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The fantasy of reality TV comes to life

Written by Bryan Roth '07

Fire Challenge

After dreaming of making his own reality TV show, Peter Berg ‘07 finally got his wish with Ithaca College Television.

With college television programming, you can always count on the old reliables: news and sports. Ithaca College Television (ICTV) boasts one of the best news shows in the country—NewsWatch 16—and its companion, Sports Final. You'll also find game shows, music shows, dramas, and comedies on the weekly lineup.

When it comes to innovating new, award-winning programming for ICTV, Peter Berg '07 has set himself apart from the many talented students the Park School has to offer. Last fall, Berg introduced IC’s first reality show, The Race, after collaborating with his friend Mike Wechsler '07 on ICTV’s first 30-minute animated show, Unicorn Boy, just one semester earlier.

“I’ve been a huge fan of reality TV ever since the first season of Survivor. I thought it was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” says Berg. “I kind of live vicariously through [reality shows], and I’ve always wanted to take part in one of these games.” 

So, that's exactly what Berg did.

Last fall, Berg, Wechsler, and a total crew of 50 members followed six teams consisting of two Ithaca College students each across the Empire State in a chaotic adventure inspired by the award-winning CBS program, The Amazing Race. Starting in Ithaca, contestants made their way from Rochester to Binghamton to Syracuse, taking part in challenges along the way. In Rochester, teams had to find a CD among the mountainous collection at the Great House of Guitars before scarfing down one of Nick Tahou’s famous garbage plates—a monstrous combination of cheeseburger, hamburger, sausage, steak, chicken, hot dogs, or eggs, heaped on top of either home fries, beans, fries, or macaroni salad. Other tasks included finding a needle in a haystack and navigating through a large corn maze.

Berg put in plenty of overtime to get things ready. As producer, he coordinated everything, from which teams would participate to where they would sleep at night.

“I don’t think Pete actually got any sleep for the two weeks preceding The Race,” says Wechsler, who is also Berg’s roommate. “Every time I opened my door he was either talking to someone on the phone or e-mailing somebody. He single-handedly figured out the entire show.”

In planning the four-day fall race, Berg relied on his love of reality television and the real-world experience he gained while studying in Ithaca's Los Angeles program. Berg spent a semester working as a production assistant doing everything from moving equipment to handling field shoots by himself at Flip This House, a reality show that airs on TLC, A&E, and the Discovery Channel.

For The Race, Berg spent a lot of time and effort on logistics. “It’s figuring out issues, like ‘I’m going to have six teams of two and they’re [running for four days], so I’ll need at least six cameras with six audios set up, and I need to have people to run those cameras. And then I need to have four challenges a day, so I’m going to need three people running each of those four challenges, and I need them to be open for this span of time because we don’t know when the teams are going to arrive.’ Just things like that.”

His crew spent countless hours of shooting and editing before the release of four, hour-long episodes of season one, and the reaction from students, faculty, and friends was tremendous. With the first production a successful wrap, Berg was determined to create a second season of The Race this spring—before graduation. This time, he had plenty more help and a larger crew. ICTV manager of operations Eloise Green sees this as a sign of respect.

“People know that when they work with [Berg], it’s going to be good and he’ll be fair and it’ll be fun,” she says. “That’s part of the success. You can have all those ideas, but if people aren’t going to work with you on them, it’s not going to come to fruition.” 

Since the airing of season one, The Race has quickly become ICTV’s most popular show, drawing the most viewers of any on-air production. Berg attributes its broad appeal to the mountain of publicity the show received from Ithaca, Rochester, and Syracuse.

The second season aired on ICTV during the final months of the 2007 spring semester. After such a big bang to end his collegiate career, Berg is taking on a new challenge after graduation: traveling across the country.

“I'm going to bring $40, a change of clothes, and my video camera, and try to make it across the country,” he says. “Along the way, my goal is to find one person, every day, who will tell me a story about something . . . from their personal coming-of-age story to what they had for breakfast in the morning. In the end, I might be able to make an awesome documentary from my footage, or I might have nothing. But either way, the experience will make it worthwhile.”



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