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Seinfeld-Inspired Student Sitcom Debuts on BUTV

Welcome Back, Brotter was born in Warren Towers

The dyspeptic BUTV10 faculty advisor glares at Cody Brotter and Paul Ryan as they slump in their seats, pitching a still-unnamed student sitcom. “That’s it?” the advisor says, in a tone of utter exasperation. “That is your pitch for BUTV? Sex? That is the entirety of what your show is about—college losers constantly trying to have sex with hot women?” As his hand plunges into a bag of Cracker Jacks, Ryan (COM’13) whispers something in Brotter’s ear. “Yes,” Brotter (COM’13) then tells the advisor. “That is it, sir.”

Cut.

This is a scene from “The Pilot’s Pilot,” the first eight-minute episode of BUTV’s newest sitcom, Welcome Back, Brotter. In this installment, actors Brotter and Ryan leave the advisor’s office after making their pitch and proceed to screen students responding to a casting call, rejecting any who are better looking, and/or better endowed, than they are. The episode’s dramatic denouement occurs when the unraveled faculty advisor…well, let’s just say there’s a reason they chose to shoot the episode on the fourth floor.

The show is the Seinfeldian spawn of College of Communication students living on the 11th floor of Warren Towers. It began as an occasional series on YouTube. This fall its creators made a formal pitch to BUTV10 to turn Brotter into a monthly offering. The station’s faculty advisor, Christophor Cavalieri (COM’81), a COM assistant professor of television, at first found the series a little too vulgar—it is mined with F-bombs and contains scenes shot at a bank of urinals and set to a porn video soundtrack. But he warmed to it.

“Despite what most people think, it’s difficult to do comedy well,” says Cavalieri. “The WBB producers are serious about developing their craft. They’re committed to finding their comedic voice. It’s a work in progress, but that’s how you learn and achieve.”

Cody Brotter - Welcome Back Brotter, BUTV10

Cody Brotter (COM’13) writes and stars in the new BUTV sitcom Welcome Back, Brotter. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Welcome Back, Brotter debuted in October 2011 on BUTV10, and creators Brotter, Ryan, and John Sanderson (COM’13), executive producer, director, cowriter, and editor, say that now that they’re on deadline, they aren’t able to just goof around anymore. Brotter is one of 12 broadcast, live-streaming, on-demand video shows offered by the COM-based University-wide BUTV10, founded in 2005 to present the work of students, faculty, and alumni via campus channel 10.

Cavalieri “actually was like a Hollywood hotshot,” recalls Brotter, who resembles a young Bob Dylan. “Me, Paul, and John were facing his desk, and he was saying he’d seen our stuff, that it has really good production value, and clearly some story value. I covered up how surprised I was.”

The Brotter team members, who have roomed together on campus and off in various combinations, also have a production company that has created a series of surreal shorts. For Sanderson, the BUTV gig means that “now we have motivation. In the past two years we weren’t forced to bear down, but now we have to.”

At a Sunday afternoon shoot for the premiere BUTV episode, a call for volunteers nets 16 wide-eyed COM freshmen, who fill the small CAS classroom reserved to shoot an office scene. Nerves are taut among the multitasking crew as director of photography Conrad Golovac (COM’13) toys impatiently with camera angles and implores onlookers to get out of his shots. Creative consultant, production assistant, and all-around wrangler Keya Vakil (COM’13) attempts to herd the assembled broadcasting and film majors out of camera view, and the team attempts to give each a shot at holding boom microphones and clacking the slate, while Golovac grapples with camera angles and dodgy lighting equipment. Everyone buzzing around the area is a student except Thomas Olsen, the 60ish professional actor playing the faculty advisor. Enlisted through a College of Fine Arts friend of Brotter’s and Sanderson’s, the silver-haired Olsen is not being paid for his services. Aside from a credit to add to his résumé, says Sanderson, “all he wanted was a sandwich.”

Welcome Back Brotter, BUTV10

George Shell (COM’13) (from left), John Sanderson (COM’13), Cody Brotter (COM’13), and Paul Ryan (COM’13) in a scene from their BUTV sitcom Welcome Back, Brotter. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Like Seinfeld, Brotter (most of the real Brotter’s friends had no clue that the name parodies the popular 1970s high school sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter) is about nothing. And it’s hilarious. As “Ryan Paul,” a deadpan Paul Ryan coaches the disheveled Brotter through a maze of social situations, like Brotter’s lame pursuit of a girl from his French class, played by sultry beauty Victoria “Torre” Price (COM’13). Price, who first appeared in the debut episode, “The Girl from French Class,” has her own “Girl from French class” Facebook page with wall entries such as “Je ne regrette rien.” A Welcome Back regular, she renders Brotter stupid each time she sashays into a room on the show. This episode begins with an argument by Warren Towers urinals, proceeds to an argument about Hitler in the elevator, followed by Brotter trying out his inane stand-up routine on his lesbian friends (“Ryan says I’ll be the next Carrot Top”), and ends with a smitten Brotter badly botching his first encounter with the incandescent Price.

A YouTube description of the episode sums it up like this: “Freshmen roommates Cody and Ryan (LOSERS) spend their days at college failing with hot girls from class while criticizing eating habits of lesbians and bathroom etiquette of jerks. Will ass-spanking or coffee make them the kings of Commonwealth? Refresh this page a gazillion trillion times to find out!”

It all started on the 11th floor of Warren Towers during the trio’s freshman year, when they began hammering out episodes. “John and Paul did most of the writing, and we’d outline the scripts together and divide scenes up to work on,” says Brotter, like Ryan a great fan of classic TV. Ryan is a big Seinfeld fan and wanted to do a college version of the legendary sitcom.

“I think we got a little more creative as time went by, but we still want to focus on little, everyday things,” says Brotter, whose favorite street dress is flannel pajama pants. The son of a psychotherapist father and a mother who has worked as an editor and literary agent, he got the comedy bug as a kid growing up in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., after watching the all-star classic buried treasure romp It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. He was particularly taken with comic genius Sid Caesar, and devoured footage of Caesar’s 1950s television variety series, Your Show of Shows. “I think that’s maybe when I decided to write comedy,” says Brotter, who, unlike his perpetually frustrated namesake character, has a steady girlfriend. “When the show was on YouTube, it was about us failing with women, and it made fun of us as socially inept.”

Welcome Back Brotter, BUTV10

Photo by Vernon Doucette

“Cody and Paul approached me the first month of school about directing the show,” says film major Sanderson, who had directed short films at his Arizona high school and would love to work in “the industry.”

“Right from the start it was nice and fun and relaxed,” Sanderson says. “As we’ve grown and production has become bigger, it requires more thought. Since I direct and also edit, whenever I look at an episode I think, how can I improve this?”

The three have refined the writing process for the monthly episodes, which are shot in and around campus, including scenes in the George Sherman Union, Warren Towers, on Comm Ave, and in friends’ apartments. “Writing was a lot tougher earlier on because we all tried to write it at once,” says broadcast journalism major Ryan. The Farmington, Conn., native says he “is not an actor by any means” and simply plays second fiddle to Brotter. Still, creative differences often ensued, and while he is usually the one to back off, he says, Brotter and Sanderson battle the fine points until things come out “about 50-50.” With the less contentious new system, ideas are presented to one of the three, who writes a script, followed by back-and-forth revisions via email and a few script meetings.

“We all make compromises, but it can get serious and a little more personal at times,” acknowledges Brotter, who digs his heels in when something “is just not funny. I’ve explained to them that sometimes I wish my name wasn’t in the title, because I feel nervous about every little thing.” Ryan says that as a shoot nears, the writers meet twice a week and talk almost every day.

Through their ups and downs, Brotter, Sanderson, and Ryan remain close, although their dreams diverge. Ryan’s “absolute dream job” is to be a play-by-play announcer for an NHL team. Sanderson hopes to pursue a career in film. And Brotter would like to do more of the same, though “statistically this should be impossible,” he says, in the real world. And he wants to try doing stand-up comedy. “When I was a kid I wanted to be Sid Caesar,” he says. “Now I’m old enough to do that so I have no excuse not to try it.”

As the show’s profile slowly expands—Brotter was recently asked, “Are you the guy from that show?” by someone sharing an elevator—the team is getting script suggestions from friends and other student fans, and pondering ways to lend the series an identity beyond “the college Seinfeld.” Some fans are clamoring for a musical episode, but for now the three hope to break ground by telling each episode in a different format, such as voiceover, action movie, mockumentary, and a parody of Inception. And someone suggested the characters get girlfriends and become “really arrogant.”

22 Comments
Susan Seligson

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

22 Comments on Seinfeld-Inspired Student Sitcom Debuts on BUTV

  • Maureen B. Vetter on 10.19.2011 at 10:06 am

    I wish the boys well, but I think Brotter forgot the lessons he learned from watching Sid Cesear and “Mad, mad, mad world. What made those shows classics and comic genius was that they were not vulgar. I one can be funny, while still keeping it ‘clean’ then you are truly a talented comedian. Legends like Lucille Ball, Bob Hope did just that. Shows like Seinfeld and Kotter were able to be a comic success without vulgar humor. If you can’t create a show without vulgarity then you will be a flash in the pan, and if you are trying to make a mark for yourself from a professional level, always remember you have only one chance to make a first impression. My impression is that it’s “sophomoric” at best. Funny not too much. Just another show contributing to the moral dumbing down of society. Follow you dream Brotter and gut….we need more Sid Cesears. Vulgar comedies are a dime a dozen today.

    • J on 10.19.2011 at 1:20 pm

      Two words: Jon Stewart

  • Kelly on 10.19.2011 at 2:49 pm

    this response alone made me want to watch your show. well played, sir. well-played indeed.

  • Courtney on 10.19.2011 at 3:34 pm

    While Louis C.K. certainly speaks on “sophomoric” topics like his genitalia and bowel movements etc. His execution and the depth to which he explores these topics are what makes him brilliant (sometimes to such depth that you can’t help but form a gruesome, albeit hilarious and spot-on accurate, picture in your head). The great comedians and sitcoms of our generation are able to convey that blunt reality that we have all experienced or thought but could never articulate so well. I am willing to stomach “vulgarity” if it’s clever.

    • GreyFox on 10.19.2011 at 8:03 pm

      I felt that Courtney touched on more of what made this pilot (for lack of a better word) painful for me to watch. The execution and timing was really amateur (no offense, it’s extremely difficult to master the art). I’m sure some of the jokes might have been better if the timing felt more natural.

      Also, Seinfeld incorporated an incredible amount of irony around the “punchline” of each episode. I know your show isn’t exactly like Seinfeld, but I was sort of expecting the ultimate irony to be better (the adviser jumping out the window — I saw it coming the second he said kill me now (plus he was generally too angry the entire time anyways)).

      I don’t know….I guess it could have been better if you directed the actors a little better (including yourself, your motions and facial expressions were definitely over the top (too exaggerated) especially during the initial scene).

      On the upside, I found a few of the moments were actually pretty funny:

      -Ryan introducing himself to the adviser
      -”‘…Vampire Slayer’ …strictly metaphorical.” (Could have been played up a bit more, it is easy to miss this joke).
      -introduction of the craigslist killer (just kidding….about him being a killer….sort of)
      -The specific line: “I can taste the Earl!”

      Then in terms of clarification:
      Who are the kids sitting on the couch in front of you, Ryan and the director? Are they writers?
      The actual screening of the pilot looked too similar to the rest of the episode. I think you needed to really differentiate the style between the ACTUAL show and the pilot you were showing the adviser (playing the same music in the background of the pilot (towards the elevator and ending credits) as you were in the actual show didn’t help much either).

      Anyways, I look forward to the next show!

      • Silb2012 on 10.20.2011 at 1:29 pm

        -the kill me now is called extremely intentional comic foreshadowing.
        -the pilot within a pilot is clearly a meta-ref to their earlier ep (obviously not for all who haven’t seen the show before).check out the original youtube pilot (that became the pilot within the pilot) and it’s got thousands of views…talk about the ultimate irony!

        • GreyFox on 10.20.2011 at 4:03 pm

          “‘kill me now’” DUH, but my point was that it was TOO obvious.

  • a on 10.19.2011 at 3:36 pm

    I think for me it’s less about being offensive and more about challenging yourself. I’m in college, I’m no stranger to vulgarities and the “truth” you’re so adamantly defending generally does not offend me. But plain and simple, vulgarity is easy. Anyone can throw around a curse or a euphemism and get a chuckle or two but it takes talent to write intelligent comedy. That I think was part of the beauty of Seinfeld. It was smart in both its subject matter and its writing; it was accesible and appealed to a wide variety of audiences because it didn’t scare people off with vulgarity. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Seinfeld attracted a much wider audience than Louis CK does (and don’t get me wrong here – I love them both, but that’s not the point) and I think the way the writers attacked the premise of a show about nothing was genius. It’s hard to make a show with no point meaningful and lasting beyond a few chuckles at a fart joke.
    All I’m asking is you challenge yourselves a little here. As the voice of our future, and potentially the future of American comedy, just raise the bar.

  • d on 10.20.2011 at 12:40 pm

    cant wait to say i knew these guys when

  • Maureen B. Vetter on 10.20.2011 at 4:18 pm

    Baby brotter, it’s apparent you’re not mature enough to handle constructive criticism. And don’t complement yourself, I didn’t waste time watching your show. Lol. I was talking in general terms as per your advisors initial response. And what up with the crazy rants of homophobia, racism and sexist etc. You have over interpreted what i wrote. I know what you mean about not LOLing to ie: bob hope in some of the old movies. I did however have an opportunity to see him live (after being dragged there by my folks around 1982). I think he was about 85 at the time and he was amazing. The best comedy show I’ve ever seen live. No teleprompters, just 3 hrs of non stop joke after joke after joke. My brothers,who were skeptical as well,were floored. Shame that you as an aspiring comedian and others like you don’t know how great he was. At the time being a huge Gilda Radner and Steve Martin fan, I couldn’t believe he did so and kept it clean. Everyone was howling and rolling in the aisles. Remember he was 85 at the time and his jokes were very relevant and appealed to a mass audience. That’s the message I was hoping you would hear. If you can’t take your Gammie to see your show, then pack your comedy bags. And again, goooood luck. ;)

    • Luke on 10.20.2011 at 5:01 pm

      woww not once sentence there holds up. tell us more about the 80s… :-/

      • Zorro on 10.20.2011 at 9:29 pm

        Maureen,

        In the nicest way I can ask this, how old are you and what affiliation do you have with Boston University? And how can you say the show is vulgar if you haven’t seen it? Not trying to start anything, just wanted to know.

        • Anonymous on 10.24.2011 at 6:38 am

          Apparently WBB is funny to persons of a certain age and affiliation with BU, in the same way that Seinfeld was only funny to… wait.

          • Zorro on 10.24.2011 at 8:48 pm

            Actually, I was wondering what type of person would comment something like that on BU Today, which is something usually only BU affiliated people read. And she sounded a bit older referencing the 80′s, so I was curious if she was a parent. But feel free to continue making assumptions.

          • Silb2012 on 10.26.2011 at 1:07 am

            both the assumptions in Anonymous’ post
            -that WBB is funny to BU kids when in fact some BU kids don’t think it’s funny and quite literally countless outside-BU adults do
            -that seinfeld is funny to everyone?

            go make your own stuff, man, then compare with all the people in the WBB credits

  • Luke on 10.20.2011 at 5:16 pm

    stay true to the fans/people who’ve actually clicked on it/people besides an immature yet elderly woman…

  • m on 10.20.2011 at 5:19 pm

    if you haven’t watched his show, why do you get to comment on it? you don’t. watch it. then comment on if you think it is “Just another show contributing to the moral dumbing down of society?”

    To be honest, WBB isn’t even that vulgar, I’m surprised this is even an issue.

  • Sp on 10.20.2011 at 7:32 pm

    She was commenting on the article. Not the show per se. Remember freedom of speech is a two way street. Play nice.

  • Anonymous on 10.24.2011 at 6:33 am

    Nice job with the manifesto dude. If you cut out everything from “I’m a kid writing,” to “responsibility on the air,” you’d have a good comment.

    • Silb2012 on 10.26.2011 at 1:04 am

      oh man now we know Anonymous’s opinion on good commenting on BU Today message boards! and his troubling definition of a manifesto. dude.

  • coedbutv10 on 11.14.2011 at 2:24 am

    If you want a clean comedy from BUTV, check out Co-Ed!

  • Nick Galant on 07.10.2012 at 8:49 am

    Wow. That was awful. Isnt BU supposed to have the top Communications school in the country?

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