Friday, September 4, 2015

First Day of Classes is Almost Here!

Welcome back (or welcome anew) as we start off our 2015/16 school year in TV with Convocation in Grant Park and classes September 8th! (Remember folks with Monday classes--you'll be 1 week "behind" with your Mondays, so follow your course schedule accordingly...)

There have been several changes in the TV Department over the summer. Our Student Activities Coordinator, Christy LeMaster, is off elsewhere in the world work-wise--but still teaching with us in Critical Studies (and our undergrad run journal WaterCooler is still running strong with some help from Faculty Sara Livingston ) Some of our tech support staff are also elsewhere and we are busily adjusting to the change in duties--so be sure to seek us out if you have questions or need help!

We also have a new faculty member from Los Angeles, Bill Rosenthal; he is already hitting the ground running with planning for FreqOut through to spring. We're excited to have another faculty member on board with experience in the industry! You'll find Bill in producing classes and he'll be in the 14th floor faculty office hallway with the rest of the crew.

I will be upstairs on the 15th floor as your Interim Chair with Eric Scholl as your Associate Chair. We also have a new Interim Dean in the School of Media Arts--Constantin Rasinariu--so if you see folks you don't know this year, jump in and introduce yourself. :D

If I'm your advisor, hang tight--you might be reassigned as the year goes on so we can ensure you get the full assistance for course advising you need.  They make me go to a lot of meetings as Interim Chair, so finding me might be trickier than usual. But in general I can be found on Mondays and Fridays, with occasional Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons in the mix.

I'm also sure to be busy trying to keep up with the over 400 new shows emerging this Fall--there has been a lot of insightful commentary recently about what the "glut" of solidly good shows out there says about the industry and the impact on our culture  I certainly had my hands full just this summer (I state here: Wet Hot American Summer the TV series was better than the movie--though truly it IS a package deal. Go watch both.) Right now I'm trying to vet what I'll test out to squeeze into the returning shows I cannot quit watching and the need to binge through the rest of Orphan Black. Rising to the top so far are the following:

The Grinder--Rob Lowe, Fred Savage. Nuff said.

Scream Queens--will provide me with my young adult storyline needs and continue the fun I've been having with Scream on MTV (do NOT spoiler that for me!)

And The Catch. Shonda Rhimes. And any excuse to see Peter Krause.

And since The Catch isn't until mid-season, The Muppets can tide me over.

And of course, don't forget--first night of the semester...

Because of the "busy" and because I will expect all of you to fill me in on the shows I don't get too, occasionally I'll host some open sessions in the TV Office for dropping by to chat. I can't feed all of you, so the basic rule is the first 24 students can score a donut. First session is Wednesday 9/30, 1-2pm--come tell me your thoughts on anything you've seen and l;et me know how your semester is going!

See you soon...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

I can tell you personally, but so can many of my former students...I aim to be an open-minded woman. But I am excited this weekend to see the SCOTUS decision about marriage in the states.

I was born and bred Catholic, and have a deep respect for the Christianity the infuses my upbringing and formed who I am as a human being.

I simply wish to have here, as a statement for ME as a representative of the Television Department, that we celebrate the recent Supreme Court decision as a movement forward in acceptance of our students' ability to embrace the full spectrum of creativity that is available to them. We may not all agree on the specifics of life and living, but if we can agree to respect each other and support each other as artistic professionals, then we will have moved our "world" forward "just enough."

Monday, June 22, 2015

I don't often do a short post on a film (gasp! I'm a TV prof! egad! :D)

But do yourself a favor as an incoming STORYTELLER. Go see Inside Out. Forget about animation(though abstract Danger Zone was brilliance). Just...

watch. revel in the story. remember what it was (is?) like to go through a major life change and be mad/sad/fearful/joyful-excited...and, yes, sad at what you are leaving behind you.

Inside Out works because it touches us--as little kids, as parents, as storytellers/story-READERS.

If you're new to Columbia this year, just go see it.
If you're "old" to Columbia this year, the same.

It might inspire you on many platforms.

NOW--someone score me the Lava short that preceded the film--sheer brilliance.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Welcome 2015 TV Department Students!

So--what are some of the starting basics you need aside from the 50,000 sheets of paper shoved at you already?

You have my welcome note from Orientation. So that and the info from Laura Levitt-Gamis gets you off to a great start. BUT...Here are some tips from the instructor perspective:

1) if books are assigned to the course, get them. You can find them cheap, any which way you want. But just get them--we don't assign a book if it's not actually useful. (and we teach classes assuming you've read...)

2a) "homework" in college is a different bag than in high school. A lot occurs online (know your class Moodle page--come see me if that sounds bizarre). The expectations are also different. While due dates count, in college a lot is about you learning to manage your time--a job you might have, family, extracurriculars...The "rule" is that for every credit hour you're enrolled, you should be spending 2-3 hours reading/creating/researching/studying. So if you're in a 3 credit class (the norm), anticipate at least 6 hours of outside class work on average per week for just that one class. I get that this means being a full-time student (15 credits)= a full-time job. This makes planning your semester important: when I was an undergrad, I worked 35 hours a week as a waitress, took 22 credits (yep--I was nutty that way!)--but got it done with room for fun and games because I worked to plan carefully. 2b) IF YOU ARE THE FIRST PERSON IN YOUR FAMILY TO TRY AT A 4-YEAR DEGREE, COME SEE ME. Your world is different and we have sources to connect you with others who understand your circumstances and can provide support..

3) Are you new to living in Chicago? OK--first--go explore as much as you can until the frigid winter hits! Find the following:

a) the Bean
b) Maggie Daly Park (trust me--some of the slides are total fun for non-kids and there's skating and rock climbing)
c) scope out the "hoods" as we refer to them...there's the 606 elevated track ( ) and the lakefront and tons of places to just exercise in nature!
d) find food!! CHEAP food! There are a gazillion ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago, most accessible by train. Mexican, Polish, South American, just need to dig it all up online. Near campus there is a good bounty-from good ole' fashioned chains to more independent eateries. No matter what, do yourself a favor and get Harold's Chicken at some point (on Wabash, right around the corner from our main building and Hackney's on Dearborn for a heftier meal good for parental visiting ( and for sure do Flaco's Tacos (

OK--I am a foodie and can direct you...

What are you watching right now that gets you excited about being in a television department?

Past students will tell you my TV tastes are hard to predict. Here's what's on my watch list in mid June:

--binging the rest of Orange is the New Black, Pretty Little Liars, The Fosters, Orphan Black, Finding Carter; getting my husband to catch up on iZombie so we can discuss; anticipating Switched at BirthThe Good Wife and Madame SecretaryHow to get Away with Murder, Empire, Hot Wet American Summer, Kimmy Schmidt, Transparent...NEED SOMEHOW to watch Scream Queens and Scream...

Point being there is just an abundance of truly innovative "TV" right now. So if you're "here"--well. embrace the journey!

Come see me... I'm in the main TV office most days other than when I'm teaching my Nickelodeon class or in meetings (or making sure my soon-to-be-second-grader is getting HIS homework done:D).

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Back to School, 2014

OK Folks—so we’re back to another year in Columbia TV Land!  Most of you who stumble across my blog will be new (or perennially attached to the department) students. So I’ll offer my typical “starting new here” advice, and then move on to what we should all REALLY care about—new TV shows! :D

Let’s start with the basics. Food. As a teacher, let me tell you—we all understand the need for grabbing a bite in-between classes, or caffeinating yourself on break. BUT—you can’t use this as an excuse for running late. Dunkin is fast and furious—Panera is healthy, but slower. Forget the Starbucks unless you know how to tightly control your arrival/return times. For lunch, more leisurely...My top picks (and there are often various discounts you can score): Flaco’s Tacos, Hackney’s, Tamarind, Yolk.

But fair warning:you’re likely to be in the midst of peers and professors, so watch what you say unless you’re in a secluded booth that disguises your voice, to boot! :D  Also, look for Beaver’s Donuts food truck—they periodically appear near Wabash and LaSalle and are beyond yummy.

Next. Basic learning tips (especially if you’re new here...): Take the time to actually meet your teachers. Social media rocks but for teachers with a slew of students, the best way for us to truly connect with you is face-to-face, even if only for a 10 minute hello. Hit us up before advising starts in mid-October, because then we’re swamped with quick meetings that, while important, are less substantial in terms of getting to know you. The profs will hate me for telling you this, but those first 5-6 weeks are “golden time” for you as students to have a session with us that really starts to cement a long-term relationship. We’re here to help you and genuinely look to converse with you—take advantage of those “less crazy” weeks we have!

Also—know your departmental team and meet them. IN TV: Laura Levitt-Gamis is a sweetheart who knows the ins-and-outs of everything in our department. She is the lovely lady in the main TV Office who can answer most any question. Eric Scholl is your associate chair this year—meet him!  He handles, well, a mess of stuff but let’s go with the general tag of “all things students are worried about.”  And please, meet your chair Michael Niederman. He’s beyond nice and very down-to-earth and as a chair can only teach so much. So do yourself a favor and meet him before you have a problem/question/concern—because you really should just actually MEET your chair.

STAFF: THEY ARE YOUR BEST FRIENDS HERE—THEY MAKE THE DEPARTMENT RUN IN MORE WAYS THAN I CAN COUNT, SO PLEASE DON’T DISCOUNT THEM AS “JUST STAFF” (particularly as many also teach and create). Internship stuff right now is Niki Hoffman (we’re hiring a new person soon, as Niki is Queen of all productions at the school, which keeps her pretty busy...). Want to get involved in making the department run and shine? Find Christy LeMaster. Aiming for employment in the department?  Meet David Greene and Chris West and Tamale Sepp. Honestly—just walk the 7th/14th floors and pop in and say hi for 2 minutes (tell them I said it was ok) and then come back when you need to. (Like to engineer the mechanics of things or interested in the mobile truck?—hit the 15th floor and look for Dave Mason...My 6 year-old can vouch for his appreciation of a positive “can-do” attitude.)

Some changes for our returning students.  I’m NOT associate chairing this year; I am taking a much-needed break while the amazing Eric Scholl takes over. (Yes—I still have all my action dolls and DVDs and books but they’re now at 1401-J. I will also continue to advise and offer guidance on the bigger picture things you’re facing—but now I’m back-up to Eric as opposed to the frontline. :D) Fawn Ring, our amazing producing lecturer, has left for truly greener pastures at the Art Institute. Some of her classes have been taken over by the remarkable Tyler Kempf. (IF YOU IN ANY WAY GLORY IN SKETCH COMEDY, YOU’LL WANT TO MEET THIS MAN—YOU CAN FIND HIM ON THE 14TH FLOOR ABOUT A ½ “BLOCK” BEFORE MY OFFICE.) Our fabulous news guy, Frank Bianco, also is gone to a well-deserved retirement—just come see me, Eric, or Michael if you’re yearning to head in the direction of news...

So...Oriented enough? :D  Let’s move on the fun of TV—what we’re all watching/want to watch/are sorry we watched...

There is always too much to enjoy in the summer. If you know me, you understand I spent (and am still spending) time watching everything on ABC Family and MTV (scripted). I liked most, am hopeful for a bunch more...But have had the most fun with Orphan Black (am in utter withdrawal) and Drunk History (just has been brilliant this summer) and now catching up on You’re the Worst  (I cannot begin to explain the “so wrong funny” of this show...). But, being the TV geek critic I am, I am salivating over new Fall shows.

So here are just my top “wanna wanna yes please, more sirs and madams”: (in no particular order)

1)    Veronica Mars spin off Play It Again Dick (web series 9/15)
2)    Community season 6 on Yahoo (predicted to start in January)
3)    Gotham (Ben McKenzie)
4)    Red Band Society (so odd it should work)
5)    Black-ish (this cast rocks)
6)    The Flash
7)    American Horror Story—maybe—I loved Coven so am sad I won’t see all of that amazing cast or more of that story
8)    Constantine
9)    Transparent (Amazon)

(side note: still angry Tatiana Maslany didn’t get nominated even for an Emmy; am also convinced that TPTB hate Andre Braugher for some mystifying reason...)

A final note on the passing of 2 legendary comedic talents who have shaped TV (and beyond):

Robin Williams was key not just to the history of comedy, but also the history of “off-the-wall” comedy on TV. His turn as Mork on first Happy Days and then Mork and Mindy signified a major shift in what TV could accept in the ways of improv and general nuttiness...What he did for major social issues such as homelessness in the 1980s (let alone how those comedy specials helped cement HBO’s status as must-have cable long before The Sopranos) is crucial to much of what we are able to watch now. Do yourself a favor and go watch a sampling of his TV work—especially the fabulous Comic Relief specials on HBO. His was a tragic passing and as most of us know, tragedy is the flip side of the comedic genius coin; do him honor by reviewing his work (and paying maybe just a little extra attention to those around you who suffer for their art).

Joan Rivers’ passing truly caught me off-guard as well. She was such a vibrant presence in the world of TV and comedy and a role model to many—but especially to women seeking to break into the media and comedy arts. As with Robin Williams, her role in TV’s history is mighty—from being the “go-to” host on The Tonight Show, to being banned from it for daring to compete against it rather than wait a gazillion years. And seriously—Fashion Police is probably the best thing (other than The Soup) on E!—and come to think of it, there would be no ballsy Chelsea Handler aiming to revolutionize the internet right now without Joan. We are lucky as a school to have had her visit Columbia last February—she was charming and acerbic and I’m pretty sure I peed my pants a little during her “talk.” Find her old stuff—she’s a wonderful inspiration to both aspiring comics and well, really, those who aspire to anything that others scoff at.

So on that note of loss, take the advice of your “elder”: Doors close so that windows may open. As Robin Williams brilliantly delivered in a fab script—“Carpe Diem”/Seize the Day. College—especially at Columbia—is what you make of it. Embrace the victories and the defeats as part of the same bundle that is what leads you to success.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Some things die..A slow Horrible Death...and Others are Reborn Blessedly

So...I was reading EW's rather blase story on series finales this week...It struck me that there are so many shows we come to love (which is really to say that we come to love the characters)--yet the finales? I don't know so much. Murphy Brown? Roseanne? Brilliant series that I didn't see through to the end because they frankly overstayed their welcome. Much like How I Met Your Mother--which I don't think overstayed so much as it meandered into nothingness.

So here's how you wrap up a show--short-list style:

MASH (sort of)
Newhart 2.0
Lost (it stayed true to the core of the crazy)
Friends (wrapped up what we needed to be wrapped up, and made you forgive Monica's descent into shrill annoyance)
St. Elsewhere (say what you will, it set a template)

My still worst ending ever likely has to be Seinfeld...and oddly, HIMYM reminded me of this.

1) don't insert 20 minutes of depression (melancholy is ok--depression is not) for a sitcom finale.
2) divorce I can live with. A character who developed and grew emotionally over a few seasons suddenly regressing in fast-forward to "baby=love!" is a cop out. Daddies loving their babies is not "new." Daddies loving their babies of a woman we never see is retrograde.
3) Killing off the mom? REALLY?! You could have gone there if you'd led up to it sooner and more subtly. Don't give us a great actress and cool female character and then kill her off because you need to satisfy some fan quotient for a coupling. Let Robin stay single--AND HAPPY. Maybe Barney with the baby-momma in a couple would have been progressive and even "deep." I don't know--felt very "kill off the ladies" to me (both literally and symbolically)--which is weird for a show called How I Met Your MOTHER. Somebody has been watching too much Disney.

OK--on to more interesting TV items before my son's spring break starts...

1) I have watched Doll and Em. I enjoy Doll and Em. I am not blown away by Doll and Em.

2) Pilot of Silicon Valley?  LOVED IT! Remarkable cast, and curious to see what they'll do with the death of a lead actor. I could do without the tech gal who looks like she's shy of being a supermodel by a few inches--but I like the potential of her character. (Might be nice to see somehow Felicia Day--I know that's a different world, but still-there must have been some key women somewhere in this mix of SV...) I'll withhold final judgment though--I did like the hierarchies laid out and the dismantling of "I'm rich and uneducated" philanthropy at work.

3) Colbert as Letterman?  OK--I'm mixed. I love Stephen Colbert. He knows his pop culture and I want to see Fallon dump pennies on his head. But, I don't know him as anything but a character. Daily Show, Colbert Show--he's always been in some kind of character. Fallon was always Fallon, Kimmel was always Kimmel. And (not that I have any best replacements, but...) it might have been nice to see a lady. In 10 years, yet again, we''re looking at a lot of old hip but white men running the cool spot of late-night comedy...

4) Stray. For all that is holy, let's see what happens with Mad Men. Sopranos be damned, this show rocks my world better. And even more: WATCH ORPHAN BLACK!!! If you are inspired by either a) good acting for women, b) good roles for women, c)  messed up take on science and health and family...well, just watch it. Even if it only is good for one more season it will have been the best available to us in some time.

5) That being said, broadcast still rocks. The follow-up to The Good Wife rocked. And Brooklyn 99's season finale made me pee my pants pretty much. Andre Braugher is a god and any show that can end with warmth and hilarity and visual gags is going to make me take notice. It's like Community had a baby with Parks and Rec. WATCH IT!!!

OK-on to seeing what happens when my 5 year old and his buddy come to be guest speakers in my Nickelodeon class...

Friday, March 28, 2014

WTF?! Good Wife--you killed and impressed me in one fell swoop...

That's my still stunned reaction to The Good Wife. Let me wax historical and philosophic and industrial for a sec here. Coming off of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, I am struck by the lack of attention to broadcast fare. Can we still remember that most folks watch the Big 4 (and any number of basic cable channels like USA, TBS, MTV...). Where were the panels on the fun and fan-glory of Cougar Town, Psyched, Teen Wolf, PLL? Where were the panels on the remarkable inclusion of ASL on Switched at Birth or the stunning (albeit melodramatic) inclusion of "other family structures" on The Fosters? So I'll end my brief rant on how SCMS TV Studies panels too often replicate "Film Best Of" approaches to move on to what I've been privy to over spring break... (except to say, after a chat with a British scholar, that we still don't have enough truly valuable workshop/panels pertaining to the harsh realities/what-do-I-do-nows of MAs. MFAs, and PHds, and adjuncts--to our own peril...)

OK--my confessions. I don't watch Walking Dead--too much other good TV and I adore the novel. Behind on True Detective (too new, and sorry--and I am a former Austinite--McConaughey be crazy ego boy so I don't expect him to stick with the series...)

So--I stick to my tried and trues. Broadcast TV--especially when you ponder the limitations--is doing a variety of ass-kicking. Brooklyn 99 is hysterical and chock-full of stellar comedic acting at its best. Big Bang is holding its own and worthy of its renewal for 3 years. Why is no one discussing Parenthood's crazy survival (or doing a panel on Katims)? And please, why has there not been an almost-plenary on what Community has been from so many different perspectives?! Or Parks and Rec?

OK--enough about how SCMS shuns broadcast. Now my random Spring Break reactions to the finales I've seen.

1) Switched at Birth. Sorry, this is landmark TV, plain and simple. Can you recall, outside of appointment series, the last time a series (let alone a teen series), necessitated that you look full-on at the screen? I'll leave aside the compelling story lines and just go with the fact that ASL means you have to WATCH to catch the nuances and tremendous acting (both by deaf and hearing actors). And Community  and Big Bang fans-- Katie LeClerc, a hearing impaired actress from this series, did time here. It's great teen drama, showcasing ASL actors like Ryan Lane (also in Veronica Mars--the movie) and Marlee Matlin. Watch it. It will make you happy. OH--and Sandra Bernhardt--nuff said?

2) The Fosters. J-Lo's involved--and it might be the most truly meaningful work she's attached to. We seldom see the foster care system examined from a variety of angles, let alone the ins-and-outs of a lesbian couple doing the fostering. This is, simply put, the stuff I'd like any teen kids I know to be watching.

3) PLL (if you don't know what that stands for, you can move on). This is my most totally fun show. It's like Sex and the City set in some weird supernatural suburb of teen girls. One of the best serial mysteries out there with remarkable production values--and I know I ain't the only viewer over 15 who is slavishly addicted to it. Lesbians, body issues, ethics, mean girls, nice girls, smart girls--I really do think this is the epitome of "Millennial Girls TV"...Any show that makes me alternately love and hate the teacher sleeping with the student gets props for making me question "easy moral decisions"--but mostly, I love the interplay of guessing and predicting that occurs online across such a wide and diverse swath of ages and sexualities and races...Aside from Degrassi the Next Generation, this show figured out social media and TV first. We should be studying it more.

4) Cosmos--I just gotta' give props here. My 5 1/2 year old loves this reincarnation and it is captivating and informative. Do yourself the bizarre favor of watching something produced by Seth McFarlane and FOX and dive into this miniseries. It will make you fall in love with all things science and wondrous.

5) Veronica Mars--ok.  I finally got around to it after my American Airlines flight lost wi-fi. This was perfection (although really--can anyone explain to me what happened to Duncan, really?). I stopped watching the series towards the end (the rape storyline pissed me off), but was pleasantly surprised that I didn't feel in the dark because of that. Leave aside the genius of the Kickstarter campaign (and if you want to "see that coming," read my book Beyond the Box for how Rob Thomas predicted such an endeavor pre-Kickstarter)...This was just a fun movie, with cameos done even better (dare I say it?) than Muppet movies. Gratifying, true to characterization, felt like TV and a movie at once. Question (for next SCMS maybe)~ would it have been as gratifying without the Kickstarter element?

6) Good Wife--ok. Last but not least. I won't expound too long. But this really is one of the best dramas on TV (including cable--think of the restrictions). The episode was not so much clunky as pointing to several possibilities (we all knew that amazing Hunter Parrish was headed for something "just not right")...I thought he was going to just book or shoot himself or the professor (kind of love that we don't know if that professor was guilty). Maybe I'm tired as a mom-scholar, but I didn't see Will's death coming. And I am floored by the fact that no one spilled Josh Charles' departure--tat's rather epic. Maybe I'm also old, but the issues this show raises, both personal and professional, for women continues to make me happy to watch this show--and I'm pretty sure it's ratings would be higher if CBS HADN'T INSISTED ON PUTTING IT AFTER LIVE EVENT TV!!!! (and ergo, late all the time...) . Students of mine seeking drama writing (and directing and editing and music consultation--the show rocks in all these forums) this show.

OK--now on to other more "teacherly" things...