Monday, September 3, 2012

A Grateful Group of Writers Gives Thanks to Bill and Camille Cosby

For Immediate Release  September 2, 2012

Los Angeles - 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.

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,” Hamilton said.

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.

“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.

“Being part of the The Cosby Program was a blast -- undoubtedly one of my best professional experiences. It was great to be part of a coterie of writers not only connected by our history, but by our desire to make a difference.,” said Sylvia Franklin, a former staff writer on NBC’s “Medical Investigation”.

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.”

Even writers who were not a part of the program, based at the USC School of Cinema, 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 in the University of North Carolina system.

“This may be the end of this particular chapter,” said Franklin, “ but for all of us who were part of it, we've only begun to tell our stories."

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

EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS

Janine Sherman Barrois: Criminal Minds
Meg De Loach: Reed Between the Lines; Family Matter, Creator of Eve;

C0-EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS

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

Sylvia Franklin: Medical Investigations

FEATURE WRITERS/DIRECTORS

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

REWRITE SPECIALISTS 

Kemp Powers

Peter Saji

CJ Johnson

Faythallegra Coleman

Kirkland Morris

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

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