Was Bill Cosby right?

A year after Cosby’s rants about the self-destructive failures of the black underclass, the issue will be examined Thursday on ABC’s “Nightline.”

“Nightline” correspondent Dave Marash spent this week interviewing residents of Cosby’s old North Philly neighborhood about how the black community can best realize its potential.

The answers surprised him.

“The overwhelming majority of the people we talked to had the feeling of, “Thanks, Bill, we needed that,”‘ Marash says. “They didn’t feel he was out of line.”

Cosby’s overall message, in Marash’s words, “is that only self-reliance and self-discipline, rather than government intervention, is the answer to the problem.”

One of Cosby’s most vocal critics – University of Pennsylvania professor and noted author Michael Eric Dyson – will be interviewed via satellite from Chicago. His most recent book: “Is Bill Cosby Right?”

“Coming out of the context of the book, there was something of a backlash that this was a painful discussion better kept within the black community than held so publicly,” says Marash.

“I expected that sense of shame, if you will, to be more reflected in the(North Philly) neighborhood. It wasn’t.”

Cosby declined “Nightline’s” request for an interview, according to Marash.

In other “Nightline” news, Sinclair Broadcast Group, which last year preempted “The Fallen” on its eight ABC affiliates, has given a thumbs-up to the Memorial Day edition.

Memorial Day “is the appropriate setting to remember those who have sacrificed their lives to keep all Americans safe and free,” Sinclair said in a statement late Tuesday.

The April 30, 2004, “Nightline” broadcast ran at the beginning of May sweeps. The “05 May sweeps ended Wednesday.

As he did in “04, Ted Koppel on Monday will read aloud the names and show the faces of U.S. servicemen and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last year.

“We’re delighted,” says “Nightline executive producer Tom Bettag of Sinclair’s decision. “We always felt that what happened last year was largely the result of a misunderstanding.”

By the way, the Sinclair statement makes no reference to its assertion last year that “The Fallen” had a political agenda to undermine the war effort.

Buzz in the biz is that Neal Shapiro doesn”t have much longer as NBC News chief.

Though Brian Williams’ “NBC Nightly News” is No. 1 in the evening newscast ratings, the once untouchable “Today” is about to be dethroned by ABC’s “Good Morning America” for the first time since December “95.

NBC’s biggest moneymaker, “Today” generates an estimated $300 million in profit. Exec producer Tom Touchet, hired by Shapiro, got the boot last month, and NBC Universal TV czar Jeff Zucker, a former “Today” e.p., has been spotted frequently calling the shots in the control room.

Shapiro, 47, was named president in June “01 after eight years as e.p. of “Dateline.” He joined NBC in “93 after 13 years at ABC, the last four as broadcast producer of “PrimeTime Live.”

An NBC publicist did not return several calls yesterday.

Steven Bochco’s new FX war drama, “Over There,” will launch July 27. Thirteen hour-long episodes are ordered for 10 p.m. Wednesdays.

Bochco’s first production for basic cable, “Over There” follows a group of American soldiers stationed in Iraq on their first tour of duty. Stars include Josh Henderson, Luke MacFarlane, Eric Palladino and Keith Robinson.

In what’s believed to be an unprecedented move, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will release the “Over There” pilot on DVD Aug. 2. With the requisite “inside look” footage, the DVD will go for $9.98.

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