Earlier this month, Jonathan Slade, associate professor and chair of the Communication and Cinema Department at McDaniel College, returned from Los Angeles after a week of attending the 2016 Television Academy Foundation Faculty Seminar. Slade was one of 25 college professors named to the weeklong fellowship, hosted by the Television Academy, the folks behind the Emmy Awards. The Times caught up with Slade to discuss the fellowship, the state of television today and McDaniel's film and communications programs.
Q: How did this seminar come about?
A: I'm the chair of the department of communications and cinema, and I was looking at online internship possibilities for my students back in April. As I was logging out of the Academy site, this screen popped up that said it's still not too late to enter for a faculty fellowship. I filled out the application and forgot about it pretty much. Then months later, I found I was one of the 25 people selected across the country.
Q: Could you give an overview of what kinds of things were discussed at the seminar?
A: Essentially it was a five-day intensive seminar where we got to meet industry insiders, producers, directors, editors, development people, archivists and entertainment lawyers. We got to tour the studios and participate in a set tour of "The Big Bang Theory" set. The production designer gave that tour over at Warner Brothers. They told us an interesting fact. The Warner Brothers set where they shoot "The Big Bang Theory" is the exact same set they shot "Casablanca" on in 1944. It's a cool history. It's kind of neat to stand on a set that Humphrey Bogart was standing on. They had the executive VPs of scheduling for all five major networks, ABC, NBC, Fox, CBS and the CW were all there and the moderator was the entertainment reporter with CNN. It was just the 25 of us talking about how the prime-time schedule is made. It was cool; you could ask anything.
Q: What was the most impressive thing about the trip?
A: For me it was the unprecedented access to the people who get it done. I know I'll never have another experience like that again. It was super concentrated. These were two-hour seminars, and they always ran late. You never got a break. We ended up eating during the seminars, because there was so much going on, so it was amazing.
Q: Was there anything particularly surprising?
A: We learned so many different things. We were sitting there with directors from "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation" and "Black-ish" and "The Voice" and "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Mindy Project," as they told us what it was like to get up every day and go to work on these sets. Everybody wants to tell their origin story, and how they got the jobs they got. That's something that can help with students, and give them a pathway.
Q: What did you learn that you can apply at the McDaniel community?
A: It was really a way to get plugged into where the industry is right now. I teach production and film analysis, and it's not like I learned some radically new techniques. It was a great snapshot of where the industry is now, so there are just dozens and dozens of examples that I can connect with what we learn in class. It was invaluable; I'm not using examples from three years ago or four years ago, I'm using examples from now.
Q: What kinds of changes has the industry gone under?
A: They talked about things like new platforms like Netflix and Hulu and how that's radically changing the TV industry. Social media is affecting scheduling and the promotion of TV shows.
Q: What lesson stuck with you the most?
A: It sounds self-serving, but it's totally true, when they were asked what they'd recommend in terms of schooling and training, they said they recommend you go to a small liberal arts college where you can't hide. You can produce as much storytelling as possible. They said to take stuff outside of film in philosophy and religion and history. You get a lot of people who want to work in Hollywood and all they know is tech, they know nothing about storytelling.