Rolling, speed … action

Mount Holyoke students brought research to life during a live broadcast.

In the fall 2023 semester, students participated in a pilot project that allowed them to dive deeper into the nuances of television production while showcasing their presentation skills. 

Taught by Hannah Goodwin, History of US Television traces the invention of television to the present day, explores different genres and explains how television has represented gender, race, sexuality and socioeconomic class.

The student-led project focused on presenting original historical research of television shows that aired prior to 2003. The students cited various scholarly sources to support their analysis. The shows analyzed by the student groups were “The Muppet Show,” “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Friends,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Full House.”

The students had the option to pretape their presentation or present live at Northampton Open Media, a public access television station in Northampton, Massachusetts. At the studio, the students got the opportunity to step into the control to watch the live presentations. Once the taping was finished, they were able to tour the studio and speak with one of the producers.

The presentations offered the impression of a news segment, with students cutting in segments of their chosen shows with commentary about the scenes and how they supported the themes discussed in their presentations. In total, the segments resulted in an hour-long show that provided new perspectives on some of U.S. television’s most popular shows.

“This project gave the students a bit more investment in polishing their final work. It wasn’t just a casual recap of what they learned. It was a tightly scripted, gripping thesis statement,” Goodwin said. “They were able to articulate the importance of what they were talking about. It was compelling. You could hear it in each presentation, and I was happy with the results.”

Mascha Lang ’24, a media science and theater major at Leipzig University in Saxony, Germany, watched “The Cosby Show” and other syndicated U.S. shows translated in German with her mom as a child. She chose Mount Holyoke for her semester abroad because it was a gender diverse school and was excited to take the History of US Television course to learn more about how media in the U.S. works.

Lang was a part of a five-member team that chose to present an analysis of “Full House,” a sitcom on ABC that centered around a widower, his three daughters and his brother-in-law and best friend who also helped to raise the girls. For their project, Lang and her group focused on the representation of gender roles on TV and chose to prerecord their segment.

“I talked about examples from the series that showed a progressive family and the struggles they have,” she said. “I feel like if I had to do it live, I might have freaked out.”  

Lang enjoyed touring the inside of a small studio and loved the course so much that she plans to take a similar media course offered in Germany.  

Fascinated with film and television, anthropology major Ja Moore ’25 began taking film courses as a first-year student at the College and took the class because they wanted to know more about TV history.

A member of the “Full House” group, Moore also found the highlight of the project to be the visit to Northampton Open Media. As a radio librarian for WMHC, they were familiar with some of the equipment.

“The equipment fascinated me,” they said. “The coolest part for me was being able to go back where all the screens are on the switchboard and ask questions about how the equipment worked. And we were able to practice with the cameras afterwards.”

Film, media, theater and English major Gillian Tomlinson ’25 and their group chose to explore feminism and fan culture with a presentation on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a supernatural teen drama that centered around a young woman tasked with destroying vampires, demons and other forces of darkness. 

“We talked about how the show gave an outlet to a lot of female audience members who may have felt alienated by shows created by and for men and how this show came at a point in history where the internet allowed for a massive fan culture movement to spring up around the show,” they said.

Tomlinson utilized the skills they learned in the class Women’s Experimental Cinema to provide the feminist analysis the group discussed. Choosing to film their segment prior to their visit to the studio, they assigned themselves the task of handling the video production.

The broadcast project was part of the course’s final research presentation and was sponsored by the Nexus program, which empowers students via a career-focused curriculum and bridges the gap between academic work and possible career paths. 

Ja Moore is considering learning more about video production and is contemplating a minor in film. Gillian Tomlinson is interested in cinematography and will soon start an internship at Amherst Media in Amherst, Massachusetts. 

“During the semester, we talked about television as a nebulous concept,” they said. “But you're not necessarily thinking about the guy holding the boom mic. With this project it was nice to get down to the nitty-gritty and see how much effort television production takes.”

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