published Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Cleveland State Community College students' TV show wraps up tonight

Head writer David Hannah, left, sets up lights with producer Robert Peak in a classroom on the campus of Cleveland State Community College in Cleveland, Tenn., on Monday before filming a scene from the finale of their sketch comedy show "Freshman." The show began as a class project, and the finale will air on Thursday on WTNB.
Head writer David Hannah, left, sets up lights with producer Robert Peak in a classroom on the campus of Cleveland State Community College in Cleveland, Tenn., on Monday before filming a scene from the finale of their sketch comedy show "Freshman." The show began as a class project, and the finale will air on Thursday on WTNB.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

IF YOU WATCH

What: The season finale of "Freshman," a comedy produced by Cleveland State Community College students

When: WTNB-TV at 7:30 p.m.; repeat shows at 6 a.m. Friday and 4:30 p.m. Sunday

In the basement of Cleveland State Community College's library, Slade sits next to Ashley.

"Hello, Ashley," Slade says. "I want to talk to you about something."

Ashley is about to respond when ...

"Hold on," cameraman David Hannah says. "You guys got to be louder."

What looked like a normal setting within a college classroom -- a guy trying to confess his feelings to a girl -- was actually a scene being filmed for "Freshman," a sketch comedy show solely produced by Cleveland State Community College underclassmen.

The show, which is being filmed on and around campus with no budget, airs three times a week on WTNB to Cleveland and surrounding areas.

After four episodes and one pilot this semester -- or season -- filming for "Freshman" has wrapped up with the season finale that will air today at 7:30 p.m. Repeats will air Friday morning and Sunday afternoon.

"Freshman" director Robert Peak said he's always had a knack for storytelling. The idea for the show came to him in November during the first semester of his own freshman year, he said.

Professor Will McDonald met Peak last semester when he taught a broadcasting class. Peak approached him with the idea for the show, and the brand-new class, TV Program Production, was added to the college and production of "Freshman" was under way.

To offer a class providing hands-on experience in multimedia is crucial for students after they graduate into the workforce, McDonald said.

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"They seized the opportunities. They're ambitious and worked hours that were unheard of," he said. "In some ways, ['Freshman'] has exceeded my expectations."

Where the former "Freshman" episodes have all been sketch comedy shows -- think "Saturday Night Live" or "MADtv" -- tonight's season finale is told through a continuous story arc that reunites all the characters featured throughout the series so far.

The central plot of the finale is a murder mystery involving a character played by a former classmate. He stopped attending class, so Peak and his crew just killed him off in the script.

"It's cheesy, but not low-class cheese," said Ashley Haddock, who played the character of Ashley during the scene Monday. "It's more sharp cheddar cheese."

The scene filmed in the library Monday was to flesh out the character of Slade. In a previous episode, he was unsuccessful in wooing Ashley, and the scene being filmed in the library showed that Slade is still unsuccessful in getting Ashley, as she slowly slides away to avoid hearing any more of his advances.

At the beginning of the semester, the class had six students enrolled. At the end, only four remained: Peak; co-producer and occasional cameraman Hannah; Haddock; and Ben Branam, who played Slade during the scene Monday.

Branam, who's had a history of stage acting through his church, said he was walking through campus with his guitar one day when he was spotted by Peak and McDonald and asked to join the class because productions would need a musical component.

"I don't normally dress like this," Branam said Monday, touting eyeliner, black clothes and a spike collar. "I'm a redneck at heart."

As a donor to Cleveland State Community College, WTNB allows students access to studio space as well as filling predetermined time slots with programming, station co-owner Joe Palo said. Though ratings or share for "Freshman" were unavailable, Palo said they aren't the point -- experience is.

"It's humorous and quirky, and it's showing off their creativity," he said. "We're proud to have it on."

The class will not be brought back next semester, McDonald said.

And, though the class may end, Peak has a promising future ahead of him, Palo said.

"He's tuned in to how things work, and he's conscientious," he said. "He's going to go far in the business."

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