February 11, 2015

Trojan Vision Can't Stop

After seventeen years, SCA's student operated network is better than ever

By Katherine Vu

Students behind the scenes at Trojan Vision

Activity hums down the halls at Trojan Vision in the morning. Producers and directors dart back and forth between bright, fluorescent meeting rooms to darkened control booths that are lit only by dim glow of computer monitors and blinking LEDs. In the hallways, people talk about their next broadcasts or can be seen hurrying off to their pre- or post- production meetings.

A quick hush falls over the control booth as someone’s voice cuts through the chatter, “Thirty seconds!” The silence is followed by another rush of activity as doors close, people get seated, and the live broadcast begins. All that matters is what happens the moment the “On the Air” light comes on outside the studio. 

Just two minutes after you enter the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts, the home of Trojan Vision, it’s clear that this is not a typical classroom environment. Though working at Trojan Vision is a fundamental part of CTPR 409: Practicum in Television Production, the work demands dedication and time that extends far beyond the on-paper requirements. “It’s more of a lifestyle,” says Natalie Gordon, Trojan Vision’s programming manager. “Even though it asks for a lot, the way I think of it – I get to work at Trojan Vision. I’m happy to be here.”

That passion and enthusiasm for the work is apparent through every level of production at Trojan Vision headquarters. Don Tillman, founder and CEO of television and entertainment production consulting firm, McCarty and Company, has overseen Trojan Vision since its humble beginnings in 1998. “The original idea came from Dean Elizabeth Daley,” he said, “She asked if there was a way to put together a live production that was totally operated by students. We came up with CU@USC, a show, which, by the way, is still on the air seventeen years and thousands of interviews later.”

CU@USC, the program’s nightly talk show, has featured an enormous number of prominent figures in the Los Angeles community, from acclaimed on-screen talents like Tom Hanks and Andersen Cooper, to behind-the-scenes filmmakers such as Josh Schwartz (The OC, Gossip Girl) and Bill Lawrence (Scrubs). In the near two decades since its inception, it’s incredible that Trojan Vision has grown from eight students making this one show, to nearly 100 students producing eighteen hours of original programming every week.

There is an enormous amount of well-earned pride that goes into each 30-minute show, and in what these students have built together through the years. The SCA students in charge clearly share that same feeling, including General Managers Jonathan Fudem and Harrison Merkt, and Program Manager Gordon. They all emphasized the crucial importance of flexibility on the job, and how live programming requires careful planning, and quick thinking for when the plans go awry.

Given the varied demands of their work, it was difficult for the three to even pin down a daily routine. “My day-to-day changes so much every day,” said Gordon, who works with potential showrunners and executive producers to create new programming, and oversees the on-air schedule. “That’s the great part of working in television. It’s never the same thing.”

Merkt agreed, elaborating on all of the things that could go wrong at any given moment, and how he tries to balance their needs as content producers with the fact that Trojan Vision is, first and foremost, an educational opportunity. “For me, day to day, while we’re on a clock, creating live television, part of my goal is protecting that learning environment. Every day, something new comes up: computers don’t print; ink runs out; little things happen every single day. But even so, our studios will get set up live, in time.” He stressed the primary ethos behind Trojan Vision since the day it was founded: “People learn here by doing.”

The doing can even be inspirational. Jonathan Fudem, another General Manager at Trojan Vision, who works with showrunners, sits in on broadcasts, and most recently, has been working with marketing managers to increase viewership for the network, found his calling while working there, choosing to become a student in the Media Arts + Practice Division at SCA because of his experiences of working at the station. “Trojan Vision helped show me that there was a lot of awesome things happening at SCA, and I wanted to be apart of it.”

While the network has historically focused on live television broadcasts, they’ve also been testing the waters with more scripted ventures. Gordon expressed excitement over the two newest scripted shows for this semester. “Con is a drama about con artists on a college campus. Then, as a balance to that, we have a scripted comedy – Trojan Vision’s first family sitcom – called Behind the Times.” It marks an interesting step forward for the organization, and an exciting sign for things to come.

With the kind of dedication that Trojan Vision inspires, in addition to the invaluable, hands-on experience it provides, it will certainly be an essential part of SCA’s legacy for decades to come. “When we started, I said I’d stop whenever it stopped being fun,” said Tillman, with a grin. “Seventeen years later, I’m still here.”

Watch Trojan Vision on your computer here: