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RuPaul’s Drag Race Exec. Producer Barbato ’82 to Speak at Commencement

randy barbato in black turtleneck, black framed glasses
Randy Barbato. Photo/Mathu Andersen

Randy Barbato ’82, co-founder of the multi-platform entertainment company behind the Emmy Award-winning show RuPaul’s Drag Race, will deliver the commencement address to the undergraduate Class of 2024 on Sunday, May 12, and receive an honorary degree alongside two television executives and long-serving Emerson trustees, and the College’s interim provost.

Barbato is an acclaimed director, producer, and co-founder if World of Wonder, the multi-platform entertainment company he founded in 1991 alongside his creative and business partner Fenton Bailey. Since then, the duo has been behind RuPaul’s Drag Race (MTV) and Million Dollar Listing (Bravo) Los Angeles and New York franchises, as well as numerous award-winning documentaries.

Also being honored during the ceremony are Emerson Trustees Doug Holloway ’76, a media executive with more than four decades of experience in network, cable, and streaming television strategy, sales, marketing, and development; Trustee Al Jaffe ’68, a longtime ESPN talent recruitment executive responsible for some of the biggest names in broadcasting; and Emerson’s Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Jan Roberts-Breslin, an independent media artist whose work has been broadcast on PBS and awarded at numerous national and international festivals.

Approximately 1,045 undergraduate students will receive their degrees during the Commencement ceremony being held at 10:00 am at Boston University’s Agganis Arena and streamed live at emerson.edu/live. The graduate hooding ceremonies for the School of the Arts and School of Communication will be held Saturday, May 11, at the Shubert Theatre, beginning at 2:00 pm.

Barbato’s company, World of Wonder (WOW) has reshaped international pop culture, earning 33 Emmys, inspiring two Oscars, and creating the global network WOW Presents Plus across 190 territories. He is one of the masterminds behind the global Drag Race universe, which has iterations in more than 20 countries and counting on WOW Presents Plus.

With Bailey, Barbato has produced more than 250 projects, and shares nearly three dozen credits as co-directors. Award-winning and critically acclaimed projects include The Eyes of Tammy Faye, inspiring the Oscar-winning scripted film of the same name; Monica in Black and White; Wishful Drinking; Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes (HBO); Inside Deep Throat; Party Monster; Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures; Every Brilliant Thing; Out of Iraq; Small Town News (HBO); and more.

He has been honored with the IDA Pioneer Award, Realscreen’s Global 100, Variety’s Reality Leaders, and Variety’s Reality TV Impact Report, as well as OUT 100. Barbato and Bailey have also been named by The Hollywood Reporter as the #1 unscripted producers working in nonfiction today. World of Wonder was ranked #2 among film and TV powerhouses in Fast Company’s World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies, and WOW and the international Drag Race franchise was recently named Hottest TV Franchise in Adweek’s 2024 Hot List.

Holloway at podium
Trustee Doug Holloway ’76 at a past EVVYs Awards show. File photo

Holloway began his career in TV in the early 1980s with CBS TV’s financial strategic planning team, helping to develop and launch CBS Cable. In 1981, he moved to Time, Inc., and launched the cable listing guide TV Cable Week. He joined USA Networks in 1983, where he developed and led their affiliate relations division. In 1992, under his direction, he developed and launched the SyFy Channel, and in 2004, with NBC’s purchase of Universal and USA Networks, Holloway was named president of cable investments, managing AETN, Peacock Productions, and National Geographic International, among other properties. In 2008, he became president of NBC Television Networks’ head of affiliate relations, marketing, and strategic partnerships. He later became president of multichannel distribution at ION Media Networks, Inc.

In 2020, he launched two multicultural urban streaming channels serving BIPOC communities: UKWmedia and Urbn-tv. He has received a long list of industry awards and recognitions, including the National Cable Television Association’s Vanguard Award for Marketing, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications, and Alumni Achievement awards from both Emerson and Columbia University, where he earned his MBA. In April 2023, he was inducted into The Cable Center’s Cable Hall of Fame, he will join the Broadcasting + Cable Hall of Fame in September 2024, and he is a Cable Pioneer.

man in blue suit leans over, back of man in grey suit to camera
Trustee Al Jaffe ’68 interviews sports broadcaster Stephen Smith in 2019. File photo/Derek Palmer

Jaffe spent nearly 30 years as an executive at ESPN where, in his role as vice president of talent negotiation and production recruitment, he hired and negotiated contracts for dozens of broadcasters, many of whom went on to become household names: Robin Roberts, Suzy Kolber, Stuart Scott, Stan Verrett, Rece Davis, Kenny Mayne, and Neil Everett among them. He launched so many careers at ESPN that in 1996, then-SportsCenter anchor Rich Eisen dubbed him “The Kingmaker.” His scouting abilities and hiring instincts came in handy when, from 2004-2006, he was one of the judges on ESPN’s competition Dream Job, in which contestants vied for a contract with the network.

Prior to joining ESPN in 1987, Jaffe worked as a news producer at Boston TV affiliates, and news director at two stations in California. He served on the Emerson Board of Trustees for 17 years, and was Co-Vice Chair from 2015 to 2021. He is also President of the Ivoryton (Conn.) Playhouse Board of Trustees.

A woman speaks at a lectern
Interim Provost Jan Roberts-Breslin speaks at a graduate hooding ceremony. File photo/Derek Palmer

Roberts-Breslin’s work has been exhibited at major contemporary art museums, including the ICA Boston and the DeCordova Scultpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Mass., and has explored issues including post-feminist domesticity and the subjectivity of history. Recent work includes an ironic attempt to use census questions as a means to accept age and mortality.

She was the founding director of Emerson’s MFA in Media Art program, and the author of Making Media: Foundations of Sound and Image Production (Focal Press/Routledge), the fifth edition of which was published in 2022. Prior to serving as Interim Provost, Roberts-Breslin was the dean of Graduate and Professional Studies at Emerson, and a professor in the College’s Visual and Media Arts Department.

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