Magazine article Variety

College Students Switch Channels

Magazine article Variety

College Students Switch Channels

Article excerpt

It's spring semester 1996. and a small group of graduate screenwriting students at USC School of Cinematic Arts (then called USC School of Cinema-Television) sit in a dimly lit classroom listening as associate professor Pamela Douglas, their instructor for writing episodic television, espouses the benefits of forging a career in television. It's the only TV course offered by USC at the time.

"You'll have more creative control." Douglas says. "There's more consistency, more jobs, more money. TV is the future."

But the majority of those students don't buy it. They're focused on film, selling their thesis screenplays and vying for a chance at becoming the next Steven Spielberg or. at the very least. Cameron Crowe. Like the rest of the industry back then, they consider TV a second-rate medium, insipid fluff at which to turn up your nose.

Douglas, author of "Writing the TV Drama Series: Third Edition" and "The Future of Television: Your Guide to Creating TV," remembers that as a time when networks were looking to cut as wide a swath as possible, operating on what she dubs "the principle of least objectionable programming." for which the primary goal was to maximize viewership. There were isolated examples of brilliance like Emmy contenders "ER." "The X-Files," "Seinfeld" and "The Larry Sanders Show" but. generally speaking, smallscreen fare was low-rent and uninspiring. Television. as an artistic medium, felt like the Jiffy Pop to gourmet popcorn.

Maybe if you failed as a screenwriter you'd land in TV. but it wasn't a format you pursued with any passion. Not for a "serious" film student.

Today, of course, television has ballooned in prestige and become a place where high art thrives. Bigscreen snobbery, for the most part, has gone the way of the dinosaur. As a result, film students who once clambered for big screen fame are now chasing careers in TV.

And film schools are taking note, pumping up their curricula with courses ranging from comedy pilot spec writing to TV script analysis to specialty classes in genre writing.

"One of the main hallmarks of our program is that we tend to attract people who want to challenge conventional ways of approaching storytelling and they are going to find more creative ways to do that in television." says Joe Pichirallo, veteran studio executive, producer and chair of the undergraduate film and television program at Tisch School of the Arts' Kanbar Institute of Film & Television. "Everybody needs to understand certain basic principles when it comes to storytelling and filmmaking, but we've worked hard to provide more paths for people to learn about television. Our intro to TV writing becomes the prerequisite to go on to specific courses in drama and comedy, and in our upper two years we have a three-semester track called advanced television.

"We also have a TV survey class and a reality TV course. TV provides an opportunity for people that have an independent mindset to express themselves. There are more jobs in TV. people are taking more creative risks and you want to make sure your program is adjusting to that."

At Loyola Marymount U.'s School of Film and Television students can take art of television and writing episodic drama, as well as a spate of other undergraduate and graduate classes.

Boston U.'s department of film and television offers courses titled Television Production Hothouse and Television Studio Production, among several others. …

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