For the past year or so, I’ve been lucky enough to work on a TV show called Newsbreakers. The show was half-hour workplace mockumentary that was produced by Elon University’s student TV station ESTV. I say “was” because early last week, myself and other members of the team were told by our executive producer that the show was essentially cancelled, and that the episode I spent the entire summer writing would never see the light of day.
This post isn’t about what went wrong, or about the anger I felt after learning the decision, though it very well could have been. Instead, this post is a personal narrative designed to provide closure, and to let anyone interested know what I’ve been working on for the last six months. (If you would like to read the actual scripts I wrote, click the “NEWSBREAKERS” tab on the top menu, or follow the link at the end of this post) So, with that out of the way, let’s get started!
Not many college sophomores can say they were the head writer of their own TV show, less can say they watched that very show implode on itself in a matter of weeks either, and even less can say they saw it happen twice.
Now, thanks to Newsbreakers, I can. I know that may seem sarcastic, but I swear it’s not. I’m genuinely grateful for this experience. Let me explain why.
When I stepped onto my college campus for the first time, I felt an enormous amount of pressure. Not to “be cool” or to “make friends”, or, as many adults so bluntly put it, to “make good decisions”. The pressure I felt was to finally live up to the potential nearly every adult told me I had inside. Since elementary school, almost every teacher I had told my parents some version of “Jasper is a very smart, very bright kid; he just needs to act like one.”
“Why?” I would say back to my Stanford-educated parents (who, to this day, probably don’t quite understand my lack of passion towards academics) when they relayed this information.
I enjoyed being immature, I liked being a middle-of-the-pack student. I didn’t need, nor did I ever really covet, any special attention from anyone. All I wanted to do was come into class, sit in the third row (or whichever row was second-to-the-back), joke around with my friends, and move on to college.
College was the goal. That is when I would be the kid everyone told me I could be. That is when I would finally live up to my “potential”.
So there I was, a nervous college freshman with the weight of finally being the person everyone thought I could be on my shoulders, trying my best to keep it all under control. The existential weight, combined with the scorching southern end-of-summer humidity, was making it difficult though. My sweat glands were working at full capacity as I stepped onto the sprawling main quad for Elon’s fall organization fair.
The plan was to sign up for tons of different organizations, and thus look more like someone putting himself out there. No one could say a student who is writing newspaper columns, learning how to make TV, coaching community children’s soccer teams, doing some Intramural sports, all while maintaining an impressive GPA is underperforming, right?
That’s one of the main reasons I decided to come to Elon, actually. The school offers a wide array of extracurricular activities, and lets students explore these things hands on. There aren’t many schools that actually give students the budget, equipment and time necessary to make a TV show, and even fewer universities air the silly content the kids make on a real TV station. Elon does, and they do the equivalent of it in almost every field. (Dear Elon Admissions Department: I accept check, most major credit and debit cards, or just cold hard cash. I do not accept American Express under any circumstances.) So my plan to lift the weight of potential off my shoulders was definitely possible in theory.
In reality though, things turned out differently. Though I gave my email to countless different clubs, I only attended follow-up meetings for three of them. Of those three, only one actually stuck with me:
Pitched to me loudly by the current EP during the craziness of the organization fair, Newsbreakers was “a TV show like The Office and Parks and Rec, but set in a news studio.” I was on the email list before he even finished the sentence.
My high school had organization fairs, and many different ways for me to potentially get involved, but I spent most of those assemblies giving various clubs my friend’s email instead of my own, hoping to inundate his inbox with messages from the astronomy club (sorry again, Christian). I never really was one to make the first move, or to really try to immerse myself in extracurriculars.
So as I sat in the first of many Newsbreakers writers’ meetings, it made sense that all I really could think was: “What the hell am I doing here?”
I didn’t know anything about how to write a script, and though I had a significant amount of knowledge about TV in general, I didn’t know the first thing about actually producing it. I felt like a fish out of water, swimming in a sea of people funnier, more talented, and just overall more qualified than I was.
But, determined to better myself (or, at the very least, appear to be doing so to the fans watching back home), I stayed with Newsbreakers that first semester. I slowly learned, through the tutelage of that year’s head writer and my good friend Frankie, how TV worked. Suddenly, I was able to write scripts and tell stories, and I was pretty good at it. I wasn’t reinventing the TV comedy wheel, but I was doing my small part to keep the thing spinning.
Around the beginning of my time in the writer’s room, an email started to go out to all the people on staff. The show was looking to promote someone to co-head writer, who would be molded to run the show once the current generation of executives had graduated.
Throwing my hat into the ring might seem like an easy decision in hindsight, but went against years of habit, and almost every natural instinct within me. This wasn’t how I operated. I don’t jump at the chance for more responsibility, and I definitely don’t sign up for any added stress voluntarily. Nearly every part of me was dead-set against the whole thing.
I was never one to jump into the deep end of the unknown. I was quite comfortable where I was, and convincing me otherwise took a considerble amount of work
Thankfully I had people in my life willing to put in that work who convinced me to give it a shot. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up. (Not to mention an extremely difficult opportunity to explain passing on.)
Over the course of the spring semester, Frankie and I basically wrote the whole show by ourselves, as most of the show’s workforce focused on the production side of things, which was undergoing significant turmoil. The two episodes we produced didn’t look like what was written on the page — nowhere near it, actually. The show as a whole suffered for it: what we were dreaming up on the page wasn’t translating to the screen. But I was happy with what Frankie and I were writing, and I was learning more than I ever had in my entire life.
I was probably the only person on staff with this positive philosophy, though. The lack of legitimately good content produced that semester led to the decision that the show needed a dramatic behind the scenes change. I heard rumors about it for a while, rumblings of new directors and recasting, entire departments being uprooted, even talk of a new executive producer came and went as my freshman year of college winded down.
It was nearly two months after Frankie and I turned in our script for the fourth, and mercifully final, episode of the second season of Newsbreakers when the show’s executive producers asked to meet with me regarding next year, or as they so vaguely put it, “The show’s future.”
We sat towards the back of the common area nearest to my dorm. I shuffled my legs and fiddled with my hands has the pair of producers danced around the point in a clearly rehearsed fashion. The smell of an overpriced Chipotle impersonation drifted from the Qdoba Mexican Grill across the room. I was hungry.
Should I go bowl or quesadilla? I thought to myself as they continued to talk about past mistakes and plans to rectify them, I was too distracted by the smell of guacamole to remember any more details. Just as I decided to take the plunge and treat myself to double meat, I was thrust back into the conversation.
“Jasper!” he said. ”We were wondering if you wanted to be our head writer next year?”
I froze. I had tons of questions, too many to even quantify. They danced around my head rapidly as I tried to decide which one to pose first.
“It would be your show,” the other producer chimed in. “You’d have creative control: Your scripts, your stories, your characters.”
Her words echoed in my head. The questions in my mind stopped dancing and looked back at me, now unified with with a single inquiry:
“What are you gonna do?”
I thought about all the times I’d said no. All the organization fairs where I’d given fake emails, all the TV I’d watched instead of studying, all the lectures about the importance of education I’d rolled my eyes at.
I thought about all the people who believed in me. The teachers, parents, family members, coaches, mentors and friends who saw the potential that I never really did. The people who saw the person I could be one day.
I thought about that day in the quad back in the fall. When I was drenched in sweat from the scorching southern humidity and the metaphorical weight of expectations. The day that I was first told about “The Office in a news studio.” The day all of this began.
“Newsbreakers is yours, if you want it,” the producer said, snapping me out of my thoughts.
“I want it,” I said, diving in head first toward a world of the unknown.
The show I wrote may never see the light of day, but without Newsbreakers, I wouldn’t be the person I am now.
So thank you, Newsbreakers, for teaching me to leap without looking, and to everyone who helped out along the way, for taking the leap with me.
If you want to read the two full-length scripts for the third season of Newsbreakers, click HERE or on the tab marked “Newsbreakers” at the top of the page. I’m immensely proud of what is on those pages, and I’m glad they will live on this website from now on.
Thanks for indulging me! I’ll be back with the normal Me+TV stuff soon!