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Student Group Nominated for College Television Award

UPDATE: The Blackout won the Television Academy Award in the variety category for their “Spring 2018 Quarter Update.”

The Blackout has never been brighter.

The School of Communication’s student-run late-night-format comedy group was nominated this month for a College Television Award. The awards are run by the Television Academy Foundation, the charitable arm of the organization responsible for the Emmy Awards.

“This nomination means that not only is the show connecting with the student body, but it is also producing high-caliber work that is being recognized outside the university,” says Peter Condie (C18), a founding member of the Blackout and one of the producers for the nominated content. “While our goal is and always will be to deliver a great show for the student body, the knowledge that our work is being recognized as special outside the university is a great feeling.”

The Blackout’s nomination recognizes its “2018 Spring Quarter Update” (think Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” but covering the whole quarter), which was one of three nominees in the “variety” category. Other College Television Award nominees include student-produced comedy and drama series, commercials, and animation. Twenty-five videos were nominated out of more than 600 submissions from 170 U.S. Schools, according to the Television Academy Foundation. This is the Blackout’s first nomination.

“It’s pretty bold stuff, and they keep pushing themselves to get bigger and more connected—and lots of people want to be part of the organization” says Brett Neveu, a senior lecturer in the Department of Radio/Television/Film and The Blackout’s faculty advisor. “It’s only been around a short time but it’s exploded…they’ve got something really special.”

Launched in 2015 by RTVF majors interested in the late-night style of televised comedy, the Blackout produces live shows, taped segments, promos, sketches and more in the same manner, say, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert operates: teams of writers, a handful of producers and directors, and carefully selected on-air talent. The “Quarter Update” segment is filmed in the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communication’s broadcast studios, and live shows and sketches are produced all over campus. The group takes an inclusive approach to their membership: anyone who is interested can join the production team, though students aiming to host segments must audition and aspiring writers have to submit applications.

“We are hoping to get as many voices as possible, and get as many people in as we can,” says Max Kliman, a senior RTVF major and one of the nominated producers of “Quarter Update.” “When you have a lot of people pitching ideas and a lot people working together, you are always going to get a better product than if you had one person in charge.”

Neveu says these students are shrewdly building off the School of Communication’s known history of producing premier on-camera comedic talent (alumni include Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Stephen Colbert, and Seth Meyers to name a few) as well as the sizable stable of writers and producers making waves in the late-night funny business (such as Ashley Nicole Black, Jen Spyra, Jenny Hagel, Jill Leiderman, Emmy Blotnick, and many more). Additionally, Northwestern’s proximity to and relationship with improv powerhouses like Chicago’s Second City has made pursuing comedy at the University feel like second nature—as does its position as a top-tier theatre and film educator housed in a liberal arts model.

“We have people who are part of the Blackout who aren’t just looking to get into the business of sketch comedy; maybe they want to work behind the scenes, or maybe they want to be lawyers,” Neveu says. “Maybe those students want to know how to inject comedy into their work, but I think it’s the liberal arts mindset and the availability of different classes and majors and double majors that allows our students to think bigger.”

Senior RTVF and computer science double major Jack Burtis credits the Blackout’s success to Northwestern’s culture of creativity and the enthusiasm that surrounds it—not only among RTVF majors, but also those in theatre, journalism, and more.

“At Northwestern, there’s a contagious energy in the comedy scene,” he says. “There are so many people who are passionate about comedy, and there’s a unique inclusivity that fosters an environment where anyone can be funny.”

Involvement in the Blackout can do more than provide an outlet for those with a passing interest in comedy—it can open doors. Max Kliman interned last summer at The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Peter Condie recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment. Junior RTVF and African American studies double-major Sarah Evans said that her experience as a current producer has made her rethink her goals.

“I came in to Northwestern being very film-orientated: directing writing, producing,” she says, “but since the Blackout I’ve considered going into late-night comedy.”

Students and alumni involved in the College Television Award-nominated “Spring Quarter Update” include: Max Kliman (producer), Kathryn Karnaze (producer), Peter Condie (producer), Noah Frick-Alofs (producer), Ryder Chasin (director), Grace Dowling (director), Willa Barnett (director/anchor), Charlie Heveran (director/anchor), Jake Daniels (writer), and Alex Fecteau (writer).

The 39th annual awards ceremony will be part of larger programming taking place March 14-16 in Los Angeles.