POSSIBLY GO WRONG! A Grateful Group of Writers Gives Thanks to Bill and Camille Cosby
By Skye Dent
(LOS ANGELES - September 26, 2012) - The sudden ending to what’s affectionately known throughout the entertainment community as The Cosby Writing Program has resulted in an outpouring of gratitude tinged with despair for the loss of a program that, during its 18-year-history, trained and placed hundreds of writers of color behind the cameras of some of America’s most well-known and respected television series.
“To lose the fellowship is a tremendous blow” said Richard Wesley, the chair of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts graduate screenwriting program as well as the writer of the hit films Let’s Do It Again and Uptown Saturday Night that starred both Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier.
“Just knowing that the program was in existence was a tremendous boost to every young aspiring filmmaker or TV writer who I came into contact with,” Wesley said.
“The Cosby Program was like a farm system for African American writers. Producers and executives would look to the program when looking for writers.” said David Wyatt, co-chair of the WGA west Black Writers Committee and a writer who worked on “Cosby”, “Eve”, “Sister, Sister” and many other series.
Peter Saji, a Cosby Writing Program alum who is a co-producer on the hit series Cougar Town, voiced concerns for the next generation of black writers.
"A lot of black people don't have the connections to secure writers' assistant jobs, and the Cosby Program was a great way for them to break into the industry, “ Saji said. “The biggest disappointment for me is that now when aspiring writers of color ask me how to get started, I'm not sure what to tell them."
Wesley agreed, saying “The progress in Hollywood has not been sufficient that we can afford to lose an institution like the Cosby Fellowship.”
Alum of the program include such well-known writers as Meg De Loach, Michael Ajakwe, Peter Saji, Dee Rees, Janine Sherman Barrois, Anthony Sparks, Pat Charles, Maisha Closson, Sherry Compton, Ayanna Floyd, Ron Covington & Tonis Thomas.
Weary of seeing so many negative images of minorities in film and television, Bill and Camille Cosby established the program in 1993, explained program executive director Doreene Hamilton. “It was a unique program in that it contains equal parts of writing instruction as well as historical knowledge of the role of blacks in the development of America.”
Although the entertainment community knows the program as the Cosby Writers Program, its official name is the Guy A. Hanks and Marvin Miller Screenwriting Program. The Cosbys chose that name to honor Camille's father, Guy Hanks, and Bill's longtime friend and prolific producer, Marvin H. Miller. Based at the USC School of Cinema, it draws instructors from local universities, alum, and the professional entertainment community.
Even writers who were not a part of the program credit it with their success. “I don’t think I, a black science fiction TV writer, would have been as accepted in Hollywood if not for inroads made by Cosby program writers,” said Skye Dent, a former writer for Star Trek Voyager and The Burning Zone who has been teaching writing within the University of North Carolina system.
At a current yearly cost of about $300,000, the program received millions from the Cosbys over the last 18 years.
The WGA-West and the WGA Committee of Black Writers (CBW) will hold a 7 p.m., September 24, 2012 celebration commemoration at the WGA building, 7,000 West Third Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048. Guests include Cosby Program alumni, CBW members, invited WGA members and entertainment industry leaders.
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A Partial List of Cosby Program Alumni Credits
Janine Sherman Barrois: Criminal Minds
Meg De Loach: Reed Between the Lines; Family Matter, Creator of Eve;
Michael Ajakwe, Jr: Unsung, Love That Girl, Brothers Garcia, Sister, Sister, Martin, Entertainment Tonight, Talk Soup
PRODUCERS AND CO-PRODUCERS
Pat Charles: Bones; Sons of Anarchy
Ayanna Floyd: Private Practice
Peter Saji: Cougar Town
Anthony Sparks: Undercovers, Lincoln Heights, The District
EXECUTIVE STORY EDITORS, STORY EDITORS, STAFF AND FREELANCE
Brandon Broussard: House of Payne
Talicia Raggs: NYC 22; Saving Grace
Valencia Parker: Reed Between the Lines; My Wife and Kids
Elyce Strong: Lincoln Heights
Judy Dent: Love That Girl; Eve
Bonita Alfred: Girlfriends
Sonya Steel: ER
Lakeshia Walker: Dirty Sexy Money
Greg Storm: Night Stalker
Lamar Sally: Rodney, Deal with HBO
Terri Brown: House of Payne; The Parkers, Built to Last
Chuck Cummings: Homeboys in Outer Space
Theo Tavers: House of Lies
Clayvon Harris: Farscape; For Your Love; Star Trek – Voyager; Soul Food; Living Single
Dee Rees: Pariah
Sherry Compton Carjacked
Lichelli Lazar-Lea: The Truth About Angels
Zelie Dember-Slack: The Sweetest Heir
Hanelle Culpepper (Director) Murder on the 13th Floor, Deadly Sibling Rivalry
Ron Covington & Tonis Thomas
AWARD WINNING PLAYWRIGHTS
Lorey Hayes: “Haiti’s Children Of God,” “Massinissa and the Tragedy of the House of Thunder” “Power Play”
Levy Lee Simon: Kennedy Center/ACTF Lorraine Hansberry Award 1999 – “The Bow-Wow Club,” Audelco Award-1997 “The Guest at Central Park”
Kimba Henderson: “The Reckoning”
Chuck Cummings: “Reflection Day”
Michael Ajakwe, Jr: “Happy Anniversary Punk”, “Company Policy”
REALITY TV ALUM
Angela Smith: Divorce Court – Supervising Producer Kai Bowe: Americas Next Top Model – Story Editor
Tiffany Williams: Whale Wars – Associate Producer Kristen Carter: I Used To Be Fat – Writer
Shawnelle Gibbs: Top Chef; Project Runway – Story ProducerShawnee Gibbs: Starting Over – Associate Producer
Shirley Neal: Park Hill Entertainment: Prince Behind the Symbol; Isaiah Washington’s Passport to Sierra Leone; The Down Low Exposed. Africa Channel.
NEW MEDIA AND WEB SERIES
Michael Ajakwe, Jr: 1st annual Los Angeles Web Series Festival
Sonya Steel: “Celeste Bright”
Paul Mays & Terrance Hill: “RX” Kristen Carter: “Sellout”
Theo Tavers: “Knife Party at Niko’s”
FELLOWS SERVING ON THE EXECUTIVE BUSINESS SIDE
Tiffany Williams: Creative Executive – Tony Krantz/Flame Ventures
Jacqueline Lyanga: Director of the American Film Institute, Film Festival
Peter Murray: Licensing Coordinator
Shirley Neal: Executive VP of Programming and Production – Africa Channel
Kai Bowe: Development Executive – Africa Channel
Jocelyn Coleman: VP of Creative Affairs and PR Specialist – Tri Destined Studios
Daniella Masterson: Public Relations Specialist – Masterson PR