How CBS Partnered with MPACT Studios in Monroe, MI

On July 1, 2015 the video of Stephen Colbert hosting “Only in Monroe” premiered on YouTube. The show was produced at Monroe Public Access Cable Television, also known as MPACT. MPACT is committed to presenting multimedia resources and programming to provide a public form of freedom and expression through unique and quality programming created by its members and using public access channels, radio, internet and other media. On Thursday, July 9, I sat down with MPACT’s executive director Milward Beaudry to talk about how this all came about and what other Public, Education & Government (PEG) centers can take away from this event. Transcribed by Dave Artushin & Emily Whittington.

AM: Milward, tell me, how did this all happen?

MB: Thanks for inviting me to talk about this. I think this interview will be a great opportunity for other PEG Access facilities to get an idea if something like this was to happen at their studio, and to enjoy the opportunity to learn from the experience.

It was mid-May when we received a phone call from CBS. I recall saying when looking at the caller I.D. display — CBS New York?  A producer was calling to get an idea of what we could do, what our bi-laws required us to do and if a commercial entity could come in to use our facility.

Fortunately, when the first call came in it was close to one of our board meetings. I was able to direct all the questions to our Board of Directors. After relaying the questions that were asked of me, my board was very receptive to the idea and knew it would be good promotion. I had thought so, but I just wanted to make sure as we have never been asked to use our studio by a commercial television network.

I did not hear from anyone from CBS for some time after relaying the board’s approval.

The following calls were basically finding out more of the parameters of the facility and what kind of equipment we use. They did ask if we were HD or not. And of course we are not at this point. I further explained a lot of technical aspects and what we had available. Then, they started asking questions about some of our programs. They asked about the “Only in Monroe” program hosted by by Kaye Lani Rae Rafko-Wilson and Michelle Baumann. It seemed that they were really interested in their show and really wanted to do something with them.

Still at this point I really didn’t know exactly what type of program they wanted to produce. But when I started to Google the contacts, I started to put the pieces together.   I saw that the people calling were people from the former Colbert Report on Comedy Central. At that point I realized that the callers were legit. I started reading some of the Internet articles and shortly after I stated to one of the CBS staffers, “okay I think I know what this is all about.” “Does this have anything to do with Stephen Colbert?” At this point they opened up and said, “Ok if you can keep it quiet, yes it does.” So that’s how it basically started.

After a lot of additional phone calls to work out the details they said they’d be arriving here on the 29th to do a program.

They stressed all along that they wanted the production to be done by MPACT volunteers and staff members in order to make it a true public access production.

To break it down, my program director Lance Sottile ended up being the technical director. Technical Assistant/Intern, Taylor Eads served as audio engineer, and intern, Jeff Brown was one of the camera operators. Volunteer members Lee and Faye Markham were the other camera operators for the production. Randi Griner, our other Technical Assistant/Intern; Beth Kern, Administrative Assistant and myself assisted in the production as well.

AM: I absolutely love that they were okay with public people doing that tech because that’s we’re about. Educating people and having them do the hands-on, so I think that is one of the coolest take always from this. Now the big question everyone asking me and everyone else… Why  Monroe?

MB: Well, it seemed as if they had already made their decision to produce a skit with Eminem. Based on that, they probably had their mind made up to come to Southeastern Michigan. It seemed as if they chose MPACT based on what they found on the Internet.  Our website and You Tube presence along with their interest in “Only In Monroe” seemed to be the major factors in selecting us. Of course, a lot of luck played a roll, as they could have easily selected any of the many fine PEG facilities within southeastern Michigan.

AM: Meetings, public shows…

MB: Exactly. Again, they saw our YouTube Channel and started looking at all our programs. They saw “Only in Monroe.” What Kaye Lani and Michelle do on their show on a  monthly basis talking about serious things, community events while including some fun and  laid back segment, CBS saw how they could put a spin on that and use that as their basis of the program.

AM:  So they knew the location they needed to be in and you think it was the pictures and information that drew them in to Monroe?

MB:  Yes. From what I gathered, once the CBS research team came up with the options they presented their findings to Stephen Colbert and he was the one that selected Monroe.

AM:  Wow. Just by looking at the pictures and YouTube shows?

MB:  Again, from the pictures, website, and the You Tube videos.

AM:  That is fascinating. What was it like working with Stephen Colbert? Is he the same person off camera as he is on?

MB:  There were no egos. The entire CBS crew including, Stephen Colbert were professional and all worked so well together. One of my Board Directors stated at a recent meeting, you couldn’t tell the difference between volunteers, MPACT staff and CBS crew because they all worked so well together.

AM:  That’s great. What an incredible experience for your interns, your staff and volunteers. How many CBS people did they bring?

MB:  Including Stephen there were 11 CBS people.

AM:  Wow. For one show, it took 11 people. I think that’s the biggest challenge in PEG; doing shoots with minimal people. I mean I’ve done shoots with 4 people, 2 people. Bringing in 11 people really puts it in perspective what we’re doing with our time and staff.

MB:  There were a lot of people and we weren’t sure where we were going to put them all. My office became the meeting room for Stephen and his writers to finalize the script. The program and engineering office turned out to be the makeup room. Our break room became the green room for Eminem. One of our edit suites became the makeup room for Stephen. Rewind 94.3 on-air studio was the staging area for the most important thing – food for the staff and crew. Every foot of our 3200 square foot small facility was used.

AM: Pre-production is a major part of video, what was the pre-production like for the show?

MB: During the preproduction there were numerous rehearsals, two or three on Monday and another two or three on Tuesday. Obviously, there was a lot of tech work such as running cables to feed the graphics to the monitors on both sets, updating scripts and teleprompter. Everyone worked so well together.

AM:  Before this I felt you were an access center only Michigan Alliance for Community Media or Michigan NATOA people knew about, but I’ve still seen the hype on YouTube and in the news media. Tell me about your station. How many staff do you have? What are your channels?

MB:  Including myself there are three full time staff, two part time technical assistants which are paid interns, and currently one unpaid intern.

MPACT primarily programs just the public channel. However, we do have an educational channel that we collaborate with Monroe County ISD to cablecast their programming on Comcast. We also work very closely with the city of Monroe in providing programming support and technical direct council meetings and other programming for the government channel.

AM:  So your interns and board members must be gleaming from ear to ear about this.

MB:  Yes, they were extremely happy to witness and or assist in the production. The board was just in awe of everything that happened. We actually had a number of board members there during the shoot. They were in our radio production studio repurposed as our viewing room. Because our television studio is so small, we thought that would be more comfortable for everyone involved instead of having an in-studio audience.

AM:  You said you had a small studio. What do you mean by small and whose gear was used during the shoot?

MB:  The studio is only 20 by 44 feet so it’s very narrow. All of the MPACT studio equipment was used for this production. They didn’t bring any additional cameras or anything like that. The only things they brought were some ISO recorders to record individual camera feeds. They did use a laptop with Avid to edit.

AM:  What type of cameras do you guys use in the studio?

MB:  We use JVC  KY-D29 cameras.

AM:  And what kind of switcher?

MB:  We are using a Ross Synergy 100 Switcher.

AM:  And graphics. That must have been done it on their software?

MB: They used a combination of Avid graphics and our Power Point software.

AM:  Really? I would have never guessed. And lights? What about lights?

MB:  We have both seven DeSisti LED lights for spots and numerous Videssence fluorescent fixtures.

AM: and Shure lavalieres?

MB:  Actually we use Sennheiser Wireless mics for both lavaliere and ElectroVoice  Re-50 hand held microphones with transmitters. The same as what is used for field reporting.

AM:  Wow, that is the coolest part. They used all your gear and all your crew. What an awesome thing to come out of Monroe!

MB:  One of the things I should point out, people are always concerned with can a commercial entity use a PEG Access facility? You have to look at things and say, as long as the general and overall usage of it is still public. Once in a rare while, something like this comes along and is a publicity opportunity for both PEG Access, as a whole, and the individual local access centers to basically get free promotion and let people know what a PEG really is. This is something I really stressed at the beginning when talking with CBS. It has to show PEG Access in a positive light and it has to promote the community in a positive way. Even though there was a comedy spin on all of the stories on “Only in Monroe”, it was all in good taste. Even though it was mayhem at times during those 24 and a half  hours of rehearsal, production, and post-production work —  it was worth it.  The team effort made it work and again, the CBS crew were phenomenal!

AM:  Yea, it’s kind of like the good, the bad and the ugly.

MB:  Yea, but it was all positive. It turned out really well.

AM:  Did you charge CBS for the studio space?

MB: Even though we normally do not rent out our facility, we do however have in place a rental fee that CBS was willing to pay.

AM:  Of course, do you have rights to air it in Monroe?

MB:  We do. At first we had the rights to cablecast it for up to four times. Since then we were given the rights to replay for a while longer.  We will schedule it for playback during the 11:30 pm timeslot a number of times prior to the debut of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert on September 8th. But in all honesty, I think because of the nature of the internet it’s better to put it on the internet as a YouTube channel program. We are also looking at showing it at our booth during the Monroe County Fair, August 2-8.

AM:  It’s on the Late Show’s YouTube channel and your website, right?

MB:  CBS wanted to route the video onto our website via our MPACT Studio YouTube channel.

AM:  I think on Monday it had 4 million views.

MB:  I saw 3.6 million on Thursday, July 9.

AM:  That’s incredible!

MB:  One of the things that helped out Kaye Lani and Michelle’s show “Only in Monroe”, is if you look on our YouTube channel, their previous episodes have over 1,000 hits. I think the May episode is now over 3000 views. The Colbert production helped them out because people are curious about what the show is about.

AM:  Now I think people are curious about Monroe, which is great.

MB:  I’m trying very hard to be humble about this experience and how MPACT provided a big boost for both MPACT and Monroe. I believe this is the number one event that has happened to Monroe on the internet. There have been lots of articles and different publications on Monroe being a good place to live. If you look at the comments on the internet, a lot of people are saying that they need to check out Monroe.

AM:  Yea, that’s exciting! I’m a comment junkie. I admit. I usually read all of them, but it’s funny how most people were comparing it to “Between two Ferns with Zach Galifianaki.” The only thing I think made it look public access like was the 4:3 the aspect ratio. I would have had no clue that it was public access by the sets, the gear, the writing, and the graphics, all of it. Kudos to you, the board, the staff, and the interns, everyone who took part in this because overall I don’t think it can be compared.

MB: In my opinion the intro that CBS created was produced to have an appearance of a local access television show. They did want it to be a quality product but, also wanted to provide a feel that it wasn’t produced in a network studio. That is why they welcomed the idea of producing it in SD.

The neat thing about the intro is that it now belongs to Kaye Lani and Michelle. CBS gave them the rights to use it. Kay Lani and Michelle have already started work on their next show. They did a post wrap up of all the excitement of having Stephen Colbert as guest host of the show.

As you may guess there were a lot of contracts to sign in order for this happen. A production as large as this required some flexibility for everyone here at MPACT.  Thank goodness that I am not a control freak. Even though everyone at CBS respected our turf, still there was the need to let thing happen to provide a smooth flow in all aspects of the production. I also had to make sure we were also great host to provide our guest with a great experience here in Monroe. So, accepting all of the terms that were presented to us, was again, it provided a sense of welcome to our visitors.  Obviously, the terms were not too extreme or demanding to cause undo harm or, discomfort to our facility, staff, or members

AM:  Right and definitely thinking outside the box. With PEG we always think, no ads and for public only, but this all started with a phone call.

MB:  I will say this, because Monroe Public Access Television is a partner with the City of Monroe, I made sure Monroe was taken care of. Early on, when asked about hotel rooms, places to eat, I made sure that Monroe businesses would benefit.  An excellent example is when the CBS crew wanted to get something to eat at 10:30 pm Monday night.  Very few places at that time were open except for bars. I suggested Larson’s Bar as their kitchen was open late. That is when the first reports of Stephen Colbert was in the area.

AM:  Yea, its buy local or bye-bye local. I love that saying. So has this changed how you are branding your station?

MB:  At this point, I don’t think so. It’s going to take a little while for us to digest this and see how everyone responds. It’s an opportunity for me to go out and get more sponsorship. We’ve been very good at getting sponsorships in the past, but I have a feeling this will help bring in some additional support for MPACT and Rewind 94.3.

AM:  I love hearing that and I also hope so. Is there anything else you would like to mention about the process or production?

MB:  I can’t stress enough how professional, how friendly the CBS crew was. Right from the get go, they bent over backward for us. They said, “We’re just visitors here, you know. We are using your facilities. You tell us what we can and cannot do.” But we saw what they were going to do, so we said, “Go for it!” I was willing to bend over backwards as a host and get them what they needed to promote Monroe.

AM:  Before we wrap up, you mentioned before to me your interns might have an opportunity in New York? What is that?

MB:  The CBS crew was very impressed with our interns. The interns saw what needed to be done and did it. They didn’t have to be asked. They just did it, cleaned up, and did whatever was needed to be done. CBS said, if you are interested, give us your information and it’s not a guarantee but at least they have a contact now to do an internship in New York, if they choose to do so. I don’t know the interns availability now, but I would hate to see them go. It’s a great opportunity for them and whatever they decide to do, I support their decision.

I even asked if it was possible for my program director, Lance Sottile to spend some time at CBS – New York to shadow and learn from them. They were seemed receptive to the idea.

Lance did learn a lot of neat methods when it came to directing. The CBS director gave him a lot of pointers, so the overall experience provided all of us with a ton of hands-on knowledge.

AM: I think that’s all the time we have, thanks so much for talking about this.

MB: You’re welcome and thanks for having me!

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