I received this great note in the comments section from Carmen Finestra, who was a writer on THE COSBY SHOW. This is in response to my article about Bill Cosby being viewed as a mentor to his writing staff. I personally was never in the COSBY writing room. My opinions were based on discussions with writers who were and an article in the WGA's magazine. But in the interest of fairness, I want to re-post this comment so it gets the same space as my original post.
And by the way, today's post is only discussing Cosby in terms of the writing process. All of his other newsworthy behavior is for another piece.
Thanks very much, Carmen. You have the floor.
I enjoy your blog, but feel compelled to respond today.
The writer you spoke to somehow gave the impression Cosby would blow smoke in our faces when giving notes, or just to possibly mess with us, and I can say that is NOT true. Yes, Cosby smoked cigars often, and if smoke somehow drifted in our faces (I don't ever remember one incident of that happening to me), it would have been because of a wind change and accidental.
Secondly, Cosby DID NOT make a habit of using funny voices at table readings to mock the script. If, as happens sometimes at a reading, some general silliness broke out, e.g., somebody mangled a line (and even they laughed at their mistake) someone might have fun with that. Or Bill might do a funny voice when kidding that person. But he was just as willing to be made fun of by the cast when he made a mistake. Remember, we had kids in the show, so silliness can happen sometimes.
I have to give a little history on why scripts were written on Wednesdays through Sundays on the show. In the first couple of seasons, scripts were prepared well in advance (with a couple of drafts and a table polish). The problem was Bill Cosby has such a fertile mind, and it's always working, he would often have a different take on a script once he heard it, and throw it in a different direction.... usually, I might add, in a far better direction. So, the writers would face a big rewrite, but the story was better.
The writers, by the third season, decided that instead of pitching stories a month out, they would meet closer to the actual reading to clear a story and write the script, knowing chances were better that Bill wouldn't change his mind on the story. Thus we began writing Wednesday for a Monday reading. These scripts were closer to first draft shape, and we didn't expect them to be home runs. However, the story would usually remain the same. So, we would work on that draft, with great notes from Cosby, incidentally, and whip it into shape for the Thursday taping. Obviously, this required long hours, but it was satisfying, when viewing the end product.
Bill had total creative control of the show, and one advantage was NO network interference.
One of the great pleasures creatively for me was sitting with Cosby three mornings a week discussing story and comedic ideas for the show. It was like your own 2-hour Bill Cosby comedy concert, because he could riff on something off the top of his head for 15 minutes and have you bust a gut laughing. His mind is like Jazz, constantly moving in all directions, and I think what enabled myself and the other writers on staff to succeed is that Bill understood we got it, i.e., what he was looking for.
The atmosphere on the show, as far as the crew was concerned, was very good. It was a completely integrated crew from top to bottom, and had a very nice family atmosphere. Cosby went out of his way to make sure African-American technicians, etc., were hired, and black and white crew worked well together.
If anyone's Mom showed up, Cosby treated her like the Queen of England, and lavished attention and love on her. My Mom, an Italian immigrant with little education, spoke about the day she met Cosby for the rest of her life. I never forgot it, either.
Yes,writing the Cosby Show required very long hours, but almost every writer who came out of it, got a huge boost in their career. I was able, with Cosby Writer Matt Williams, and David McFadzean, to help create HOME IMPROVEMENT, which was also a hit.
I know everyone wants to jump on Bill Cosby now, but I thought he was a good boss. He was demanding, but isn't every creator of a show who wants it to be good? Ask Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld.
Again, many thanks to Carmen Finestra.