Last fall, six students gathered at a round-table discussion with Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg, each claiming the Teli name as his or her own. With Yale’s first attempt at Web TV in the midst of a legal and political tug-of-war, Elizabeth Deters ’04, co-founder of Teli, had a bit of an epiphany.
“Sitting there, I realized that my ideas paralleled those of the other party,” Deters said. “And so we reconciled.”
With that, Teli’s tumultuous reign as Yale’s only online television outlet ended, opening the door for its successor, the Y Network. After overcoming the problems that plagued its predecessor, the Y Network now has two shows in the works and plenty of new episodes slated for next fall. Collaborating with new associates, cast and crew, four of the original organizers of Teli kicked off the Y Network after Spring Break, airing on-demand student productions and performances while aiming at future expansion and taking full advantage of the unique Web medium.
Emerging from Teli’s shadow to take the limelight
Along with Deters, Alexander Clark ’04 and Simeon Papacostas ’02, Iliana Bouzali ’04 knew that to avoid the fate of Teli, Y Network would have to be better planned and executed than its predecessor.
“Teli was founded on good intentions and great expectations but crumbled under the inability to materialize them,” said Bouzali, who serves as a producer for the network. “Personal aspirations got in the way of the organization’s benefit, leading to people being more preoccupied with defining their titles rather than working for the group.”
The widely-publicized clashes within the Teli ranks were not the only reasons for the project’s failure, however. From the start, Teli suffered a number of technological setbacks, beginning with a conflict between founders Deters and Gil Doron ’04 and Clark, now director of technology for Y Network.
Clark’s YaleStation was the server for Teli. The station remained largely inaccessible to many students because of technical difficulties.
“A crucial element among my duties is ensuring the compatibility of our media system with the majority of our viewers,” Clark said about his job for the Y Network. “With many permutations of browsers, operating systems and versions, I face a delicate balance between capability and compatibility.”
Clark’s experience working with Teli, while benefiting Y Network, did not preclude initial technical problems. Until Clark created an easily accessible media player, the Y Network languished and postponed its launch date by two weeks, finally arriving just after Spring Break.
“The Y Network reaches further than where Teli had,” Bouzali said. “We are using superior, more user-friendly technology and airing a wider variety of shows more regularly produced.”
Deters cites the relationship with YaleStation as imperative for the existence of Y Network, a relationship that may grow more complicated with the Yale College Council’s incorporation of the server. According to Clark, Yale will continue to provide Web space for student projects.
The content of the shows themselves was another sticking point for both stations. Originally, the problem of accountability for content stopped the administration from allowing students to air programming on an actual television station while using the Yale name. Teli solved the dilemma by going online — Y Network followed to this freer medium while also stopping just short of incorporating the University into its name.
“We have had no problems with content, as we have taken measures to ensure compliance with all University and ITS regulations,” Clark said. “We do not feel that these regulations hinder free speech and artistic freedom. Most of the regulations are inherited from state and federal codes to which we are already bound.”
The eye-catching, easy-to-use Y Network interface begins with a Teli staple: a remote control. By clicking one of nine buttons, students can catch groups such as the Fifth Humor and the Yale Political Union, along with original programming.
Penninsula TV, “a failed social psych experiment” created by Rob Rhee ’04, Donald Nguyen ’03 and Brett Farley ’03, had an aggressive purpose from the start.
“We just go around New Haven messing with people,” Rhee said.
The first episode, filmed last year for Teli, finds Rhee trying to convince pedestrians not to walk left because of a “Right Turn Only” sign on the road. Another sketch from that episode titled “Fun With Jocks” was subject to some censorship — Rhee asked students where was the weirdest place they had ever had their sphincter probed.
Rhee realizes the potential problems of the show’s confrontational style.
“You can only harass people for so long before they become the same people you see in the dining hall,” he said.
For a fourth episode, Rhee and his co-producers attempted to recruit pre-frosh for a “Yale Girls Gone Wild” video.
“Some people laughed, but the parents got a bit weird,” Rhee said.
But Penninsula TV still has some time before it runs out of potential victims. With a second episode online — in which Rhee provides lap dances to unwitting Winter Ball-goers — and plans for moving into sketch comedy in the works, Rhee anticipates a long run.
Laurel Pinson ’02, host of the fashion show “The Wardrobe,” also hopes her show will have a long tenure even after she graduates this May.
“I’ll probably add it to my resume. I’m really proud of it,” Pinson said. “I’d definitely come back as a guest, even if they didn’t pay me.”
The Wardrobe offers friendly, low-key fashion advice for men and women. The first episode featured hair and beauty tips, while the second discusses men’s fashions courtesy of Raggs.
The hosting experience has been educational for Pinson, a theater studies major on the acting track who hopes to work in film or theater.
“‘The Wardrobe’ is helping me immensely to learn how to be in front of a camera,” Pinson said. “It’s hard. I can’t imagine what it’s like for news broadcasters. I get fidgety and I start laughing every five takes.”
Pinson’s impromptu humor often makes it onto the episodes, which are only partially scripted.
“I was dancing with mannequins and playing with men’s underwear,” she said. “Fashion is fun — you can’t take it seriously.”
Pinson hopes that the Y Network will not only draw an audience for shows but also involve students with Yale extracurriculars and community. Much of the programming gives student groups exposure and even creates a forum for debate.
Konstantinos Rokas ’04, Jared Savas ’03 and Cesar Garza ’03 conceived of “The Bottom Line” as a place where students could discuss and learn about campus issues and controversies. The first episode, currently available online, addresses the issue of canceling classes for Martin Luther King Day.
Savas is a city editor for the Yale Daily News.
“Student-based discussions are important for the community,” Rokas said. “[They] express the various interests and opinions of the student body.”
Rokas is also currently planning a news broadcast program and a sports show.
With “Turned Up,” Papacostas also sought to give students another outlet for personal expression while giving exposure to less-publicized student groups.
“As president of Turn it Up, I always wanted to augment our Web site offerings with some form of streaming media,” said Papacostas, who sings and plays the bass for Skin the Goat, a 3-year-old band that won the Harvard-Yale Battle of the Bands this fall. “I also had a ton of footage from shows that we had thrown, so I decided to start editing the footage into a brief show that highlighted some of the things that Turn it Up involved. It’s a good way to see new performers and hear their music, as well as seein
g candid interviews.”
Off to a solid start, the students behind the Y Network look hopefully to the future of their station and their own careers.
“I work toward the vision that the Y Network will catch on with an undergraduate audience steadily in the next two years, until the name achieves the recognition associated with the bigger campus publications; develops deeper, more sophisticated resources for student producers; [and] features a greater breadth of shows,” Deters said.
Like Pinson, Deters hopes to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
“My conviction to pursue [film] has just crystallized this year, with encouragement from several fields, including the Y Network,” she said.
While the other Y Network board members are less certain about their precise careers, they each cite the Y Network as providing them with several educational opportunities. Clark appreciates the ability to exercise his business skills, while producers Papacostas and Bouzali have a greater appreciation for behind-the-scenes work.
“Starting up an organization, especially one as ambitious as the Y Network, gives you an idea about the work involved in starting a project from the ground up and seeing it through to the end,” Bouzali said.
The Y Network makes Yale one of the first universities in the nation to have a student-run Web TV service.
“I’m hoping that it starts to attract an outside audience,” Pinson said.
Developing their project as the Y Network formed, another group of students hopes to launch a television station next fall, creating yet another forum for dialogue within the Yale community. But instead of competing with the Y Network, the creators of YTV hope to eventually collaborate.
But first, the students behind YTV hope to join with the administration and cover campus happenings. The proposed board would consist of students and administrators who would approve content, which would include recorded Master’s Teas, performance, sporting events, and advertisements for and calendars of future events.
“The programming will depend on what the administration wants to do at first,” co-founder Garren “G-runk” Givens ’04 said. “It’ll be a slow process with a learning curve.”
The group hopes that their efforts will allow students to know more about campus events, and to watch what they otherwise would have missed due to busy schedules.
“Students often have conflicts in their schedules — they can’t attend every event,” co-founder Debra Weinstein ’04 said. “It would be phenomenal if students could access these events on television.”
Before proposing YTV to Trachtenberg and Associate Dean John Meeske on Tuesday, the group spent a year researching television stations at universities across the nation — a level of preparation that most other proposals never reach. They also surveyed approximately one thousand students and found overwhelming support for their proposal. The administration, Givens said, seemed receptive to their proposal.
“I’ve met with these people before and it’s something that has to be worked out,” Trachtenberg said.
Like YTV, the Y Network has received positive feedback and e-mails from students who watch or want to participate on the shows, particularly the “Blind Date”-style “Screw.”
Recruitment isn’t a problem for either Y Network or YTV. The Y Network has launched an aggressive advertising campaign and set up a booth at the pre-frosh bazaar. YTV found through its survey that over 200 students would be interested in working for the station. Furthermore, since both media outlets are run mostly by sophomores, both will have time to grow and gain strength before the need for a change in leadership.
“[The administration] is relieved that we can be here for two to three years,” Weinstein said.
If they receive approval from the administration — which should make a decision by the end of the year — Weinstein, along with Givens and co-founder Tyler Golson ’04, plans to start working in the summer for a fall launch.
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