You’re a young, newly minted scholar with a Ph.D. in film and television studies from UCLA. What to do next? Tenured position at a respected university? Vice president of a major television network? Maybe a book about Academy Award-winner Sofia Coppola’s adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winner Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel The Virgin Suicides?
Or, perhaps, you help to answer one of modern life’s most burning questions: Why are people so keen on Keeping Up with the Kardashians?
If you’re Justin Wyatt, the answer is, “All of the above.”
Leaving academia for television and then leaving television for academia was always the plan, Wyatt argues. Put another way, Wyatt took theory, put it into practice, and then brought his research back to the classroom. “I knew I’d come back,” Wyatt says. “I always intended to bring all this knowledge back to the classroom.”
Wyatt, who teaches media advertising, research and criticism, as well as film theory and history, left a tenured position at the University of Arizona in 2000 for a 15-year career in television, leading primary research efforts for, among others, E!/NBCUniversal and CMT/MTV Networks/Viacom. (He served as a vice president of research at both companies.) Wyatt conducted qualitative and quantitative research for shows such as Desperate Housewives, Lost, Grey’s Anatomy and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. (FYI: Fans of the show told Wyatt that it isn’t the glitz and glamour that keeps them coming back. It’s the curiosity about living in a large, blended family and the fantasy of having a large group of squabbling sisters who, nonetheless, have your back when it comes to the rest of the world.)
And how does Wyatt bring all this experience to bear on the classroom? There are two books in progress: Catching the Phantom Viewer: Market Research & The Evolving Media Ecosystem and The Virgin Suicides: Reverie, Sorrow & Young Love. And, Wyatt’s students learn through real-world creative exercises about what it takes to work in media. A typical assignment, for instance, might be students pitching television tag lines to their classmates. “It mirrors the experience of working in a creative ad agency,” Wyatt explains.
“Students want to know what it takes to break in to the business. I tell them, ‘It’s not about how smart you are. It’s about collaboration. It’s about being able to put the ego in check so that you’re able to work with others in a creative environment.’
“I tell them, “I’m teaching you skills for your first job and also for your last job.’”