A wide assortment of students, faculty, and visitors shuffled into the Stokes Art Tent on a warm Friday afternoon in April to learn about the state of television, from an impassioned group of Boston College alumni who work in the industry. As the audience settled, Mary Conroy, a professor in the film studies department, arrived to introduce the esteemed panelists, before each guest briefly spoke to their experience in the entertainment industry, while also reminiscing about their time on the heights.
Tracey Wigfield, BC’05, discussed her career, beginning as page for David Letterman to eventually becoming a lead writer and producer of 30 Rock and The Mindy Project, and creator of the new sitcom Great News. Philip Gilpin, Jr., BC ’03, entered the industry with a background in mathematics and science, working as a financial analyst for HBO before becoming executive director of the Independent Television Festival (ITVFest)—a self-described Sundance of sorts for independent television creators. Richard Lawson, BC ’05, initially pursued a career in the New York theatre scene, before becoming a film and TV critic for media outlets like The Guardian, The Atlantic, and Vanity Fair, the last of which where he currently writes. He has also penned a young adult novel entitled All We Can Do Is Wait, which will be released in February 2018. Jim Fagan, BC ’07, co-founded the New York Picture Company, with whom he works to create original, branded content, while also working as the development writer at Sharp Entertainment.
One of the first topics of conversation dealt with the benefits and letdowns of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and friends. Now, more than ever, shows are being made available for easy consumption and binge viewing. The idea of waiting a week for a new episode is becoming increasingly archaic, with many viewers opting to wait before all episodes of said show have aired before beginning to watch. Fagan highlighted the merits of streaming services, arguing that more TV is available for consumption—about 450 shows are currently airing regularly. This increased demand for content, satiated by the rise of instant streaming, has made TV more specialized for niche audiences.
Lawson, on the opposing end, seemed to lament the rising prominence of streaming services, arguing that the overabundance of shows ensures that many shows, hitting their stride in seasons two or three, get dumped and forgotten for the next big thing. Making a point, Richard rhetorically asked, “Who here still talks about House of Cards?” Once overwhelmingly popular, nobody seems to care anymore that House of Cards’ fifth season will air on Netflix on May 30.
Shifting gears, Conroy then asked Gilpin about what to expect from the future of television. From his experience directing and running ITVFest, Gilpin promptly asserted that independent television is currently where independent film was in the late ’80s, right before the burst of indie film scene coming out of the Sundance Film Festival in the ’90s. The pilot that won ITVFest this past year was made by eight people in upstate New York with an approximate budget of nine thousand dollars. Witnessing this, Gilpin assured the audience that these smaller, more creative productions will begin to challenge the big Hollywood producers for more and more airtime, in the coming years.
Finally, the panel offered advice to those in the audience interested in pursuing a career in entertainment. Fagan advised the audience to focus on specific pursuits, recalling a story when he had to decide between assistant directing a play at Lincoln Center or working the box office for the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB). Given his career trajectory, Fagan remains glad that he chose to work at the UCB, even though the man who ended up assistant directing at Lincoln Center was Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Wigfield noted that people in the entertainment industry must find a balance between networking and creating content, since networking is necessary to get noticed, whereas the proof of your creativity is necessary once you get there. Being prepared is paramount given the tumultuous, often unsteady nature of the industry.
Featured Image by Celine Limb / Heights Staff