Part 40: Favorite times and places of behind-the-camera TV stars

Part 40: Favorite times and places of behind-the-camera TV stars

With the UI celebrating birthday No. 150 this year, we caught up with hundreds of former students and staff who've gone on to big things. Every Tuesday throughout 2017, Editor JEFF D'ALESSIO will tell their tales. Today, in Part 40: TV stars.

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Unfortunately for the poor folks whose jobs revolve around pumping up programming, not everything that airs on public television is "Downton Abbey" popular or Ken Burns prolific.

Take it from CRAIG COHEN, whose seven-year stint creating and producing content for WILL (1995-2002) included an on-air fundraising drive during a documentary titled "The Homes of FDR."

"It wasn't really about (Franklin) Roosevelt, just about the houses in which he lived, and it was, well, dry. OK, boring. Very boring," says Cohen, now a host and executive producer at Houston Public Media. "Sorry. I know someone worked hard to make the program, and someone out there loved watching it, but yeesh.

"So, we were trying to keep the mood light in the TV studio before the next break began. For example, I mentioned to our producer, HEATHER MILLER, how I had noticed BBC reporters' tendencies to end interviews with the word 'indeed,' and we each employed our best British accents in attempts to impersonate them. Meanwhile, (former WILL General Manager) CARL CALDWELL was rolling his eyes at the droning documentary, and dripping with sarcasm, he mumbled, 'Wow, this sure is fascinating.'

"I dared him to say that in the next break. Heather double-dog dared him.

"And that's when things started going off the rails. The crew realized we were going to break sooner than expected. Everyone rushed into place. Carl and I sat in our chairs, composed ourselves, and the break began. 'Craig,' Carl says, turning to me, 'The Homes of FDR' ... this sure is (giggling) ... fasc ... in ... at ...

"That's about as far as he got before just exploding with laughter. And all I could manage to say in response was — say it with me — 'indeed.'

"Well, that got everyone going. I was laughing, Heather was laughing, Carl was chortling so hard tears streamed down his beet-red face. The picture of us on screen was shaking because the cameraman was laughing so hard.

"And. This. Went. On. For. Seven. Minutes. We never really regained our composure. The whole break was an utter disaster.

"Except: three people called. Not with complaints, but contributions. So, technically, we did our jobs. We certainly got viewers' attention that day."

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Look for JOHN AXNESS' name in the credits when Season 5 of "Ray Donovan" premieres Sunday night on Showtime. The picture editor's path to the bright lights of L.A. started here, on East Peabody Drive in Campustown, way back when.

"One evening during the winter of '72, RICHIE FURAY knocked on my dorm room door and asked if I wanted to go with him to an open house at WPGU in the basement of Weston Hall," says Axness ('75). "That moment changed the entire trajectory of my life — from mediocre engineering student to writer, director and editor in Hollywood. That shift was possible for me because of the countless opportunities afforded by the U of I.

"I'm currently cutting Season 5 of 'Ray Donovan' for Showtime. And almost every Sunday morning for years, I bicycle 30 miles along the Pacific Ocean with (fellow UI) alums MORT NATHAN and GEORGE PAULIN, whose memories you profiled in Part 1."

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For UI engineering grad turned Fox film/TV/sports program management VP JAMIE ESCOTO ('99), "many memories come back to food: Waiting in incessantly long lines for Fat Don's on Tuesdays at Snyder Hall, where I resided, or for lobster dinners at ISR, where my friends and I secretly stuffed our backpacks with extra lobsters to enjoy later.

"I also salivated over the burgers and wings at Murphy's Pub and got my fill of affordable Korean food at A-Ri-Rang before heading to the local Korean karaoke bar."

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