Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, May 23, 2018

AU TV Studio class explores D.C. talent in NBC Web series

AU TV Studio class explores D.C. talent in NBC Web series
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION — Professor Menke-Fish’s TV Studio and Production class poses for a group picture at NBC Washington’s headquarters after a meeting with NBC executives. The class pitched 19 pilot ideas for a Web series at the meeting.

Instead of attending an hour-long lecture or discussion once a week, AU Professor Sarah Menke-Fish has her TV Studio Production class spend their time filming an episode for their NBC Web show, “Adept or Inept.”

“Producing the show is our entire class time,” said Carter Gibson, a junior in the School of Communication. “If anything, we spend much more time out of the classroom than I have in my other classes.”

The Web show started as a class project assigned by Menke-Fish in the second week of school. All students were required to pitch ideas for a 17-episode Web series to NBC Washington. The students pitched 19 pilot ideas to NBC executives, four of which came into creation, and only one of which was picked by NBC to run on their website.

“They loved all of our ideas,” Gibson said. “They made only a few tweaks to the show, like making it a little shorter and having an online interactive component. They let us be very creative.”

Ultimately, NBC chose “Adept or Inept,” created by SOC junior Carlie Huberman. The show explores people’s talents in the D.C. area and shows them teaching that talent to another person. Viewers then vote online on whether that person was “adept” or “inept.”

Students take turns choosing the activities or talents that would be showcased on the show. “Our goal is off-campus activities,” Huberman said. She emphasized the focus on more “obscure” activities.

Production of the show is a collaborative process, with all students rotating jobs — one week working the camera, or another week doing public relations — allowing students to gain experience in all areas of TV production.

“We’ve produced four episodes so far this semester — so far so good,” Menke-Fish said in an e-mail. “The real challenge is for each episode to get stronger. The only way that occurs, since students switch jobs with every show, is for each student to be completely honest in the analysis of each episode and of his or her work in each episode.”

While many students were learning these skills for the first time, this was not Menke-Fish’s first collaboration with NBC Washington. She encouraged many of her prior classes to work with NBC as well, resulting in three original projects in the past few years, one of which includes last year’s Flavortones, where students produced musical food reviews.

“None of us have done TV before, and Professor Menke-Fish’s class taught us a lot of real-world experience,” Huberman said. “We got to meet with major players in NBC. We learned about promoting and how to get connections.”

Menke-Fish provided the connections and helps with the technical components, but that’s as far as she goes, preferring to give students full rein of their shows.

“I give the students certain parameters before the students pitch their ideas,” Menke-Fish said. “The stories have to have a shelf life, and appeal to the demographic that we’re aiming for 18-35 year-olds.”

“She’s always been very clear that we own the show legally and we can do whatever we want with it,” Carter said. “It is our show and she makes that very clear.”

Menke-Fish’s teaching method and her inclination to give students more responsibility invited real world comparisons from students. Gibson described the class as “more like an internship than like a class, and I did not anticipate it.”

“The class is very project-oriented,” Huberman said, “But I’ve gotten used to it.”

Video clips and advertisements on the TV monitors have piqued student curiosity about the show.

“My friends have seen it up on the monitors and recognized that I was part of it,” Huberman said. “I was really happy and really excited. It’s just an awesome experience.”

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