Friday, November 13, 2009

TV Shows for College Credit

We took what some would consider the easy route when it came to picking our college classes. We studied communications, and a lot of the time we got to sit in lecture halls and analyze classic movies that were interesting to a student of the craft of filmmaking, but were not necessarily entertaining.

Now we hear that Harvard University is offering a class based on TV's "The Wire." And, frankly, we feel like we got gypped. If we could've earned a degree, from HARVARD no less, by watching prime-time TV shows, we would've been a lot more motivated to study.

Here's how Harvard sociology professor William J. Wilson justifies giving class credit for the cop drama: "'The Wire' has done more to enhance our understanding of the systemic urban inequality that constrains the lives of the poor than any published study." Really? Do you know the life lessons we've learned from "The Brady Bunch" or "Family Ties"? No one gave us a Bachelor's degree for our intensive studies of those shows.

So we're thinking that we'll open our own university and offer degrees to future pop culture fanatics in law, history, culinary arts and more. But we're going to do it the Harvard way — one TV show at a time. Here are some examples of our core curriculum.

Communications: "30 Rock"
Tina Fey earned her PhD in late-night sketch comedy while working as the head writer on "Saturday Night Live." When it came time for her to make the move to sitcoms, she was smart enough not to stray too far from her own experiences, thanks to the encouragement of some pretty savvy execs who told her to write what she knew. In fact, Fey didn't seem to go anywhere at all. The result — one of the most consistently funny shows on prime-time — will teach students the behind-the-scenes rules of life on a big network TV show. And teaching with humor never hurts.

Advertising: "Mad Men"
For decades, advertising students have studied the greats from the '60s, the golden era of advertising. They've read such classics as David Ogilvy's "Confessions of an Advertising Man." They analyzed Volkswagen Bug ads and Dove soap campaigns. But there's a new way to learn the ad biz now: study the moves of Don Draper on "Mad Men." No one sells better than Don. And with this week's season finale showing him setting up his own agency, we think next season's episodes will prove to be extremely educational.

Law: "The Paper Chase"
Each week on "The Paper Chase," Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr., demanded excellence from his students in the ways of contract law. So in a study group that was unparalleled in TV history until the gang at Greendale Community College came along, the students joined forces to help one another survive the intense workload. As dry as a real college class, our "Paper Chase" course will allow students the opportunity to feel what it's like to sit in a college auditorium and be terrified by their cantankerous old professor. They might not learn a lot about practical legal issues, but not cracking under pressure is an important life lesson.

Political Science: "The West Wing"
The next best thing to walking the halls of the White House with Barack Obama and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is to switch on "The West Wing" and watch Martin Sheen and John Spencer. With our at-home, from-the-couch, poli-sci internship, you'll learn the ins and outs of the political process, including closed-door negotiations with Congressmen, the inner workings of a Presidential campaign, the proper way to deal with security leaks, and the best methods to cover up a scandal.

Psychology: "The Bob Newhart Show"
For students interested in pursuing a degree in psychology, we turn to Dr. Bob Hartley to teach them the ropes. Each week Bob conducts group therapy sessions and one-on-ones with clients. There's the neurotic Mr. Carlin, who can't find the good in anyone, and the timid Emil Peterson, who is unable to stand up for himself, illustrating some of psychology's most common, and quite funny, afflictions. Although his often-unclear analogies may leave students even more confused than Bob's patients, those taking this course can kill two birds with one stone by watching "The Bob Newhart Show" for class credit and squeezing in a little extracurricular activity by getting hammered playing the "Hi, Bob" drinking game.

World History: "Peabody's Improbable History"
Don't let the title fool you: "Peabody's Improbable History" is the perfect class for all students of yesteryear. The entertaining segment from the animated shows "Rocky and His Friends" and "The Bullwinkle Show" followed the dog/inventor Mr. Peabody and his boy, Sherman, as they jumped into their WABAC machine and discovered the truth behind legendary historical events. Since the accuracy of textbooks is so commonly disputed, we figure Mr. Peabody is as good a source as any, and we'd give our students a chance to learn his version of the facts about Wellington at Waterloo, Cleopatra, and Sir Walter Raleigh.

Interior Design: "Flipping Out"
There are a glut of design shows on TV that could teach a thing or two about color choices, textiles, layout, balance, and flow to interior design students. But Jeff Lewis on "Flipping Out" can take that education one step further. He can show you the right and (mostly) wrong way to deal with your employees, the art of exhibiting patience when your client is asking to see yet another option for the wood flooring, the correct way to go about getting money from someone who has not paid, and the best path to destroying your relationships through paranoia and mistrust.

Theology: "Joan of Arcadia"
Webster's dictionary defines theology as "the study of God and of God's relation to the world." So what better way to take part in the pursuit of understanding and comparing the various incarnations of the Supreme Being than through viewings of "Joan of Arcadia"? After all, the young TV character interacted with God on a daily basis. Joan's God came in many shapes and sizes, ranging from a Goth God to a cute guy God to a little girl God. Each one helped Joan, and the viewing student, to understand, critique, and defend numerous religious, moral, and ethical issues. Our students can learn a lot from Joan about spirituality and humanity.

Culinary Arts: "Chef Academy"
On Jean-Christophe Novelli's new show, "Chef Academy," cameras follow the Michelin award-winning culinary master as he trains students at his new institute. This is not a competition show; students won't get eliminated unless they fail three cooking tests — that seems fair enough. And along the way, they'll learn a few fancy French cooking techniques. Plus, Jean-Christophe is considered the sexiest chef alive. Sounds like a better choice than a "Hell's Kitchen" class with notorious screamer Gordon Ramsey.

Written by Amy & Nancy Harrington
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