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Made for TV
BC soap, California-style
Don MacMillan, SJ, ’66 performs his own stunts, and he rarely flubs his lines. He describes himself as the ultimate “method actor”: a Jesuit priest who plays one—on the drama/comedy series The BC, a spoof of The OC, a hit television show on the Fox network. The OC is a drama about a boy from the wrong side of the tracks who is taken in by a wealthy lawyer in Orange County, California; The BC follows a wayward Boston University student caught stealing cars, who is given a fresh start at the University up the road, Boston College, thanks to Fr. MacMillan.
The actors are BC students, administrators, and faculty, all novice performers. The two student creators, Joe Sabia ’06 and Woody Tondorf ’06, who produce, write, and edit the series, have no training in film or theater arts. Yet the good-natured soap opera has achieved considerable popularity on campus and beyond, with 300,000 viewers tuning in over the first six months of this academic year, prompting—or prompted by—stories in Newsweek, the New York Times, Boston Magazine, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, and by segments on the CBS Evening News and Fox 25 News programs.
MacMillan is one of several actors on The BC over a certain age who hadn’t heard of The OC before being enlisted in the project. Since joining the cast, the quiet, mild-mannered priest has become the series’ breakout star, giving unabashed performances in choreographed dance numbers on O’Neill Plaza, knowledgeably discussing rap music in one scene and donning a blond wig, sunglasses, and an “I ♥ Jesuits” T-shirt to lip-synch to a Jon Bon Jovi rock ballad, in another. Sabia says he approached the priest, a campus minister for the past 11 years, because “I just liked him. In no way, shape, or form did I know he was cool.” When told this, MacMillan said he hadn’t known it either. “I’ve been having fun,” he says, “but I’ve had to learn some hip-hop language to keep up.”
Sabia, an economics and political science major from Connecticut, and Tondorf, a political science major and Islamic studies minor from Massachusetts, also star in the show—Tondorf is the fallen BU student, Woody Atryan (a play on The OC‘s main character, Ryan Atwood), Sabia is the charming campus geek, Seth Lohan (changed from Seth Cohen). The two conceived The BC as a short film to showcase their campus comedy troupe, Asinine. The original two-minute spoof, a near shot-for-shot remake of a television ad for The OC, had its debut in October 2004 in front of a live audience at an Asinine show, made its way onto BC Cable, and now appears on Sabia and Tondorf’s website, www.the-bc.com, along with full-length episodes, a blog, and several commercials for The BC.
For anyone who doesn’t have time to savor a 45-minute video but could do with a laugh, the five-minute commercials capture both the zany and melodramatic sides of the series, without necessarily reflecting the plot. They also break up the wait—anywhere from one to three months—between episodes. Highlights have included Athletics Director Gene DeFilippo confiding in his psychotherapist, Baldwin the Eagle; television newsman Tim Russert, P’08, trading his job as host of NBC’s Meet the Press with BC basketball forward Jared Dudley ’07 for tickets to a big game; and a scene of deans Chris Darcy, Paul Chebator, and Robert Sherwood playing Nintendo in Sherwood’s office.
Since the first sketch, Sabia and Tondorf have shot four full-length episodes, and the cast has grown from 6 to 10 regulars—and that doesn’t count the starting five of Boston College’s basketball team, who provide intermittent comic relief as friends of the apocryphal star player Ryan Lukewalker. Guest appearances have included the editor of the Heights newspaper, Ryan Heffernan ’06, Assistant Professor of Political Science Timothy Crawford (teaching a “Shop Till You Drop” course with a chalkboard full of diagrams and equations), and BC Vice President William B. Neenan, SJ (weaving pop culture references into his sermons).
“It has been a learning process,” says Sabia, who now can’t bear to watch the first episode—”we just upgraded from a $300 to a $3,000 camera. It was like going from Gumby to Shrek.” During an interview, he opens his laptop computer and pulls up a posting on the show’s website from an Australian viewer (“this is the best . . . I love it”). Many other doting messages have been sent, mostly from women: “Those videos made it impossible to say no to BC . . . Class of 2010,” wrote a viewer named Meghan; “you’ve got somewhat of a cult following here at Miami (Ohio),” from a Miami University student named Liz; “me and my sisters at Tri-Delta really do love The BC,” wrote a viewer called Princetongirl, “you guys are intelligently awesome.”
Not all feedback has been so untroubled, says Tondorf. In October, an article in BU’s student newspaper, The Daily Free Press, sampled reaction to Tondorf’s character, the BU castoff costumed in a hooded sweatshirt and dog tags. “Try, BU kids wear Gucci,” rebutted one student. Two weeks later, a more introspective piece ran in the paper containing interviews with faculty on, among other themes, the use of observation “to affirm or disconfirm a stereotype,” and calling for more interaction between students of BU and other universities. “We’re not super-focused on the BC/BU rivalry,” says Sabia, who notes that BC students receive their fair share of jabs and stereotyping in the show. The premiere episode depicts Woody being issued a pink Oxford shirt and aviator glasses before his first lower campus party.
At Episode Three’s big-screen premiere in December, more than 500 students and staff turned out in Devlin 008 for two showings, at 10:00 and 11:00 p.m. Liz Byron ’06, who attended the first showing, said she enjoyed the humor—”funny but not filthy”—and thought that The BC “really has united the campus, students and faculty.”
For Sabia and Tondorf, the show has become an obsession, they say. Producing one episode can take 80–100 hours; Sabia spent the final 26 hours before premiering Episode Three sitting in front of his computer frantically editing. “This show has changed my life,” he says. “All of a sudden we have a portfolio, a résumé, a hit we never expected.” During spring break, that portfolio took the pair to Los Angeles to meet with the executive producer of The OC, Bob DeLaurentis, father of a 2003 Boston College alumna. “He gave us a tour of the set, talked to us about the business, [and said] he liked our stuff,” reports Sabia. The BC creators met with several agents and executives from other networks as well, to talk about their futures and pitch ideas. “The BC got us out there,” said Sabia after returning from the trip. “Now people want to know what else we can do.”
Tondorf has been applying to jobs on the East and West Coast for next fall, with the plan of putting his Middle Eastern studies to use at an intelligence agency or other government post. “But if Fox [network] called me tomorrow and offered me a job,” he says, “I’d do it.” Sabia has set his sights squarely on Hollywood. “I’m going to California,” he says. He looks at Tondorf and nods yes until Tondorf nods too. “We’re going to write a pilot for a real show,” says Sabia. “We have to do this.”
The two have no plans to hand over the reins of The BC. “What we really hope,” says Sabia, “is that other people will follow our lead and make their own TV shows.” According to Sabia, the campus has already seen an increase in what he calls “guerrilla television shooting.”
Read more by Cara Feinberg