The room goes dark. The cameras focus in. First, a wide shot of the host and two guests, then a close-up of the host, who tells the viewers what this segment of the show is about, an interview with some of the members of Sweet Harmony, a choral group. When broadcast later, the musical background will likely be one of the group’s performances, or even the theme song that gives the show its name, “What’s the Buzz?”
This could be any professional TV studio in New York, and this could be any professional talk show. But this is a studio inside Bayonne High School, and everybody – from camera people and the editing staff to the announcers – are students, getting a hands-on experience about how to make TV shows, not by reading about it in a textbook, but by making real shows that air regularly in the community on public access BEN-TV.
Emily Gabriel, who graduates this year, has been the producer of a series of these programs. Majoring in communications at Bayonne High School, she said she intends to continue her studies at Kean University in the fall.
“The show is a collaboration of the students,” she said, as students in the next room gather around the monitoring equipment, watching the work going on in the studio: questions, then answers, cameras shifting from host to guest.
“It actually started because I started doing the sports narrative sport commentary on BEN-TV,” she said. “So we decided we wanted to interview the star players and then decided we should do a show like that.”
But it has grown beyond that. The day before, they had shot a show with members of the student council.
The structure of the show
“It’s like any other talk show,” she said. “There is a series of questions. A lot of people do not understand what goes into being part of a volleyball team or a student council or singing for the Bee Sharps. We want everybody to know.”
The show is thirty minutes long. There are two 10-minute sessions done by students, and then a 10-minute session done by teacher David Hoffmann, who interviews adults such as coaches or advisors.
Hoffmann is a special education teacher who teaches math, but because he also announces nearly all the sports home games, he knows all of the coaches.
“We strive for three 10-minute segments. If anything comes up short or too long, what gets altered is the segment with the adults,” said Sal Ianacci, who is the director of the program.
The host does the questioning and usually comes up with the questions, Gabriel said. If the host doesn’t know a lot about the subject, someone else chips in.
“Yesterday, the host didn’t know a lot about the student council. I was on the student council, so I came up with the questions,” she said. “The students do everything: we hang up all the lights, we test the audio, we put the seats together, we run the cameras.”
These shows air often on BEN-TV’s cable broadcast.
“This is what might be called the ‘flagship show’ this year,” Ianacci said.
Only one student remains from the interview shows last year that broke ground for this program, so all of the students are new to the program this year.
“I did have a lot of these kids for classes so that they learned the basics,” Ianacci said. “But in TV production, we make TV shows, and this gives these students some idea of how a TV studio operates.”
Students learn basic shooting skills, such as starting with a wide shot then putting up a close up.
“What I want them to learn is confidence, and they know how to mike people, they know how to do everything people in TV would do.”
They not only do special projects such as the interview shows, but they also cover auditorium events and sporting events during the year.
In many cases, people who are involved in music, sports or other programs do some of the interviews here, working up questions from knowledge about the field.
“This gives people outside the school a glimpse of what is going on inside the school,” he said. “Our schedule is in the Bayonne Community News every week.”
Towards the end of the year, they’ve even put together student-made commercials for in between the segments.
“To shoot a show, it generally takes two periods; to edit it can take anywhere from a day to a week, depending on how much we have to cut,” Gabriel said. “This the first time we’ve ever done this for BEN-TV and it’s been very successful. It might be the best thing on BEN-TV.”
BEN-TV is also composed of an assortment of other programs about events going on around the schools.
“I like the hands-on part of it. In other classes you might sit there and read, but in this class you actually get to put wires together and make things work.” – Emily Gabriel
“I like the hands-on part of it,” Gabriel said. “In other classes you might sit there and read, but in this class you actually get to put wires together and how to make things work. It’s just an incredible feeling. When I was a freshman, I took video journalism, but I wasn’t set on communications as a major. I was going to be a psychologist and change the world.”
But in her senior year, after taking Advanced Placement psychology, she realized that was not the direction she wanted to take. “This is where my heart was. This is exactly what I wanted to do,” she said.
“When we’re doing this show, every skill that’s involved in this studio shoot is being done here,” Ianacci said. “People can go from here and go professional. This all runs itself now. These kids know how to run the show. Yesterday, I had to be somewhere and they still ran it.”
Teacher James Pondillo, who the kids call “P-Dilly,” is an unsung hero, doing a lot of the editing. He is a media specialist in the school library who does this as part of his duties.
Megan Mahan, a former captain of the girls’ volleyball team, covers the boys’ volleyball segments now and said she is seeking a career in media because of the experiences she got here.
“Sal asked me to do the voiceovers because I know a lot about the game,” she said.
“We’re not just sitting around a desk,” said Elain Estrin, a junior who does camerawork for the program. “We’re actually doing this.”
Mark D’Agostino, also a junior, does a lot of announcing and said he hopes to get a career as an announcer.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for me,” he said.
Amadou Lack does production, editing and film work, and hopes to pursue a career in media arts.
Michael Jozwiak, a senior, said he is majoring in TV product and film at the College of New Jersey in the fall.
“It is a great experience. You really feel a sense that you’re part of a team. You get to know these guys really well,” he said. “When I came to high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Now I know what I want to do.”