If you’re curious as to what some of your fellow alumni are doing, just turn on the TV. TCNJ Magazine tracked down more than one dozen alumni working in television to learn how they got where they are and what the future holds.
Jay Dow ’97, New Jersey Reporter: CBS 2 News
In 1997, Jay, who had just graduated with a BS in political science, became a news assistant at CBS News This Morning. It was supposed to be something to do before he took the LSAT.
Six months in, Jay “caught the bug,” but he wasn’t the first in his family to succumb. His uncle, Harold Dow, a longtime correspondent for 48 Hours, helped his nephew get the news assistant job.
The younger Dow observed how the correspondents put their pieces together, “how they were able to take images and marry them to words.” The writing is what hooked Jay. Even now, he said, “It’s about telling stories” more than being on television.
After a year as a news assistant, Jay honed his storytelling skills at NBC affiliate WJAC-TV in Altoona, PA, (“I wanted to be out on my own”), and NY1 for three years (where he covered the events of September 11, 2001), before landing at CBS 2 in 2002.
For Jay, each day is different, except the conclusion-time with his college-sweetheart wife, Jessica ’97, and their two children, Dylan and Carly. ”The real job begins when I get home,” he said.
Derek Wan ’01, Producer: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
Derek never thought he’d work in television. Everything changed in 2001. He accepted an International Radio and Television Society Summer Fellowship with Newsweek, winding up in their television production department and working on shows for MSNBC, The History Channel, and National Geographic.
In January 2002, Derek moved to Los Angeles to pursue a television career, starting at E! Entertainment Television.
Prior to Extreme Makeover, he was a producer on eight cycles of America’s Next Top Model, and, more recently, he worked on “Kid Nation.” These days he is a producer for a new reality series called High School Musical (which is different than the TV movie of the same name).
“Producing reality television is pretty much like shooting a documentary where you follow real people through various scenarios,” Derek explained. “My job is to set up those scenarios and follow characters through the process.” The 2001 journalism graduate credits his strong story sense and storytelling skills to the College’s English department and his journalism professors.
“I’ve been lucky to have a very successful television career thus far,” said Derek, who wants to be an executive on a major network show. “I’ve been able to travel the country and world and work with a diverse group of talented individuals…. If I take anything from this job, it’s my appreciation for people and the communities they live in.”
Kristen Caldwell ’00, Actress: All My Children, Monk, Criminal Minds
Kristen loves to write. The 2000 communications studies graduate works as a freelance writer, and is taking graduate classes in literature and writing at William Paterson University. She’s also shopping around a pilot.
But, she admitted, it’s “all about the acting.”
“I can’t imagine not bringing life to someone’s dream and their words,” said Kristen, who also co-founded an acting studio, The Actor’s Key. “Honestly, the only other part of the entertainment business I think I would be interested in is writing—but even then, I would want to be playing one of the parts I’d written.”
For Kristen, who began her TV career on soap operas, her exper.iences in television have been “all-around positive,” a highlight being when she was offered a role (meaning no audition necessary) on FOX’s The Apostles. Though the series wasn’t picked up, “it was an incredible feeling to have their faith and confidence in my ability,” she said.
After three and a half years in Los Angeles, Kristen is back in north Jersey with her husband, musician Jeff Krusel. She’d like to get a contract job on a New York-based soap. “The people of daytime are the hardest workers around, and they are truly like a family,” she said.
Tom Riles ’01, Audience Warm-Up Performer: American Idol, The Ellen DeGeneres Show
Interning at Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 2001, Tom saw Brian McCann warm up the audience and realized his career path. “I loved the energy of being in a TV studio,” remembered Tom. “Something about a live-to-tape show, they [the audience] were so pumped, so excited.”
Tom’s first full-time TV job was as a production assistant (PA) on The Ananda Lewis Show. With the talk show’s cancellation looming, Riles convinced his superiors to let him warm-up the crowd.
After another year as a PA on Hollywood Squares, Tom beat three established warm-up performers to land that show’s gig in 2003. Since then, he has worked for about 40 shows, many through connections. “You meet a couple of people on every show, and if they like you, they’ll recommend you for things,” Tom explained.
The plum job is DeGeneres’ popular talk show. “I’ve gone in horribly sick…just so I can go in for that one hour,” said Tom, who hasn’t missed a day of work there in three years.
As for his future, “I see audience warm-up as the minor leagues, with hosting being the major leagues.”
Jevon Bruh ’01, Follow Productions: Paula’s Party
In the TCNJ TV universe, Ananda Lewis is God.
Thanks to a tip from friend and fellow 2001 communications graduate Tom Riles, Jevon got a PA job on Lewis’s show. When it was cancelled, she was one of four staffers retained by King World Productions, the show’s distributor.
Jevon has worked for several shows—The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, and The Tony Danza Show (a highlight, she said)—and now at NYC-based Follow Productions is working with celebrity chef Paula Deen. She is the celebrity booker and a segment producer, respectively, for two Food Network shows featuring Deen: Paula’s Party and Paula’s Home Cooking.
Jevon originally wanted to work in the publicity or marketing end of the industry, but “working hands-on every day to make a show happen is very exhilarating,” she said. “Especially a live show—talk about pressure. The most rewarding part of what I do is seeing an idea that started with me make it to the screen.”
As for the future, Jevon envisions rising in the industry, culminating in running her own show. “I really want to make a difference in the industry, one way or another.”
Pat Tomasulo ’00, Sports Anchor/Reporter: WGN Morning News
If not for the encouragement of his TV production professor, Roger Liehnhardt, Pat could have become the world’s most bitter accountant.
The then-general business major (a curriculum he found “torturous”) changed his studies to communications, and now the Class of 2000 graduate delivers sports—along with interviews and cleverly filmed segments—five days a week for Chicago’s number one morning show.
“For my interests, to do some comedy and to do some sports, this is the greatest and best opportunity I could have for local news,” Pat said.
He started by covering mostly high school sports (and doing just about everything else) for WJFM-TV in tiny Rhinelander, WI. After three years, he moved to a much larger market, Buffalo’s WKBW-TV. In a year and a half, thanks to having more time to concentrate on his on-air work, Pat said he “progressed so much,” setting up his arrival to WGN in 2005.
Tomasulo said he could be happy in Chicago permanently, but “if The Daily Show called tomorrow and said, ‘Jon Stewart is leaving and we want you to come,’ they’d see skid marks out of the hallway.”
To be continued…click here to read about more TCNJ alumni working in television.