The Jumbo Channel
To an outsider, it’s just a room with cracked tiled floors, black walls and a glaring overhead light, plus a few fake potted plants in a corner and large, looming tripods. But to Andy Liebman and Tony Bennis, back for a tour of their old stomping grounds on the third floor of Curtis Hall, the Tufts University Television studio brings back fond memories.
Bennis, A79, points to a booth off the main studio and says, “Remember when Dan wired up the control room?” That’s Dan Winter, A81, he’s talking about, part of the group that built their new venture in television from the ground up some 40 years ago. “The quality of our news and studio production skyrocketed,” Bennis tells his tour guide, Danielle Bryant, A15, the current station manager.
Quality wasn’t all that skyrocketed—the station also launched many careers over the years. For Liebman, A78, E14P, who founded the station in 1977, Bennis and others, TUTV was a door to success in film and television.
Bryant takes her guests across the hall, where boxy equipment and piles of tape and cable have given way to one slick cabinet of small cameras that make Bennis and Liebman shake their heads in envy. “We once had to ditch a guy from the van on our way to Middlebury in the dead of winter,” Bennis recounts, because the collective weight of the equipment and crew needed to tape a Jumbos football game had the fender trailing sparks on the highway. “Now you just need this,” Liebman says, taking his iPhone out of his pocket.
Liebman scored the original, clunky gear in a deal with the administration: TUTV would tape child development classes and tennis lessons in exchange for using the equipment to produce shows during the off-hours.
TUTV isn’t actually on TV anymore. Its thriving YouTube station offers student films, music videos of Tufts bands and seasons of original web series like My Gay Roommate and Jules and Monty. The latter program, a modern-day Romeo and Juliet set on campus and in Somerville apartments, depicts love among warring fraternities—featuring indie rock, a mix of Shakespearean and Tuftonian dialogue and that trendy days-gone-by filter.
Then and Now
Filters. Quick cuts. Music. Bennis contrasts these with the lengths he and his peers went to finagle instant replay at basketball games. He and the equipment would occupy a back bench in Cousens Gym, while the cameraman sat down front with announcer Jimmy Young, A79, who had a rope tied to his belt. “Whenever there was a shot we wanted to replay, I’d tug on the rope,” Bennis said. “One time there was a big, game-winning shot and I tugged so hard he fell on the floor.”
In addition to sports, the original TUTV had news and game shows like Blind Date, Trivia Triangle and The Roommate Game, a takeoff on The Newlyweds. Triangle was hosted by Mark Mastromatteo, A80, who was also the station’s news director. The show was so popular by the time Mastromatteo graduated that it aired on local cable in surrounding towns. He’s never forgotten the episode where “a team of Medford High brains gave our fun-loving Jumbos quite a beating,” he says. There was plenty of edgy comedy, too—in Saturday Night Live-style sketches (like the one about the cocaine-infused soap that “really wakes you up in the morning”) and spoofs such as Sederday Night Fever.
Bryant, the young tour guide, can’t get enough way-back-when stories from the guys who pioneered the station. “TUTV has been such a pivotal part of my Tufts experience,” she says. “This is where I live, where I unwind, meet friends, get creative. This is such an important space for me.” And it could turn out to be her springboard to a media career; her senior year, she interned at WGBH and the production company Charles River Media, hoping to break into film after graduation.
“TUTV was an industry launch for so many people,” Bennis says. He himself went on to found Synergy Media Partners, which produces everything from feature films to music videos. Young (of the instant-replay rope tug) is an Emmy-winning sports anchor, producer, reporter and show host in New England. Mastromatteo is the president of Mastromedia Inc., a communication services company, and director of a leadership development organization called Leadership Pasadena.
After making Emmy-winning documentary films for 22 years for Frontline and Nova, Liebman founded EditShare, a tech company whose database houses digital material that can be shared and accessed around the world. “Right out of Tufts,” he says, “I started working in TV and film, diving headfirst into jobs like associate producer and moving up the line.”
Bennis adds an appropriate coda. “Andy and the rest of us launched TUTV with the drive and confidence that sometimes you can only find in a college student, who can pursue a dream, no matter how far-fetched it is,” he says. “And it was a blast.”
A version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Tufts Magazine.