It was a night of high emotion, small class reunions and celebratory goodbyes. The Guy Hanks and Marvin Miller Screenwriting Program, otherwise known as The Cosby Program, ended September 24, 2012. After 18 years and hundreds of alumni, this distinguished fellowship has been a pivotal stepping stone for many of Hollywood’s literary rank and file in the entertainment industry.
With a pedigree that includes some of the industry’s best writers, producers and directors, one has to wonder why the program came to a precipitous end? Viewed as an option for writers of color (and those interested in African American history) to learn more about what’s necessary to succeed in the industry and achieve gainful employment, while writing/refining their TV spec and feature film scripts, Drs. Bill and Camille Cosby, along with colleague and former agent, Larry Auerbach, got the literary ball rolling. They were joined by several executive directors, the latest being the indefatigable Doreene Hamilton Hudson who’s had the longest staying power with a tenure of 14 years. She recruited industry leaders as teachers and mentors, including writer/producer and directors Michael Ajakwe Jr., Dwayne Johnson Cochran, David Wyatt to name a few.
The night’s attendees were students and classmates. And the many mini-reunions that took place were perfect testimony to the program’s strengths – long-term strategic alliances and friendships.
Appropriately, the commencement ceremony was held at The Writers Guild of America, West in Los Angeles and sponsored by the Guild’s Committee of Black Writers, where industry mavens Janine Sherman Barrois (Criminal Minds, ER), Mara Brock Akil (Being Mary Jane, Girlfriends) and Gina Prince-Bythewood (Secret Life of Bees, Love and Basketball) were also honored.
Coincidentally, all three women met on Fox’s 1994 dramedy, South Central, and have since blazed their own respective tales and trails in the biz. It’s only fitting they each received a Trailblazer Award.
The standing room only crowd at the packed WGAw house, was regaled by stories and remarks from Program participants and supporters. The value of the Writing Program could not be overstated. Its demise was mourned by everyone present, but Janine Sherman Barrois implored everyone to “continue to write. That’s the only thing that’s going to change the game.” The kinship visible in the room only added to her next statement. “Don’t look at each other as competitors, but as allies.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by Brock Akil and Prince-Bythewood. “No one can stop you from expressing your art as a writer,” says Brock Akil. “Write. Find the time.” Prince-Bythewood said Bill Cosby himself was such an influential role model in her early career, “he paid me to read to make sure I knew my history. [Doing this type of work] is always a fight, but perseverance is what keeps you going, and growing.”
Yes, the Program has ended, but its value will be felt for many years. The depth and breadth of talent in the room, and beyond, reaches every sector of the business. Sherman Barrois put it best, "you have to reach out to those behind you. There is still much work to be done."
As an alumni myself, I can’t help but be grateful for the experience and opportunity of working with this incredible body of professionals and I eagerly anticipate greater ventures. Cosby Program Executive Director Doreene Hamilton Hudson couldn’t have said it better – in her thank you note to the attendees, she encourages everyone to “keep writing, keep striving and keep the legacy alive!”