A part of NBC's "Must See TV" became "UB TV" at the beginning of the current season. The title character of the Jesse series, a single mother in Buffalo, was leaving the family bar where she worked during the show's maiden year to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. It was decided that she would attend nursing school at a local university, working in the university's medical center as a nursing assistant at the same time.
This being Hollywood, one might assume that any resemblance to an actual university in Buffalo might be false. Not so, according to the show's postproduction supervisor, Noel Bright: "We wanted to get as much realism out of it as we could. We didn't want to say that the show took place in Buffalo and then have shots of some university with palm trees."
Although the sitcom itself would be shot on sets in Burbank, California, the exteriors would establish the Buffalo setting. A factor that had to be considered, though, was that the buildings had to match the sets. The producers started with the obvious--the only university in Buffalo--although UB wasn't a shoo-in for the part.
Bright got in touch with UB director of marketing Peter Killian, who sent photos and brochures of the campus. After combing through them with the writers and producers, it was decided that UB had the look the writers and producers were seeking, particularly the South (Main Street) Campus, which they felt would match the more traditional university interior sets.
Shooting took place just prior to the Labor Day weekend. "It was the first week that classes started, and it worked out perfectly because we were hoping that the campus would be at its busiest," says Bright.
Various exteriors were filmed on both campuses, primarily wide shots of the tops of buildings with minuscule views of activity below. These appear in the show's title sequence, as well as in segues between scenes.
"The clock-tower building (Hayes Hall on the South Campus) is the one we cut to most frequently," relates Bright. "It also says 'university.' And the medical school really worked well for us simply because it had an older look. The other site (North Campus) works well if we're just showing the university. So we like to mix it up."
When interest was expressed in obtaining footage of the football program, UB director of athletic communications Paul Vecchio was contacted. "Not only did we have the television coverage of our first football game with Akron, but we had hired a videographer to capture the essence of our first Mid-American Conference game--shooting crowd scenes, the marching band, and kids entering the stadium. So, that was ideal for what (the show) was looking for," recalls Vecchio.
Although UB is not credited in the show by mutual agreement, as is customary in sitcoms, Bright notes that a character wearing a UB Bulls hat could happen. "We weren't looking to depict a real school because then you get into a lot of other issues, but we were just after a great-looking campus and getting great shots."
Coming from central New York State himself, Bright understood from the beginning that capturing exteriors of Buffalo would require going to the actual source: the green wash of the northeastern skies vs. the blue haze of California, for instance.
Since future episodes will have the characters dealing with Buffalo's alleged propensity for snow, plans are being made to bring a film crew back to the campus to capture UB in winter.
Of course, the future hinges on Jesse's continued viewer acceptance. Currently in the top 10 of the ratings on a regular basis, Jesse's future appears promising. The university setting seems to have opened up story possibilities--and to have granted UB entree to living rooms across America.
"The University at Buffalo has worked out great," acknowledges Bright. "It really has the look and feel we want."
Jim Bisco is a Buffalo-based writer.