Unique collaboration immerses students in TV show production

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On the set of SCETV's "By The River" in Beaufort, students from USCB operate cameras, check sound, and prepare host Holly Bounds Jackson, seated right, and Cassandra King Conroy, seated right, for the taping of the first show of the second season.

All is quiet on the set as host Holly Bounds Jackson prepares to interview author Cassandra King Conroy at the SCETV studio on Ribaut Road in Beaufort.

Then, a young man wearing a headset counts softly, "Five ... four ... three ..." Two beats later, his hand signals "go."

It's the beginning of taping for the first show of the second season of "By The River," which features well-known South Carolina authors and their books.

The crew includes three video camera operators, a still photographer, sound board operator, someone monitoring a digital timer and teleprompter, and several who helped with set preparation, makeup and making sure everything was in place.

This crew is composed mostly of broadcast students in the USCB communications studies program. They are learning what it's like to put together a real TV show.

But they aren't just learning. They are actually putting the show together, from preparing to filming to editing.

The production of the show is a unique collaboration between SCETV and USCB, said Dr. Caroline Sawyer, assistant professor of communication studies at USCB and producer of the show. "It is truly an experiential learning situation," she said, "which is something that USCB puts at the forefront of its mission."

The collaboration began last year with the creation and development of the show itself. When Jackson came on board in January 2018 as director of operations and content at ETV Lowcountry, Sawyer presented the concept to her.

"By The River" was conceived as a potential show for the SCETV website or social media, but grew into a full-fledged production. "We had a lot of believers throughout the process who've helped make it what it is today," said Jackson.

Sawyer said her job as producer includes tasks from writing scripts to training students to working with engineers to securing funding for the show.

"I sometimes think of this job much like the coach of a softball team," she said. "They have to do a lot of planning and motivating, but they are sometimes also the person that is mowing the field before a game. However, a coach is nothing without a great team and I have a great team."

Sawyers credits Jackson with being a truly important team member, her "partner in crime," she said. "She is so supportive and hardworking."

Students are critical team members as well. Cassandra Headden, a rising senior from Walterboro, is the director and technical director of "By The River." "I am in charge of choosing what goes on air, I tell people when to take their shots - whatever is aesthetically pleasing. I also help with editing the show and the podcast," she said.

Headden said she took the class year when the program first started, but "This is the first real, practical experience."

Both Sawyer and Jackson say the collaboration between the two entities is of great benefit to both.

"The collaboration is truly a win for both sides and just makes perfect sense," Jackson said. "Because I'm a staff of one in Beaufort, I couldn't put on a production without them. And without the use of our studio and equipment, they wouldn't get this awesome hands-on experience that can help get their resume at the top of the pile for a hiring manager."

In addition to benefits for students and the TV station, Sawyer notes that it's good for the community as well. "Authors in the surrounding areas are able to talk about their books, encourage reading and writing, and are able to engage with our students," she said.

Underwriters of the program include Hargray Communications, the Pat Conroy Literary Center, Osher Lifelong Learning Insitute at USCB, University of South Carolina Beaufort, SC Humanities, and Sharin Jacobs.

"By The River" will air in the fall on Thursdays at 8 p.m. on SCETV. Guests will include such well-known authors as Dr. Lawrence Rowland, Bren McClain, Patti Callahan Henry, Cassandra King Conroy, Jana Sasser, Lisa Anne Cullen, George Singleton, Rebecca Bruff, Rutledge Hammes, Debbi Covington, Robert Hicks and Sallie Ann Robinson.

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