‘Debbie’s Got Class’ wins gold medal

By BenitaZepeda

Frequency TV, Columbia’s student-run television station, won its first award through the New York Festival’s International Television and Film Awards on May 3 for the sitcom “Debbie’s Got Class.”

The station was awarded a gold medal in the category of “Best On-Campus TV Station.” The awards have been in existence for more than 53 years and more than 30 countries were represented this year, making it one of the most widely recognized television and film award competitions in the world.

Michael Niederman, chair of Columbia’s Television Department, said he was very excited for Frequency TV to win this award, and noted he is impressed with the work that comes from Frequency TV.

“I have always known what great work Frequency TV does,” Niederman said. “They find a way to balance serving the local community while still making interesting and challenging work for a larger community.”

Niederman added the acknowledgement by the festival is a real moment of pride for the Television Department.

“I really think it says something about the thoughtfulness, creativity and energy all the people and students have always put into Frequency,” Niederman said.

Chris West, operations manager for Frequency TV, said the station began in 2002 as a video billboard for events happening around campus. As the years progressed, it evolved from a station and informational unit to a production facility.

In conjunction with original programming for the college, the station is now interacting with the Television Department curriculum, which includes the production of subsequent material such as sitcoms.

“We’re turning into a production company more than a television station service,” West said.

He added that the station is composed of people from three different areas. The first is a group of staff work aids, who act as producers, writers and production management.

The second area is the Television Department’s curriculum, such as entry-level, mid-level and advanced level classes that get involved with Frequency TV. The third group is volunteers.  Students from any department can get involved in many aspects of production.

“Debbie’s Got Class,” the award-winning sitcom, was originally part of a class project.  The plan was to create three five-minute “minisodes” within the course. West said the class got canceled, at which point he and Luke Palermo, assistant professor in the Television Department, still wanted to pursue what he thought was a great idea.

Instead of creating smaller episodes, they decided to create a pilot episode and one following episode in fall 2009. Those were taped in the Television Department, and due to limited space, it took nearly four weeks to complete.

“It went from five minutes to 30 minutes and the involvement was huge,” West said. “We went from about 12 people working on the show to about 60.”

This semester, the sitcom was recorded for the first time in front of a live audience consisting of more than 300 people. The production had multiple sets and took place in the Media Production Center. To kick off the taping, actor Carl Reiner was a keynote speaker.

West said the Media Production Center was a great way to take the sitcom to the next level and added that at the awards, various members within the industry recognized Columbia, which included roughly 60 colleges and universities across the globe.

“It was great because when I introduced myself, Columbia College and the TV Department, people instantly knew ‘Debbie’s Got Class’ and the program,” West said. “It was a big hit for Columbia and the students involved that our work is out there and it is recognized.”

Palermo said the award was absolutely amazing because it was a way to recognize student work.

“I think this is the best representation of true student work from beginning to end,” Palermo said. “It’s an affirmation that our students are very creative, they are artistic and do a wonderful job and they are able to start a project and complete it totally to the end. There’s not many places that can say that.”

Other awards earned by Frequency TV include a gold plaque from the Chicago chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences,  a certificate of merit for an original cooking show and a gold plaque for “Debbie’s Got Class” from the Hugo Awards.

West said the sitcom was an opportunity to bring a Hollywood feel to Chicago using the Media Production Center with a live audience.

“I find it fantastic for the students who are involved with it—it’s huge,” West said. “It’s a prestigious award, and for a student to put on their résumé that they were a part of that is incredible. I look forward to doing this again.”