an extramarital affair with the mother of Autumn Jackson - who claimed to be his daughter and served time for trying to extort money from him - that Bill Cosby wasn't Cliff Huxtable.

Cliff would never have stepped out on Clair.

An affair's a far cry from what Constand and others accuse Cosby of, but in the 17 years since that first small chink in Cosby's public-relations armor, plenty of "Cosby Show" fans have managed to separate the star from his most famous character.

We've always done it.

I grew up watching "The Wonderful World of Color" (in black and white, since we didn't have a color set) when Walt Disney still hosted it. He was not, I now understand, quite the nice man he seemed. My warm feelings for the show remain intact.

TV Land's still running "Hogan's Heroes," whose star, Bob Crane, later murdered, seems to have been something of a pioneer in the videotaping of his sexual encounters. Whether all the women involved knew they were being taped isn't entirely clear.

I'd like to think that Col. Hogan wouldn't have done something like that, but, then, they didn't have video cameras in World War II prison camps, did they?

Because, again, it's all pretend.

"The Cosby Show," which ran from 1984 to 1992 on NBC, was a special kind of pretend. Not just because it featured an African-American, upper-middle-class family, but because two professionals, a doctor (Cosby) and a lawyer (Phylicia Rashad), were raising five children without losing their minds.

Cliff's job as an obstetrician always struck me as a bit of a fantasy - how many ob-gyns, even those with a home office, are around the house that much during the day? But Clair? Clair may have made motherhood look easier than I already knew it to be, but I appreciated that she made it seem doable, even for someone with a demanding job elsewhere.

The Cosby kids were more interesting than a lot of sitcom kids, but it was very clear that they were not running the show that was their lives.

Clair and Cliff were.

Behind the scenes, the strings were pulled by the man whose co-stars and associates referred to him as "Mr. Cosby," the man whose private life seems finally to have come back to bite him.

But however badly Cosby may have treated some of the women in his real life, "The Cosby Show" was a portrait of an enviable marriage, one built on love and mutual respect.

And proof that whatever he's done, Bill Cosby on some level really did know better.

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