On Saturday night, Megan Sleeper ’02 won her first Emmy Award, and three days later, she still felt like she was “kind of in shock.”
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences honored Sleeper for her work casting the A&E docuseries Born This Way: a first not only for Sleeper, but for the Academy, which only began giving out casting Emmys this year.
“I was emotional when I first heard my name,” said Sleeper, who collected her Outstanding Casting for a Reality Program Emmy with fellow Bunim/Murray Productions casting vice president Sasha Alpert, “…just really proud. Our cast is so phenomenal; they’re really special. I think a big part of this was for them. I’m just really excited for them as well.”
Born This Way, which was just renewed for a fourth season, follows seven young adults with Down syndrome, showing their accomplishments, dreams, heartbreaks, and joys. In addition to the casting award, the series also took home an Outstanding Cinematography for a Reality Program Emmy.
Sleeper has worked at Bunim/Murray since she was an Emerson student, interning there during a semester in Los Angeles. Her first show was MTV’s The Real World, back when reality shows were still a fairly new thing and she was barely older than the people she was casting.
Over the years, she’s picked the stars of series such as The Biggest Loser (NBC), The Rebel Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best (FOX), Best Ink (Oxygen), and Starting Over (NBC). She produced a documentary film, New York Says Thank You, that premiered as a Spotlight Feature film at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.
But Sleeper called Born This Way a “once in a lifetime project.”
“Not only is it just an incredibly rewarding and inspiring docuseries, it really points to an important message of inclusion and understanding,” a message, Sleeper added, that she learned at Emerson.
Because the show is so groundbreaking, Sleeper said, casting for it required a whole different protocol and set of skills. Before they could meet any prospective stars, they had to learn about the Down syndrome community, working with different organizations to make sure they got the show right and portrayed the cast honestly and respectfully. They also had to earn the trust of the cast members’ families.
“I think, ultimately, the families were over the moon [with the show],” Sleeper said. “It was an incredible season for the cast, their families. I think everyone feels really proud of the way the show kind of exposes the true, loving nature and abilities of the Down syndrome community.”
Sleeper said she believes there’s starting to be a shift in reality TV toward series such as Born This Way that aim to educate and enlighten audiences about diverse groups of people, rather than just entertain them.
With every step of her career, Sleeper said, there have been fellow Emerson alumni right alongside her, whether at Bunim/Murray or on the crew of the various productions she’s worked on.
Right now, two other Emersonians—Senior Vice President of Production John Greco and Vice President of Creative Ben Salter—work with Sleeper.
“We’ll pass each other in the hallway and shout out, ‘Emerson!’ or ‘Go Lions!’” she said. “It’s an unspoken, and sometimes spoken, bond that sticks with us.”