WilliNet brings fame, in the Berkshires and beyond

Imagine being a famous TV actor or producer or screenwriter and living the high life tangled up with cameras, flashing lights and glitz of all sorts. You could live that high life, well, minus a bit of glitz, by producing a show for WilliNet. WilliNet is the public access television channel in our purple bubble, which townies and those lucky students in possession of TVs can switch on to catch some local news, culture, humor or just quirky weirdness. Several groups of students on campus certainly have ventured into this high life. Keep an eye out for the three shows that they have produced for the channel: Cooking with Steven, The Williams Show and The Mountains.

One may rightly ask how these students put together and launched shows that aired on TV. Interestingly enough, all of these shows originated in one of the various film classes taught by Penny Lane, visiting lecturer in art. “I was in the video class with Penny Lane and we had taken a trip to WilliNet and they were telling us that they don’t know why more Williams students don’t make more shows there,” said Ariel Kavoussi ’11, who went on to create The Williams Show. “So then I figured it was time to have a student show.” Lindsay Aubin ’10 credits Lane’s film class last semester as a jumping off point for The Mountains, a humorous show that she had a hand in producing. “Penny was very into experiential learning,” Aubin said. “We really got to control where the class went.”

Don’t be fooled though. It’s not just students from one of Lane’s film classes that create WilliNet-worthy shows. According to David Finer, production manager at WilliNet, anyone who lives, works or goes to school in Williamstown can air one of their creations. “If you like to go bowling and you want to make a bowling show, or if you like gardening and want to do a gardening show, you can just do that,” Finer said. Williams students just have to make a CD of their TV series, video, interview – you name it – pass it on to WilliNet, and they’ll air it. “Public access television is TV by the community for the community,” Finer said.

So what are the three said shows produced by our fellow Williams students about? Here’s a quick overview but, mind you, there aren’t too many details because you’ll have to check these shows out for yourself on YouTube or the WilliNet website. Cooking with Steven, starring Steven Cheng ’10 and produced by Danny Huang ’11, is a weekly Chinese cooking show that shows viewers how to make meals ranging from mapo tofu to honeydew melon dessert soup in under 10 minutes. Who wouldn’t want to learn how to whip up some otherwise boring vegetables into a creation of “microwave simulated stir-fried vegetables”? The show is quite useful to the average college student looking to mix dining fare up a little or do a little cooking on one’s own.

Unlike Cooking with Steven’s direct focus and practical application, The Mountains, a show that premiered in six episodes, meanders all over the place with no real purpose besides being downright hilarious. Watch these episodes if you want to see Amy Darling ’12 horsing around with her Frosh Review buddies, or some swanky graphics and music that transition between different unrelated film segments that range from spoofs to artsy cinematography. Aubin’s segment, for example, was a reality TV show spoof that was Williams-themed. One killer is a spoof on 48 Hours about drunken squirrels in and around the campus. “My angle was that they were all alcoholics,” Aubin said. “It was basically just as if the squirrels had started drinking from all the empty beer cans and bottles on campus. Because you know everyone thinks the squirrels here are crazy.” And that’s not all, folks. No stopping at drunken squirrels. In a spoof on Made, Aubin tries her absolute hardest to get swine flu and ambiguously either succeeds in getting the swine or just getting really drunk.

Finally, on The Williams Show, a 25-minute uncensored show: students, faculty and staff alike do whatever they want to. The show basically features cool people from the community singing, dancing, acting, debating, chatting, fencing – anything, really. While Kavoussi has put it on hold because she is abroad in Prague, stay tuned for this show that essentially embodies the quirky variety that public access is all about. “The normal mainstream media is fake – it pretends to be so real but it’s not; it’s all fabricated,” Kavoussi said. “With cable access you see your friends there, and it’s nice to see normal people who aren’t pretending they’re an authority.”

Do these students really have a taste of what it might be like to work in the bigwig industry? Don’t underestimate the power of the free-for-all channel. For starters, all of these shows have been written up in local newspapers. Take Cooking with Steven. Not only do people know Cheng as a chef extraordinaire across campus (“I’ll introduce myself, and they’ll say, ‘You’re Steven from Cooking with Steven!”), but random people across the country know who he is. “One really cold day in California – yes, they get cold – one guy sent me a long email about how much he liked the show and sent me his special mapo tofu recipe,” Cheng said. Aubin’s cell phone buzzed with adoring texts whenever The Mountains played. And Kavoussi was recognized around Williamstown – “Somebody came up to me in the junk store and they told me they liked my show!”

In sum, WilliNet is a great way to get yourself out there, to “show others about your hobbies,” as Finer said. Film some drunken cows, your best friend. Make it funny, artsy, and be confident – you go to Williams. Who knows? You could gain some admirers and get a taste of fame.

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