Former "Cosby" star returns to roots on network that made her a household name
In past 20 years, she's worked consistently on TV, experimenting with various genres
Never typecast, the actress desires to do grittier roles
Tempestt Bledsoe is all grown up now. The former “Cosby Show” star has gone back to her family sitcom roots to star in NBC’s Jimmy Fallon-produced comedy series, “Guys With Kids,” where she portrays – of all things – a working mother who shares a busy New York home with her good-humored hubby and a brooding brood of kids.
For almost 10 years (1984-1992), Bledsoe starred as Vanessa Huxtable on the NBC juggernaut “The Cosby Show.” Now she is experiencing a homecoming of sorts.
“It’s very exciting,” Bledsoe, 39, said recently. “Everyone has been great. The nostalgia of it has been on everyone’s mind.” The actress said her new project is a very traditional sitcom similar to the series that gave her her first taste of stardom in that, “it’s a show that you should be able to sit around with your family and not have to turn the TV off and everyone has a comforting experience.”
Of all her former “Cosby Show” co-stars, Bledsoe is the one who has consistently worked professionally on television in various roles, some hits and a few misses.
‘The Cosby Show’: Then and now
After graduating from New York University (where she majored in finance), she made an ambitious foray into the world of talk television with “The Tempestt Bledsoe Show,” a syndicated chat fest produced by Dick Clark. “It was a positive experience for me,” she said, and one she won’t completely rule out doing again, considering the talk show genre seems to be in full swing again with new shows hosted by Steve Harvey, Katie Couric and 1990s stalwart Ricki Lake.
“My time is taken up a bit at the moment, but I think it’s a great genre when it works well,” Bledsoe said. “It’s a really great showcase for personalities and a wonderful way to really influence people and make a contribution depending on the kind of show you want to do.”
While she considers herself an actor above all else, she has also tried her hand in the reality television arena. In 2009, she and her longtime partner, “Different World” actor Darryl Bell, were subjects of the Fox Reality Channel’s short-lived “Househusbands of Hollywood” series, which chronicled the lives of “house husbands” whose wives were the breadwinners of the family.
“It was something that a friend of mine was producing and I was like ‘Why not, let’s try it,’” Bledsoe explained. “But … I’m a little too private for that so it’s not my forte. … The genre is so huge at this point and can be so many different things it’s just another way to communicate with an audience, but as far as talking about my private life and stuff like that, it’s not my thing.”
Not that she’s totally against the genre, as Bledsoe also appeared on VH1’s “Celebrity Fit Club” and NBC’s “Fear Factor.” Her turn as the host of the TLC’s home makeover series “Clean House,” was a good experience, she said. “(It was) very good, a lot of hard work, but also very inspirational. It changed a lot of people’s lives for the better.”
These days Bledsoe has found her groove chopping it up alongside comedic actor Anthony Anderson, who plays her stay-at-home husband on “Guys With Kids.”
“A lot of times as an actor you have to manufacture chemistry that’s just not there and you do the best you can, but (Anthony and I) just click,” she said. “We’re both really, really fortunate and we have a lot of fun with it. People say all the time that it radiates through the screen.”
She and another “Guys With Kids” co-star, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, share a special bond, too: Both actresses became household names as the teenage daughters of two of TV’s most indelible clans: Bledsoe on “The Cosby Show” and Sigler as Meadow on “The Sopranos.”
“Jamie and I are very close,” Bledsoe said. “We talk all the time about how great this experience is and how wonderful it is to be seen all grown up as mothers to children and lovers to husbands and dealing with grown-up issues. We’ve been very blessed.”
“The audiences have been very receptive to all the work we’ve done, and they’ve watched us grow up in front of their eyes,” she added. “And it’s been a really smooth process for both of us.”
In retrospect, Bledsoe considers herself “really lucky” in that she has had the opportunity to not be typecast as Vanessa in her career, though she says she’s anxious to do more gritty roles.
“It would be nice to play a little bit of a bad girl,” she said. “So, we’ll see.”