NEW ORLEANS — Actress Tempestt Bledsoe says she's thrilled to be returning to network television on a show that portrays "a positive black family" similar to the long-running hit sitcom she was part of for roughly eight years – "The Cosby Show."

"That show was my childhood," said Bledsoe, who played middle child Vanessa Huxtable in the NBC show that also starred Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Lisa Bonet and Keshia Knight Pulliam. "It did so many things. It greatly influenced the kinds of projects I did. It helped form my core values, like my work ethic."

Bledsoe and actor Anthony Anderson spoke Friday at the Essence Music Festival about the new show they're starring in, "Guys with Kids," which premieres this fall on NBC.

In an interview after their appearance, the co-stars told The Associated Press they were thrilled the show will spotlight a "positive black family on network television."

"We just don't have that right now, not on network television," said Anderson, who has two children of his own. "Like the Cosby Show, this will be an opportunity to see the love, support, humor and beauty of a black family on TV."

The show, produced by Jimmy Fallon, is about three 30-something new dads trying to hold on to their youth. "Guys With Kids" will also star Jamie-Lynn Sigler of "The Sopranos" and actors Zach Cregger and Jesse Bradford. One of the characters is a single dad, another is a working father and Anderson's character is a stay-at-home dad raising four young sons.

Bledsoe, who plays Anderson's working wife, chuckled as she spoke about his character's daily challenges wrangling the children, including twins under the age of 2.

"There's nothing funnier," Bledsoe said. "This role was tailor-made for Anthony."

Anderson said he was drawn to the role for several reasons, including his strong feelings about the importance of having a father figure and that his character "chooses" to stay at home with his children rather than being forced to do so because he lost his job.

He said he also recognized that in these tough economic times, more dads are choosing to stay home in part because of child care costs.

"A lot of them get funny looks because it's not what people are used to seeing, and this show reflects this new dynamic in the American family," he said.

Other celebrities appearing at the festival included actor Russell Hornsby, who played on "Lincoln Heights" and currently stars in the NBC supernatural drama "Grimm"; Bern Nadette Stanis, who played Thelma on the hit 1970s show "Good Times"; comedian and "Think Like a Man" author Steve Harvey; and Malik Yoba, who stars on the SyFy network's drama "Alphas."

On Saturday, Essence planned to screen Viola Davis' newest film, "Won't Back Down." The movie also stars Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who is known for her role in "Without a Trace."

Later Friday, singer and "Desperate Housewives" actress Vanessa Williams participated in a discussion with her mother, Helen, about relationships. The pair recently released a book, "You Have No Idea," which gives fans insight into the actress' upbringing and touches on her life as Miss America, her marriages and subsequent divorces, her entertainment career and motherhood.

"If anyone can glean anything from my life, I'm willing to share," Williams said. "At this stage of my life, I believe my role is that of teacher. This book is my manual. It's a love story about mothers and daughters and relationships."

Although Williams was not scheduled to sing at Essence, Friday's lineup for its nightly concerts at the Superdome include performances by Charlie Wilson, D'Angelo, Trey Songz, Keyshia Cole and The Pointer Sisters.

Wilson said he was excited about his elevation to the night's closing performance. In previous years, he was among the main stage acts, but had never closed a show.

"This is amazing, the best feeling for me," Wilson said. "I'm headlining. All the others times were great, but this one, my fifth, is special. Every year I come back and get such an overwhelming response it just fuels me and gives me energy. I perform as if it's my last, as if I don't have a tomorrow and I know the fans feel that," he said.

Essence Fest is one of the premier music festivals celebrating black culture and music. It's been held every Independence Day weekend since 1995, when it marked the 25th anniversary of Essence magazine. The festival continues through Sunday and also will feature Mary J. Blige, Kevin Hart, Tank, Ledisi, Aretha Franklin, Fantasia, Estelle and others.

___

Associated Press writer Chevel Johnson contributed to this report.

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