A course called Development and Production of the Situation Comedy, taught by Trustee and Visual and Media Arts Executive Artist-in-Residence Kevin Bright, was profiled recently by the Boston Globe’s Christopher Muther. As the executive producer of the celebrated sitcom Friends, Bright is distinctly qualified to teach such a class.
In the course, students not only learn how a sitcom is created, but actually produce one themselves, from writing and rewriting the script, to casting and costume design, to the development of a pilot episode.
“Where else can students learn something like this?” said student Pat Lambert ’12. “This is something I could only do at Emerson.”
The script for the sitcom, called Trending, was created over two semesters last year in television writing courses taught by Visual and Media Arts Assistant Professor Martie Cook with additional guidance from Bright. Bright’s students polished the script this semester and are currently producing an episode that they hope to screen for the Emerson community sometime next month.
The show’s cast includes a mix of Emerson students and professional actors. Senior Colin Kittredge Smith ’12 is the executive producer of Trending.
‘Friends’ producer helps students fashion sitcom
by Christopher Muther
The prima donna designer, just back from a three-week stint in Paris, charges into her New York workroom and demands to see the progress her lackeys have made on her latest collection. Thanks to pharmaceuticals, she’s capricious in her demeanor and persnickety about what she sees.
As the clothes emerge, she’s aghast. Jewel tones? Loose fits? It’s a fashion horror show.
“I told you, we’re designing for Kirsten Dunst, not Kirstie Alley,’’ she sneers. “What is this? ‘Veronica’s Closet’?’’
Nicole Abascal applies makeup to Alex Wright who plays Kate in “Trending,’’ a sitcom created as a class project.
No matter how many times the line is delivered – and during this Friday rehearsal at Emerson College’s Green Theatre, it’s many times – the words still draw a chortle from the student production crew. Kevin Bright, the executive artist-in-residence behind this sitcom production class, was an executive producer of “Veronica’s Closet.’’ The line is a nod to the ’90s sitcom which was set in the fashion world.
Bright, best known for his work on “Friends,’’ is leading 80 students, plus hired actors, costume designers, and makeup artists with tough love in a room that buzzes with the frenetic energy.
The next night the theater would be filled for the taping of the student-produced fashion sitcom “Trending.’’ The pilot is three semesters in the making, and aside from Bright’s tutelage, students were responsible for the outcome – from script to final product.
“My demand of them was, ‘Here’s the pace of a professional television writer.’ I was clear that there are no excuses, there’s no day late, and every day you’re going to have a new draft for me,’’ he says during a short break from rehearsal. “So I told them to clear their weekends. You’re not doing anything. You’re not going out on any nights. If you want to understand a professional television writer’s life, this is what it’s like.’’
The class, called Development and Production of the Situation Comedy, is a chance for students to learn the craft from someone who knows it intimately. After graduating from Emerson in 1976, Bright went on to form a production company that made 238 episodes of “Friends,’’ a spin-off (“Joey’’), as well as “Dream On,’’ and “Jesse.’’
“Trending’’ will not be making the rounds at major networks, but students will be graded on it.
The process began last fall when students in a class called the Comedy Writers’ Room were asked to generate ideas. Six scripts took shape. In the next class, Rewriting the Sitcom, students began tinkering with them and “Trending’’ eventually emerged.
“I gave them a challenge to write about something that isn’t on television,’’ Bright says. “I told them ‘Don’t write anything that looks like ‘Modern Family’ because I’ve seen it and you’re not going to do it as well.’ The idea is to pick an arena that is fresh.’’
The fashion world has been a reality show staple for years, but hasn’t clicked with sitcom audiences. But Bright knew that fashion could be a great fodder.
“Whenever you have an environment populated with eccentric characters you have an ideal sitcom setting,’’ Bright says. “And fashion is practically made for a sitcom.’’
Photos by Aja Neahring '13