USCB and SCETV partner to produce show about local authors

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This was one of those things that weren’t supposed to happen — at least, not according to the face of SCETV’s new show, “By the River.”

Early this year, longtime local news reporter Holly Bounds Jackson took over as director of content and operations at SCETV’s Beaufort office, stepping in right as the station launched a partnership with University of South Carolina Beaufort’s broadcast program. The deal gave USCB broadcast students use of the SCETV studio and equipment for educational purposes, but their professor — determined to take things beyond the classroom — had bigger ideas.

“She stopped by my office and poked her head in and said something to the beat of, ‘What about if we do this show on South Carolina authors and you host it?’” Jackson said of USCB’s Dr. Caroline Sawyer, who she calls the “brains behind it all.”

Looking back, Jackson can’t help but chuckle. Sawyer raised the idea at a time when Jackson was seriously sleep-deprived thanks to a newborn baby who was up every hour during the night. Frankly, Jackson said, she gave a quick “sure,” thinking she’d agreed to a show that, at most, would be played in class for students to critique.

But she didn’t count on Sawyer’s enthusiasm and desire to show the entire state how capable — and talented — her students are.

'BY THE RIVER' GAVE EACH STUDENT AN OPPORTUNITY TO GET THEIR FEET WET IN THE FIELD THEY'RE LEANING TOWARD.

– DR. CAROLINE SAWYER

“I’ve been in the TV business for 13 years now and I have never seen someone as goal-driven as Dr. Sawyer,” Jackson said. “Anytime a doubt is raised, she works non-stop until she can prove it’s possible.”

For example: As the project got underway, Sawyer proposed using a virtual set instead of the existing, outdated one in the studio. It was a great idea, she was told, but not feasible: The station’s green screen was not “digital green,” so it simply wouldn’t work.

Sawyer did some research and called in some help: a student with a truck and another with some handy-man skills.  The small crew built an entire backdrop from scratch, painted it and taped every crease and corner to make a seamless backdrop.

And Sawyer’s drive paid off. “By the River” is airing not only on SCETV’s main channel, but has a prime-time spot at 8 p.m. Thursdays.

It certainly helps that “By the River” features big-name authors like Mary Alice Monroe and Dorthea Benton Frank, who both write about the Lowcountry. Others, like Ellen Malphrus and Bernie Schein, spend part of their interviews detailing their close relationship with beloved Lowcountry author the late Pat Conroy.

Behind the scenes, Sawyer’s students are running the show. They man the cameras, teleprompter and master control. One student is responsible for booking the authors — a task that sounds much easier than it is.

“Some of the students have more of an interest in public relations and marketing. ‘By the River’ gave each student an opportunity to get their feet wet in the field they’re leaning toward,” Sawyer said.

And even though an entire season of episodes have been shot and edited and are ready for air, Sawyer isn’t kicking back and propping her feet up. She’s already back in Jackson’s office with suggestions for new projects, like a children’s literacy program, podcasts and classroom readings that tie into “By the River.”