Brave new show: the story of ‘Rock Tonight’

Published by Megan John, Date: September 23, 2022
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WSRU-TV is developing a comedy sketch and talk show to premiere later this semester. “Rock Tonight” takes inspiration from shows such as “Saturday Night Live”, “Key & Peele” and “Late Show with David Letterman”. Its content will include interviews and pre-filmed sketches. 

James Cressman, executive producer of “Rock Tonight”, is a communications major with a concentration in digital media production. He joined WSRU-TV in spring 2022, after taking a TV studio production class. 

“I remember, when we first came into the studio, I had no idea that this was even here,” Cressman said. “I [did not] really have a clue about WSRU-TV at the time.” 

Prior to “Rock Tonight”, Cressman’s only production experience came from classes at SRU. However, he stated that simply seeing the studio gave him an idea. 

“When I was growing up, I watched David Letterman a lot with my aunt,” Cressman said. “So when I walked in, you know, [Letterman was] the first thing I thought of. … I just remember having an idea for a show, and it grew as the week went on.” 

According to Cressman, the process truly began with “random nonsense” at an off-campus job, which became the basis for a sketch. He described his ideal brainstorming session, which would eventually come to life in “Rock Tonight” meetings. 

“You come up with a wacky idea, and you say it,” Cressman said. “Just building off of [each other]: one person says something kind of crazy, and then the next person is adding on to it, but making it even crazier. Even though it’s out of this world, you just say it because it doesn’t matter. It’s just an idea.” 

The second step was finding an audience who enjoyed the material. He brought the idea to Brittany Fleming, who advises WSRU-TV. At the end of the spring semester, she encouraged him to continue, and that encouragement carried over into the fall. 

Fleming advised Cressman to promote “Rock Tonight” at WSRU-TV’s table during the Involvement Fair. Twelve people signed up as a result. 

“[That] was amazing to me, because I was starting to think, ‘nobody’s going to want to work on this silly little show’,” Cressman said. “If Dr. Fleming didn’t think it was funny during that first sit-down, I don’t think this would have gone any further. 

Dr. Fleming laughing is what made this show a reality.” 

The “Rock Tonight” crew includes several members of WSRU-TV, but others are working in the TV studio for the first time. 

Cressman spoke on the importance of coming to a consensus about each idea. 

“Everybody has a different sense of humor,” Cressman said. “On a campus like SRU, you have a wide variety of different backgrounds, different senses of humor,” and it can be difficult for a large group to agree that a sketch idea is funny. 

The brainstorming phase of “Rock Tonight”’s first episode has ended. Their next step is to turn four core sketches into reality. 

“This coming week, we’re going to break off into groups,” Cressman said. “[We’re deciding] who’s working on what sketch and fleshing them out. For some, you have to write the scripted material. For others, it’s more reaction-based humor.” 

He stated the next two meetings would be “critical”. Once the groups are set and the writing is done, the crew of “Rock Tonight” will be ready to film. Skits set outside the studio come first, followed by the studio segments. Last, they will edit and release the final product. 

The majority of the crew is interested in working both in front of the camera and behind it. 

“I think it’s great because I think everybody’s funny,” Cressman said. “Everybody has a funny side to them. Some people, sometimes – and I’m one of these people – are afraid to go out and show it.” 

Cressman referred to the process of working on his first show as “in-progress learning”. 

“I have to work on getting used to the equipment so that, if there’s ever a time where we don’t have someone well-equipped to work, I’ll know what I’m doing,” Cressman said. 

“People with WSRU-TV have had a lot of experience over the past several years,” he added. “That’s where I would say my disadvantage is.” 

The finished episode will be posted on YouTube. Although the date is to be determined, it could be out within the next two months. 

Cressman wants to continue “Rock Tonight” at least into the new year. Aside from his current project, he has thoughts on the future of the TV station’s programming. 

“I’d like to see other people come up with their own show ideas, because I think WSRU-TV is the perfect place to start,” Cressman said. “I had written a script for a low-budget student film. I would love to see student movie ideas done through WSRU-TV. 

The biggest takeaway for me is that I want people to get involved. I want people to showcase a hidden talent that they’re nervous about showcasing. And I think that the more people get involved, the more projects we have, WSRU-TV could continue to grow and expand.” 

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