Founded in April of 1977 by Andy Liebman (A ’78), who went on to direct and edit documentaries for PBS and the Discovery Channel and to found a video collaboration tool called EditShare, Tufts University Television (TUTV) has moved from creating content for a TV station to releasing web series, like the popular “Jules and Monty.”
TUTV originally used its studio in Curtis Hall to film news, soap operas and comedy sketch pieces in the style of “Saturday Night Live’s” (1975 – present) “Weekend Update.” Todd Kessler (A ’80), one of the founding members, remembers how difficult it was to deliver content.
“There was no broadcasting available, so we had to carry around all this equipment like TVs and speakers so people could watch it,” he said. “We begged the school to install cable, but they never would.”
According to Kessler, in its first few years, TUTV only had 10 members and few people on campus knew about it.
“It was the equivalent of being a nerd, like the kid-who-set-up-the-projector-in-the-classroom kind of a nerd,” Kessler said.
Nevertheless, joining TUTV during his college career laid the foundation for Kessler’s career as a successful producer and writer for shows like HBO’s “Rome” (2005 – 2007).
Over the past 37 years, TUTV has waxed and waned but has nevertheless managed to maintain a presence on campus. TUTV Programming Manager Ben Haven Taylor gives credit to those members who kept creating content during the years when only a few people were involved.
“I’m very grateful for guys who kept the station alive when nothing else was going, because if they hadn’t been making stuff, the station would have just died,” Taylor, a sophomore, said.
Station Manager Danielle Bryant, a senior, said the club’s history is shaped by generations that each have had a different focus. The generation before hers worked almost entirely on “In Motion” (2008 – 2011), a college soap opera.
According to Bryant, in her freshman year, the group consisted of five members who did broadcast news. It was difficult to keep up with the variety of news outlets on campus, however, and when members began returning from abroad, they divided the club into three sections.
Now, the music section creates music videos and films concerts, the news section does broadcasting and the scripted content section works on web series and films. Two of their best-known web series are “My Gay Roommate” (2013 – present) and last spring’s “Jules and Monty.”
“[TUTV leadership] all wanted to come into this semester with a strong mindset of how we were going to make TUTV something that was resilient again, sort of stealing some of the models of 3Ps and other theatre organizations [use] to keep a consistent membership and sustain larger projects and isn’t necessarily too dependent on any one individual as a hinge,” Taylor said.
Recently, TUTV has seen an increase in membership and now boasts approximately 40 members, including people working on a new web series called Wave Jacked that was announced this week, and an affiliated sketch comedy group called The Institute, which shares TUTV’s space and equipment.
“A lot has changed in my last four years, and the past two years we have had just an amazing influx of people,” Byrant said. “Some not experienced at all, and some very experienced [who] we’re lucky to have, and they have really taken up the mantle of TUTV.”
The recent increase in membership has also improved the structure of the group, according to Bryant.
“I’m so excited to create content, and I feel like it’s actually becoming a bona fide, for-real organization that’s making something, which makes me so happy because for a while it was just like 20 kids hanging out in the station and playing with video cameras,” she said.
With the expansion of the club and the beginning of what Bryant calls a new generation, the executive board has tried to start the academic year with a more defined direction. Their meetings focus on developing ideas for projects and teaching members how to use microphones, cameras and other equipment.
“We have this good problem where we have a lot of people who want their scripts made,” Taylor said. “So we introduced this process, which is that if you can convince us that you really believe in a script and you can convince us that you have at least half of a crew assembled, you can make it. It’s not really picking ‘Oh, we like this idea’ or ‘Oh, we don’t like this idea.’ It’s really just who is putting in the work.”
One of the other challenges TUTV faces is keeping up with the pace at which film technology is developing and figuring out how to best disseminate content to reach its audience. According to Taylor, they are hoping to create a website this year so all their content can be viewed in one place.
“For an organization that people have been afraid is going to die every year, I think it’s pretty impressive that it’s lasted this long and that I can say semi-confidently that it’s not going to go away when I graduate, that I feel that it actually has solid footing,” he said.
Even while TUTV grows, Taylor emphasized the importance of maintaining its positive atmosphere.
“This organization is built on volunteers — it’s really an organization based on the fact that we all have fun doing this, and I’ve been a big proponent of keeping that as a mission statement and keeping that in mind,” he said. “I really want to push for a better quality of work or I really want to push for a bigger body of work or more views or push for this or that, but in the end it will only ever work if our decisions are predicated on the fact that we’re still having fun doing this.”