Bill Cosby created this Filmation series, based on his boyhood in Philadelphia (and, more directly, on his Stand-Up Comedy routines of the 1960s, like I Started Out as a Child). Cosby also appeared on camera as a Narrator and performed some of the character voices, including Fat Albert himself. The show ran Saturday mornings on CBS from 1972 to 1984, followed by one additional season in first-run syndication. In addition to a good income and setting up a ready audience for The Cosby Show to rule the airwaves in the 1980s, Cosby also used this series to earn a Doctorate in Education, and become Dr. Cosby.
In every episode, Fat Albert and his inner-city gang became involved in some comic misadventure, either learning a moral lesson or demonstrating a lesson for someone else. As on The Archie Show, every Fat Albert episode included at least one song. In later seasons, Fat Albert and his friends followed the exploits of their favorite TV superhero, the Brown Hornet, who had adventures with morals that typically paralleled the main story. The first-run syndicated episodes had "Legal Eagle," a Funny Animal parable told by Mudfoot to serve the same story purpose.
At Christmas 2004, 20th Century Fox released a live-action Fat Albert feature film starring Kenan Thompson note in which the cast of the Fat Albert cartoon step out of the TV to make a little girl's life better. It wasn't well received by critics and the box office.
In 2013, the series was licensed to DreamWorks Classics.
In January 2013, Cosby announced on his Facebook page that a new version of Fat Albert is being developed. As of yet, it has not surfaced, and with the subsequent controversy regarding Cosby's sexual conduct, it probably never will.
A character page is in the works.
"I'm gonna sing a song for you / and Bill's gonna show you a trope or two...":
- Abusive Parents: One episode is focused around a classmate of Fat Albert's being abused by her mother. In the end, Fat Albert convinces her to tell their teacher what's happening.
- Acrofatic: Fat Albert is surprisingly agile for a person of his size, being able to run extremely quickly and jump very high.
- Armor-Piercing Question: Tyrone was a Jerkass Woobie ever since the death of his wife, Martha, including yelling at poor children and ruining fun for Albert and his friends. Mudfoot shoots him a question that actually gets through to Tyrone, eventually making him change his attitude toward the end of the episodeMudfoot: "Now what do you think Martha would say if she could see you now?"
- Author Avatar: Bill. Curiously, he was one of the most minor characters — you'd have never guessed he was based on Cosby himself if not for the name.
- Big, Thin, Short Trio: Fat Albert, Weird Harold, and any of Bucky, Bill, or Russell.
- Board Game: The show had one, with cardboard tokens of the characters stuck in giant plastic sneaker feet.
- Butt-Monkey: Rudy. Russell was often the one to put him in his place.Russell: "Rudy, you're just like school in the summertime: no class."
- Catch-Phrase: "Hey, hey, hey!" Live-action Bill Cosby was usually wearing a t-shirt with this catchphrase on it over a picture of Fat Albert's head.
- Darker and Edgier: The first-run syndicated episodes were able to get into darker material than the networks would ever allow, such as "Busted" with its hard edged prison tour, and another with a murder. One episode included the gang encountering a racist Neo-Nazi group. Another has the younger brother of a gang member caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting, and winds up taking the bullet ... and sacrificing his life. In earlier episodes, the antagonists often realized the error of their ways and reconciled with Fat Albert and the gang. However, this was not always the case in later episodes where they often had to pay dearly for their actions.
- Deadpan Snarker: All characters to an extent, but Weird Harold in particular.
- Death of a Child: "Gang Wars" — aired during the syndicated season — was the only episode in the series' run where a child dies. The victim takes the bullet for his older brother, who was involved in a gang war.
- Depending on the Writer: Mudfoot Brown is either a homeless person or the proprietor of the junkyard that the gang hangs out in. Whether or not this means he actually owns the junkyard or is just employed as a caretaker is another story. He seems to have his own little shack in the junkyard but it's anyone's guess whether or not it's his only abode.
- Deus ex Machina: Played for Laughs in The Brown Hornet Show Within a Show. Every episode would begin with last week's Cliffhanger, with the heroes caught in a Death Trap... which the Hornet would instantly escape by simply snapping his fingers.
- Edutainment Show: In the form of behavioral and social education rather than book-learnin'.
- Everybody Do the Endless Loop: Walking, running, playing their musical instruments....
- Eye-Obscuring Hat: Dumb Donald subverts this trope. His knitted hat falls below his eyes, but he has made two eyeholes in the fabric to see through.
- Good Parents: All the parents, especially Fat Albert's, are fine upstanding examples whom the kids can always turn to when needed.
- Intergenerational Friendship: Mudfoot Brown, an elderly homeless man who often imparted sage advice to the gang.
- Jerkass Has a Point: The prison episode has a pair of unnamed inmates speaking to Fat Albert and company during their "scared straight" visit. They are very direct and not at all friendly; Some are downright creepy. They tell the kids how horrifying prison is and how torturous their experience has been. One even explains that he's serving a twenty year sentence and he'll never be same again once he gets out since all he has ever known is prison life.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Rudy, the emphasis of many episodes.
- Limited Animation: It's Filmation, what do you expect? Moreover, lot of animations are taken from The Archie Show and The Brady Kids (though the latter premiered the same year as Fat Albert, so it's tough to tell what was taken from where).
- Living Crashpad: Fat Albert himself serves as one.
- Long-Runners: A 12-season run on Saturday morning network TV and syndication, albeit not always with new episodes each season, a great run for an educational series.
- The Moving Experience: This trope forms part of the plot for the episode "Moving." After the gang loses a game because Fat Albert was sick, his friends vote to kick him out of the gang, but have a change of heart when they learn he's moving. Everyone makes amends, then learn that he's moving to another place at the end of the block.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: In the Brown Hornet segments.
- No Swastikas: Notably averted in one of the 1980s New Fat Albert episodes. The gang encounters a White Supremacist group called the Double Cross (their insignia being two X's). However, the rest of the episode includes explicit verbal and visual references to Adolf Hitler, The Nazis, Swastikas, and The Holocaust.
- Once per Episode: Russell will tell someone (usually Rudy) that they have "no class."
- Present-Day Past: Kind of. Since the characters are supposed to represent figures from Bill Cosby's childhood (including his own youthful self), the show ought to be set in the late 1940s or early '50s. It sure looks, sounds and feels like The '70s, though. One episode from the final season involved a computer hacker.
- Scare 'em Straight: One 1980s syndication episode dealt with a terrifying "Scared Straight"-style tour of a prison.note
- Share Phrase: Members of the group, especially Russell, will frequently say "No Class" in response to other members doing dumb things.
- Show Within a Show: The Brown Hornet (an In Name Only parody of The Green Hornet) and Legal Eagle.
- "Captain Cougar", a cartoon with an Animal-Themed Superbeing, featured prominently in one episode.
- So Proud of You: Dumb Donald's teacher pulls him aside at one point after class to warn him that he's in danger of getting Held Back in School if he doesn't get a good grade on his upcoming math test, and advises him to ask Fat Albert to help tutor him. While Dumb Donald does begin studying with Fat Albert's help, he laments that he isn't getting any of it. Another kid overhears this and sells him a cheat sheet for the test. Later when Donald is still contemplating on whether or not he should use it, his father comes in and tells Donald how proud he and his mother are over how Donald has been taking his studies more seriously and putting in more of an effort at school. That seems to be enough for Dumb Donald to make his decision as he hands the cheat sheet over to his father and asks for him to throw it away. He ends up passing the test anyway.
- Stock Footage: A tradition for Filmation.
- Stout Strength: The title character
- Team Pet: The gang originally had a pet duck as seen in the opening, but the duck was dropped for some reason.
- Thematic Theme Tune: "Naa naa naa, gonna have a good tiiiime!" (Ear Worm worthy!)
- Token White: Margene, a friend and classmate of Fat Albert. In the 1980s version, there are many more such characters.
- Trash Can Band: It may or may not include Rudynote . In close-ups during songs, he's seen playing an actual instrument (an electric guitar, which even has a monogrammed "R"), but in long shots with the rest of the group, he is shown playing a crude makeshift banjo.
- The Unintelligible: Mushmouth is understandable, but just barely. Specifically, he speaks Ubbi Dubbi.
- The Dentist understood him perfectly.
- Very Special Episode: Practically every episode, particularly because it did not fit the typical convention of most Saturday morning cartoons of the 1970s.
- Wham Episode: In one episode, Fat Albert befriends a Latino kid whose older brother is involved in a gang. The kid is later killed when he sees someone pull a gun on his brother and he pushes the brother out of the way, taking the bullet himself. And the whole thing is dealt with the severity it deserves. There is some Narm involved near the end of the episode when a memorial plaque is revealed which doesn't have the kid's name or picture, just a picture of his hat. The Scare 'em Straight episode also qualifies, especially its use of uncensored swear words. The 1984 series had the gang confront a White supremacist group and Lane Scheimer's (son of Lou Scheimer) convincing voice performance as the ringleader, George, is quite chilling given the other Filmation voice roles for which he is known (Sport Billy).