along the lines of Sunday's.
I’ve always been a big fan of Bill Cosby. Loved his comedy albums as a kid, took my wife to Las Vegas to see his stand-up act (more like a sit-down act. He just sat in a chair, smoked a cigar, and held a giant audience in the palm of his hand), and admired THE COSBY SHOW (at least when it started). He was a true original and his comedy came out of reality. You laughed because you related. He was also a damn good spokesman for Jello. So I respect his work. We’re clear on that, right?
Recently, WRITTEN BY, the WGA’s monthly magazine did an article where they referred to Bill Cosby as a writer’s mentor. I think they were being a little overly generous. I wouldn’t call him a mentor.
I’d call him an egotist who worked his writers as if they were pack mules.
I know. You say potato and I say potato.
There’s no question that there was much to be learned from Bill Cosby, and those writers who survived did take lessons that helped them in their future work. But what a cost.
The article explains how the process worked on THE COSBY SHOW. The staff worked out a very rough story area on Wednesday, then wrote an entire script over the weekend. Cosby would shit on it at the table reading on Monday. If there were lines he didn’t like he would read them in funny voices. Rather rude to the writers who killed themselves all weekend to service you. Then would come the hours of notes, Cosby would tear the whole script apart. Often, with his big cigar, he would literally blow smoke into the writers' faces. And then the staff went back to now write a completely new script and cough. Those rewrites, even in the article, were termed grueling.
And this went on week after week. Hundred hour weeks were common. Month after month. At least he didn't smoke $2 Tiparillos.
Oh, and did I mention, at the end, Cosby ad libbed stuff? I’m sure it was funny but why put everybody through that just to ultimately do it yourself?
Talented showrunners would understandably bolt after a season or even a few weeks of this. One writer was so fried after she quit that she spent six months working at the Coney Island Aquarium.
Are there shows with long hours? Absolutely. Is it difficult to write for a comedian who has a very strong voice? You betcha. But you know that going in.
However, to have a star just arbitrarily toss out draft after draft and force his staff to write around the clock for seven months is unfair and highly disrespectful.
I don’t know why the staff bothered to do anything for the table draft. Why work hard crafting jokes and scenes and moments when everything's just going to be dismissed? Just write down the first thing that comes to your mind and head for the train. The fact that the staff didn’t do that (and never did that) says something about how admirable and professional they were.
Fact: Writers burn out. Fact: Writers do not do their best work at 4:00 AM after being in the room for fifteen hours. How would an actor like it if he were asked to strenuously rehearse every day from 7:00 AM until 11:00 PM and then an audience would be brought in and he'd be asked to perform NOISES OFF for two hours?
The fact that Cosby established this grueling schedule and maintained it shows, to me, a lack of consideration and compassion. Yes, the show was a smash hit, and he was the 800 pound gorilla, but I will never be convinced it would have been any worse had the writers not spent 70% of their time writing material that everyone knew was gong to get thrown out. I could however, make an argument that the shows would have been even better had the staff not been walking zombies. And if some of the better writers had not quit.
But that’s the way they did it. A number of people made fortunes of money (including sweater manufacturers). And the show is a classic.
Call Cosby brilliant, call him the man who saved sitcoms, call him a game-changer, a visionary, a titan in the world of comedy. But mentor? I was fortunate that I had mentors who didn’t send me screaming to an aquarium.