When most people think of Philadelphia, they don’t often think of Bill Cosby. However, a look at The Cosby Show creator’s life reveals he’s always celebrated his Philadelphian roots — something that local public radio station WHYY will be exploring in their new podcast, Cosby Unraveled, which launched today.
“Bill Cosby wore the city on his chest. He wasn’t trying to make people forget,” says co-producer Jeannette Woods, who cites the Making Oprah podcast as one of the show’s inspirations. “He grew up in here in the Richard Allen Homes projects, he went to Temple University. The Fat Albert characters are all based on the folks and kids he grew up with.”
It’s this connection to the city and its residents that the podcast will use to jump into their newsroom’s coverage of Cosby’s upcoming trial for the alleged sexual assault of nearly 60 women. As a result, the podcast — which is hosted by award-winning former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Annette John-Hall, and produced by Woods and Lindsay Lazarski — will release three episodes prior to the court date, before wrapping different aspects of their ongoing coverage of the trial into subsequent episodes.
“We wanted to get some of this background information out before the trial so that people could simmer with it,” Woods explains of how the podcast will be structured after the third episode. “The podcast is going to add another dimension to our coverage.”
Part of this coverage will focus on the Philadelphia angle. So while it will feature guests like former Philadelphia mayor Wilson Goode, attorney Gloria Allred, Grammy winner Christian McBride, and professor Michael Eric Dyson, it will also include a lot of local residents, many of whom haven’t actually spoken out about the allegations against Cosby.
“This is a very big celebrity trial, and we’ve heard a lot about allegations and everything surrounding celebrity,” explains Woods of the news team’s approach. “What we haven’t heard is from some of the people that really aren’t famous. What do the people from the Richard Allen Homes projects feel about it? What do they think about what’s going on? He was deeply involved with the Philadelphia jazz community. What do some of those folks think about it?”
The podcast will also delve into many of the issues this particular case brings up, including celebrity, race, gender, and even rape culture. Woods says this particular court case is not just about a famous person being charged with a potentially heinous crime.
“There’s a lot more at play here… How people feel about Bill Cosby and what they think depends on more than just what they’ve heard,” explains Woods. “Some people have said they think he’s being set up. That this is a case of another African-American man who’s flown too high and is being pulled down. A lot of people feel that this is terrible. Why was he not held accountable? It was an open secret and nobody took it on.”
If that sounds like an uncomfortable discussion, Woods says it’s meant to be. “We thought, let’s just get listeners to go into that uncomfortable area with us for a little bit. Let’s think about this from a few different sides and live with that discomfort and see what that’s about.”