The Guy Hanks School of Screenwriting

The Guy A. Hanks Screenwriting Program, established by Bill Cosby at the USC School of Cinema and Television, is starting it’s 12th year and accepting application this summer. The press release says:

This non USC program has single handedly
brought more successful African-American Writers into the entertainment industry
than any other program of its type.
It is designed to assist writers in completing a television or feature script, while examining African-American  history, culture and images in the media. Participation is free to those
selected. The program is not designed for beginning level writers. They are seeking writers who have taken the initiative to formally study television or feature writing. In an industry that
is extremely competitive, the program has found their greatest success in
assisting those who have a strong writing foundation in television or
screenwriting. Alumni from the program have
excelled in the entertainment industry and have been honored by organizations
including the NAACP. The program’s work has been recognized by the state’s
Governor, Senator and the Los Angeles Mayor’s office.

I’m a 1995 graduate of the Guy Hanks screenwriting program, only then it was called "The Cosby Mysteries" and Guy Hanks was the name of the detective that Cosby played. 

I was a supervising producer on the show and one of the invaluable screenwriting lessons I learned was that scripts don’t matter.  The best television is when actors throw out the script entirely and completely improvise scenes regardless of story continuity (or, in the case of whodunit mystery, the clues) or what what shot before… so that when the show is cut together, nothing makes sense.

MystlogoI only got one piece of screenwriting advice directly from Mr. Cosby. He called one day and said he thought it would be great if  some ninja assassins cartwheeled through the window in the finale, which was  shooting the next day (which also was the final day of production on the episode).  We mentioned it might be odd to see ninjas in the finale since there were no ninjas  in the show at all. As I recall, he said: "There are now."

We wrote the ridiculous finale, but after he read it, he refused show up for the scene at all because he felt we didn’t put our heart into what we wrote. So instead, we get a piece of amazing improvisation: The two villains not only get into a martial arts battle for no reason, they also explain to each other between blows how the murder was committed and how Guy Hanks might have put the clues together (since Guy Hanks isn’t there to tell us himself).  I was surprised they didn’t read each other their rights and arrest themselves. As it turned out, the police show up and slap the handcuffs on them after the fight…and, if I recall, there’s a silent shot of Cosby sitting in the car looking pissed.

A short time after THE COSBY MYSTERIES was cancelled, Cosby went on THE TONIGHT SHOW and blamed the show’s failure on the scripts.

I don’t know if there’s a real Guy Hanks and if the character, and the screenwriting program, are named in his honor. But I like to think that there isn’t, and that it’s Cosby’s way sticking it to the writers on the show one more time… 

6 thoughts on “The Guy Hanks School of Screenwriting”

Leave a Comment