“Our Television Heritage”

I am a media professional, but that’s not why I think I am qualified to critique television. Most people sit down and are just entertained by TV. When I sit down to watch, I am studying it. I look for what works and what doesn’t. I watch for patterns or certain styles of editing and shooting. I look at how a show is made and figure out how it was done and how it can be re-created. I have been doing this ever since I realized, “I Dream of Jeannie” wasn’t real.

You always know when you’re watching a bad TV show. Often you don’t think twice when you’re watching a good show. I do hate seeing a good show turn bad. “The West Wing” was a great show in the first two seasons, then the third season was just terrible. You could tell the writers lost their voice and direction. Their show wasn’t going anywhere or doing anything. They eventually recovered, but they lost something special after the second season.

My show and “The West Wing” are obviously different worlds. “207” is a local newsmagazine show complete with cooking, comedians, and live music. “The West Wing” or even “Doctor Who” for that matter are fictional worlds with storylines. What I compare are the techniques used in telling the stories. From the shots to the edits and even the writing, I have ripped off many production elements over the years. Many of my show opens have been influenced by classic TV.

I have respect for the history of TV. Nick at Nite used to have an ad campaign for “Our Television Heritage.” It was a joke, but in there were lots of good tidbits of information. I grew up on great TV. I would watch a lot of Cheers, The Cosby Show, and dive into reruns of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Get Smart,” “The Avengers,” “Bewitched,” “Barney Miller,” and anything else Nick at Nite served up.

Having a degree in television studies and being the producer of content gives me the right to weigh in general TV topics, but being a viewer and a consumer solidifies that right.


Link-in or out?

I am not exactly the Brian Williams of TV news, but I do have a small reputation to consider.  I have this thought anytime I am reminded of something stupid I did in high school, and I did a lot of stupid things. It’s not what you’re thinking. I did things like dress up as “The Lord of The Dance” and took to my schools stage for a mock performance. I thought it would be funny. It was, especially the part of falling flat on my backside after an over the top high kick. I got carried away. The audience loved it. My dad recently bumped into my principal who still remembers it.

When prompted to join Linkedin, I think of all the silly things I have done in my life. It’s bad enough that everyone on Facebook can reflect on these things for me. That reason is why I do not “friend” viewers. If I was a more public figure, I would created a “public” page and direct the traffic of viewers there.

I have a lot of co-workers who “friend” all the viewers. One even had her house broken into. She made no distinction between what was public and what was private. She lived in a small town in Maine, and allowed anyone to follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin. She was also really into Tweeting about everything she was doing all the time.

One day she Tweeted and “Facebooked,” she was stuck in court all day following a big trial. A guy who followed her, and lived a few blocks over, broke into her house. He had all day to steal her stuff.

She was terrified, and pulled back from social media for a while. When she returned, she made a line in the sand between what was private and public.

The underlying fear keeps me on my toes. As does the fear of public humiliation, back in high school I directed my schools “Senior Follies” show. It’s an annual variety/stage show seniors put on. I did a lip-sync to “She’s A Lady” from Sir Tom Jones (who I adore). The performance was complete with my own unique choreography and back up dancers.  All of “Senor Follies” was video taped. There are only two copies, and I only have one of them.

Last year was my ten-year reunion. The organizer planned everything via Facebook. To get everyone in the mood she posted her copy of “Senior Follies” on YouTube and tagged everyone on the video.

I was terrified. I am friends with all my co-workers on Facebook, the last thing I needed was for one of them to catch this and some of the other absurd things I did for the show. I was scared to loose what limited credibility I had. I was comforted by the idea of not “friending” any viewers.

The video was removed a week later. It had Tom Jones music, and no one had Sir Tom’s permission to use it.

As I sat starring at the info Linkedin asked from me (Twitter, Blog, ect.) I realized, I don’t want to share with my co-workers. I do not post my blog or Twitter on my Facebook either. I want to keep some freedom (however small) to voice my opinion. If they want to find me they can, but I am not going to give them the pointers.

If I am a journalist or not is debatable, but having too strong of an opinion is dangerous in the news business. Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh are entertainment, not journalism. If I report on a story, it needs to be balanced. Last week I blogged about the lack of spell check from the candidates running for Governor, I can talk about that, but not who I think should be the next Governor.

My newsroom questions the blog everyday. We have a blog for our show, but the anchors are cautious in what they post. Blogging and journalism are not exactly the same thing.

I realize how public my blog could be, but I write for me and I am comfortable with keeping a filter on what I say. If I ever decided to kick off the filter, it will be my decision to make, and one well thought out, unlike my high school performances.


The Future Via the Past – rewrite

One of my favorite quotes from “Doctor Who” is “wibbly wobbly timey wimey.” There is no way I can explain it properly. It always pops into my head when I think about the future. My future, always seemed clear when I was a teenager; I would work in television, it was that simple. I didn’t know in what capacity, but I knew I would end up in TV somewhere.

When I started playing around with TV stuff, I had great teachers. Smart people who helped influence my direction. Having a purpose and a sense of direction isn’t easy when you’re a teenager. The daily teen-angst can be overwhelming. Everyday presented newly discovered end of the world drama. Through these great academic minds, I still found my focus.

When I entered junior high in upstate New York, I found the Cortland Video Club. A program ran by the school district. They had their own television channel on the cable system. The club was ran by only one man, Jim Forshee, it was his entire life and he loved it. Jim, quite naturally, was a former engineer. Back in the late 70’s he was handed a bunch of TV stuff and told to make something out of it for the school, and thus the program was born. Jim taught all the TV classes, they were fun, creative, and held the line on the importance of TV.

For a turbo television geek like me this was heaven. I spent all of my free time there, soaking up as much as I could. Sports were the focus of programming for the channel. We would broadcast live football games every Friday night. Basketball season brought the same schedule. We also covered: volleyball, softball, gymnastics, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey. As I developed my skills behind the scenes, I learned the more you knew the more valuable you were. Jim told me that almost everyday. It was the most important lesson he ever taught me. I took that nugget and ran with it. I would shoot, edit, direct, technical direct, and even call the games.

Certain games were sacred. Only the best could anchor football. I generally ran audio or did camera on those nights. That was fine by me, there was a lot of pressure on football nights. I just wanted to blend in the background. I learned a lot by doing so too. I was usually given the commentary jobs no one wanted. I would handle girls’ basketball, softball, volleyball, gymnastics, and field hockey. I was around the age of 15 when I started doing more commentary. I was a TV geek, not a sports freak. I had no clue what I was doing up there, but it was still fun. I tried to be cool when I was on air, but that got away from me pretty quickly.

I spent about two years doing CVC. Then I moved to New Hampshire. I was sad to leave it behind, but life got in the way. My folks had gotten divorced and I needed to live with my Dad, who had a good job waiting for him in New Hampshire. This was the fork in the road in my life, the tricky “timey wimey” moment that set me on the life I live today.

When I talk about teachers who helped mold me, my dad is number one. He encouraged me to go after the things I wanted. He told me “find something you love doing and make it your career.” The school in New Hampshire had little to no video program. I came in and submerged myself in all that they had. Once again I built my schooling around what I could do with video. It was a smaller school so being “the video guy” made me stand.

The school wasn’t exactly what set me on my path though; it was my chemistry partner. The very first hour, on day one, I walked in to Mrs. Hopkins chemistry class and met my new chemistry partner. The blonde girl in flannel was my entire future, and I was clueless. We became friends quickly. For a while she was my only friend. She introduced me to others and soon I made more friends. She was a senior and I was a junior. At the time, I didn’t really look at her in a romantic way. She thought I was funny and she made me laugh too.

She graduated and enrolled in Lyndon State College in Vermont, under protest. Her mother had fantasies of everyone singing atop the green mountains like the Vonn Trapp family. So off she went, planning on a career in education. She was a brilliant writer with an exceptional command of the English language.

She discovered the education classes didn’t jive with her. She never saw eye to eye with the teachers. While looking for other options, she discovered the schools Emmy-award winning TV. She met with some of the teachers and quickly changed majors.

Back in New Hampshire, I was trying to decide if college was in my future. Boston was only an hour away, and Emerson College was looking good. Sadly, Emerson didn’t want me. Next in line was the University of New Hampshire, who also didn’t want me until I took a math class. So I started a general math class at UNH, while I sold shoes at Red’s Shoe Barn. I was stuck, out of high school, big dreams and nowhere to go. My plan was to keep knocking at Emerson’s door.

My old chemistry partner sent me an email talking about this impressive TV program in Vermont. My dad and I took a trip up to check it out. To both of our amazement, this was it. This program was everything I had been looking. Finally, the clarity I had been hoping for!

Through Lyndon I worked with teachers who held great influence over me. Brilliant minds that knew how to reach me, I had a jumble of knowledge collected over a combined 6 years of jr. and sr. high school, and they put it all right.

Meanwhile, I discovered my chemistry partner was meant to be a life partner. After all these years still giving me the best advice. Where would I be without her? What kind of a life would I be living?

Since graduating, I have worked in TV for 8 years. So now what? TV is becoming a dinosaur. I still love it, but just not as much when I was 15. I am not exactly thrilled with where I see TV going. What does my future hold? Where can I go? My gut tells me its time to give back and become the type of teacher that guided me to where I am today. Do I go to high school, or college? Will I even like teaching? I have always felt, you need to have a plan. So far, I have always had one. I turn 30 this year, and I am ready for a change. I could go back and teach in Vermont, but I don’t want to live there. So it’s up to me to define my voice and figure out what’s next.


“Beware of Dog”

My grammar is far from perfect, but I am not running for office. This week in the state of Maine we have an open primary election. Our current Governor has served two terms and is done. Leaving the field wide open. We have four democrats and a seven republicans running for office. The primary vote is Tuesday.

I am a registered independent, and I try to keep my political feelings private. I worry about the credibility of my work if viewers knew which side of an issue I was on. The majority of my newsroom feels the same way. Many of us don’t even know each others political positions.

My girlfriend is a (proud) registered democrat. She is looking forward to voting on Tuesday, and she considers herself to be an informed voter. On this rainy Sunday, she has settled in to do her research on each candidate. To her surprise, she discovered typos on each of the candidates websites.

As politicians your websites are going to be filled with jargon on why you’re the best and why your plans are great, but how can we trust you to fix our state if you either don’t proofread your own stuff or at least have someone else look over it?

Most of the errors are small and could be considered nit-picking. The one that stand out is from Libby Mitchell, her site says “people came to Maine because of its tree, fish, rivers, fertile land, and beautiful landscapes.”
It’s not a big deal, but we are “The Pine Tree State.”

Here is a small one from Pat McGowan’s site:
“Jill and Jolene McGowan own and operate successful women’s clothing design and manufacturing business in southern Maine with national and international clientele.”
It could be argued that this one is fine. In my house we felt two ways about it. My girlfriend felt the word “business” need to be plural, and I felt that there needed to be an “a” before the word successful. Neither of us know if there is more than one business.

I have met every single candidate and they are all lovely people. Each one is passionate about Maine and has a plan for Maine’s future, but right or wrong minor mistakes like these can make or break how a voter is going to vote.

If I, a grad student, can be worried about each word on my blog, then as the leaders of our state you can find the time to fix this issue (obviously before you tackle the big ones).


Brief Bio Sketch

Version 1:
Brett Whitmarsh produces the news magazine shows “207” and “Bill Green’s Maine” at WCSH6, the NBC affiliate in Portland Maine. Brett is involved in all aspects of TV from producing & reporting, to shooting and editing video.

Version 2:
Brett Whitmarsh is a graduate of the Emmy-award inning communications program at Lyndon State College in Vermont. He is currently the producer of “Bill Green’s Maine” & “207” at WCSH6, the NBC affiliate in Portland, Maine, where he also reports, shoots and edits.