Cosby: The Women Speak, which aired Thursday night, is something of a televised (and, production-wise, unrelated) follow-up to New York magazine’s recent “Bill Cosby’s Accusers Speak Out” cover story. “More than 50 women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, drugging, or rape,” the show’s intro card, stark in black and white, reads. “Their allegations span five decades. He has never been charged with a crime with regard to any of these accusations. His attorneys have said Bill Cosby denies all the allegations.”
The show weaves Cosby’s story—his rise to fame, his role as a powerful celebrity and a cultural critic, his one-time status as “America’s dad”—with those of his alleged victims. But the interviews, the women’s stories, are the focus. Shot in sterile, white studios, and conducted by unseen producers, the interviews air in roughly chronological order, starting with the women who met Cosby in 1969, and ending with women who met Cosby in the early 2000s. There’s the model Beverly Johnson. There’s the comedy writer Joan Tarshis. There’s the former Playboy Bunny Victoria Valentino. And the pseudonymed former flight attendant “Elizabeth.” And Sarita Butterfield. And Charlotte Fox. And Barbara Bowman. And Beth Ferrier. And Chelan Lasha. And Eden Tirl. And Heidi Thomas. And Louisa Moritz.
Their stories and recollections range—the settings, the decades, the drinks given—but most of them involve offers of mentorship and career guidance, followed by assaults and threats and silence.
It was literally like being under anesthesia, and you’re trying to wake up, but you can’t.
And as he was leaving and zipping us his pants, he said, “Don’t forget. Don’t make me mad. I’m going to be your best friend.”
I never really felt any danger from him, at all. And so I took the pill. And I couldn't keep my head up. I started to feel nauseated.
The next morning I just slipped out of bed. Feeling lower than dirt.
I was so disappointed. It was like a family member had done something to me.
I hate that I met him. My life changed for the worse since I met him.
We get a brief note on Cosby’s perspective in all this—largely through a clip of his lawyer, Monique Pressley, appearing on Good Morning America and declaring that “the sheer volume or number of people who are saying a particular thing does not make it true”—but the show is unequivocal about Cosby’s guilt. The many instances of the word “alleged” in the show’s narration read like lawyer-inserted afterthoughts.
Which is a bit ironic, because the law itself is actually a co-star in the show. The special concludes with a brief discussion of the statutes of limitations that prevent the women from taking legal action against Cosby. Some of the women are speaking out, they say, because they want to change the laws that prevent those suits. (Lise-Lotte Lublin recently lobbied, successfully, for such a change in Nevada: The state now allows for the prosecutions of assaults alleged to have occurred as many as 20 years ago.) There is a distinct sense of advocacy here.