Keshia Knight Pulliam — best known for her role as adorable little Rudy Huxtable on The Cosby Show — just made her debut as a contestant on reality-TV toxic-waste barge The Celebrity Apprentice … and hoo boy, did things get uncomfortable when Bill Cosby came up as a topic.
The season premiere was filmed about a year ago, months before mounting rape allegations irrevocably ruined Cosby’s reputation. So when the cast found out they needed to contact rich friends in order to raise money for a bake sale, it’s understandable that Pulliam’s teammates leaned on her to call up her (as-of-then-relatively-untarnished) former TV dad. Pulliam (who was her team’s project manager) awkwardly declined, cryptically saying she opted instead to reach out to “people I felt can deliver the quickest.” Cosby went unmentioned for much of the rest of the episode. Then came the boardroom. The two teams were summoned to appear before Donald Trump and co-judges Ivanka Trump and Piers Morgan. Pulliam’s team had come up short in their fund-raising, and her teammates took aim at her.
What followed was an excruciating three minutes for anyone even vaguely aware of the Cosby rape scandal. The Trumps, Morgan, and Pulliam’s team took her to task for not calling Bill Cosby and asking him for money.
“Did you call Bill?” the elder Trump asked her.
“I did not,” Pulliam said, crying. “I have not talked to Bill Cosby on the phone in I don’t know how long. So for me to pick up the phone, having not talked to you for five years, except for when we run into each other for a Cosby event — I feel that’s not my place to do.”
That defense wasn’t good enough for Trump, who went on to fire her, specifically because she refused to call Cosby. “I really believe, if you’d called that gentleman, he would’ve helped you, even if you hadn’t spoken to him in years,” Trump said, “because you were an amazing team with one of the most successful shows ever. So I think it would’ve been a very good call to make for charity. But you have to take responsibility. I think you agree with that.”
What’s truly baffling here is why the show’s producers didn’t edit this stuff out, trim it down, or make some kind of statement about it beforehand. Sure, Cosby wasn’t a big topic a year ago, but he’s easily one of the most loathed celebrities in America right now. In light of everything we’ve heard in the past few months, it’s kind of insane to have an extended sequence where a female acquaintance of Bill Cosby gets fired from a job because she didn’t beg Cosby to help her get ahead.