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Issue Date: October 2009

Show Time

Local college students get an inside look at Cleveland with a reality game show.
Jennifer Keirn

Name: Lynn Mentch
Age: 21
Enrolled at: Case Western Reserve University

“If people see the show and see a really cool place to hang out, maybe they’ll tell other people about it, people who might be thinking about going to school here. I think it will not only keep people here, but draw people here.”

Name: Rob Korzekwa
Age: 23
Enrolled at: Cleveland State University

“I think a lot of people don’t know what we have here. I think after seeing Got City Game, it will definitely open their eyes and could even affect their decisions.”

Reality shows are everywhere: Real housewives. Top chefs. Amazing racers. Extreme makeovers.

Just look around and you might discover a reality-show production crew — complete with cameras, microphones and clipboard-carrying assistants — racing through downtown streets, fast on the heels of the show’s stars as they hit nightclubs, sporting arenas and city landmarks to complete wacky, acrobatic and even intellectual challenges. Actually, that’s exactly what you’ll see on the new Web-based reality show Got City Game, premiering this fall at The show pits four teams of two, each sponsored by a local college or university, against each other in challenges and trivia competitions. Viewers who vote online for the team they think has the best city game will be entered into drawings for scholarships and other prizes.

First up is Got City Game Cleveland, scheduled to air in November and December, followed by Got City Game Akron next spring and Youngstown in fall 2010. Discussions are under way to bring Got City Game to other cities throughout Ohio and eventually the country.

So why a reality show about Ohio’s cities? Because perception often trumps reality, and this might be just the way to change that.

“I think a lot of people don’t know what we have here,” says Rob Korzekwa, 23, a digital media senior at Cleveland State University who worked as a cameraman on the Cleveland-based Got City Game promotional video last fall. “I think after seeing Got City Game, it will definitely open their eyes and could even affect their decisions [about staying here after graduation].”

Changing Minds

Got City Game co-executive producers and founders Barbara Oney and T.L. Champion point to research that suggests one-third of Ohio’s college students leave the state after graduation — a high-percentage emigration more commonly known as “brain drain.”

“We love this region, and we’re tired of hearing the bad news. We said, ‘What about all the good news?’ ” says Champion, a Cleveland native who has run her own marketing and advertising studio here for 10 years. “We really wanted to go after the brain-gain crowd. If we let them know how cool the region is right up front while they’re still in high school and college, it will be easier for them to fall in love and want to stay here.”

That mutual desire to create a cool, compelling show that flaunts the best of what Ohio has to offer while targeted toward teenagers and young adults led Champion and Oney — a Cleveland-based marketing veteran with L.A. television production experience — to create Got City Game. But the first step in making the concept a reality was to share it with the people they are hoping to reach — students.

“[My professor] told me he was meeting with two women interested in doing a Web reality show and suggested I come along to the meeting,” says Lynn Mentch, a 21-year-old senior at Case Western Reserve University who’s planning a career in video game production. “I loved the idea, and I’ve been involved ever since.”

Mentch and other students weren’t just asked for feedback on the Got City Game idea. They were also invited to work hands-on in the development, production and promotion of the show.

Mentch participated in brainstorming sessions to create challenges for the promotional video (see it at, such as blindfolded bowling at Cleveland’s Corner Alley and a salsa dancing competition at View Ultra-Lounge and Nightclub. She also acted in the role of a contestant in the video.

“I really believe in what they’re doing,” says Mentch. “If people see the show and see a really cool place to hang out, maybe they’ll tell other people about it, people who might be thinking about going to school here. I think it will not only keep people here, but draw people here.”

Real(ity)-World Experience

Like Mentch, CSU’s Korzekwa first heard about Got City Game in the classroom, when instructor John Ban told his advanced video production students they’d have the chance to work on a professional-quality reality show that would air online.

“I was really excited,” Korzekwa remembers. “I’d never had the opportunity to work on something like this with bigger-name people, something that might actually be seen regionally or even beyond.”

More than a dozen students from CSU and Cuyahoga Community College worked behind the scenes on the Got City Game promotional video last fall, recording video and audio, setting up shots and logging tape. They worked side by side with Ban and other professional producers, who guided their work and offered advice.

When the pilot season of Got City Game Cleveland begins filming this fall, students will be organized into five crews of four and assigned to cover either one of the contestant teams or the host.

Each crew will again be coupled with professional producers and editors to retain the project’s goal of educational collaboration. Home base for the production will be Tri-C’s recently opened Creative Arts Building, a state-of-the-art facility for the college’s recording arts and technology and digital TV and film production programs.

“More than 90 percent of the production work will be done by students,” says Bob Bryan, Tri-C’s executive director of TV and video services, who estimates that the two-week shoot will require more than 1,000 hours of production time. “This is the type of video production they’ll be doing [when they graduate], so it was a no-brainer to get involved.”

And there’s been no shortage of real-world lessons for the students working on Got City Game.

“When you’re in college, the only thing that can prepare you [for your first job] is doing something for real,” says Melanie Murphy Miller, 23, who worked as a production assistant for the Got City Game promotional video shoot last fall. She graduated from CSU’s digital media and film production program shortly after the shoot and now hosts Better Cleveland on WBNX-TV in Cuyahoga Falls.

“The biggest thing we learned was we had to be patient in the field,” says Miller. “What we were planning would take four hours actually took 10 hours. In a studio there’s a fixed environment, but in public we had to think about noise levels, foot traffic ... you might not get the ideal setup you hoped for.”

Everyone also learned how to work together with many collaborators to get the best result, says CSU’s Ban.

“The value really is a social value more than anything,” he says. “They got to see the negotiations behind the scenes, how everyone thought we should do it. It matures them ... to see that not everything’s going to go exactly like you want, because that’s how it will be when you get out there [into a job].”

Stay Tuned...

Back at Got City Game’s production offices, Champion and Oney are ramping up to shoot the show’s pilot Cleveland season, which will air in eight webisodes in November and December.

The exact challenges and locations are top secret but will showcase downtown Cleveland and the nearby Ohio City, Tremont and University Circle neighborhoods. The contestant teams will wear the garb of their sponsor colleges or universities, with Hiram College and Tri-C among those signed on as team sponsors.

And the prizes? The winning contestants earn downtown Cleveland living for a year, including a free condo lease and tickets to theaters, concerts, sporting events, fitness centers and more. Viewers who log on to the site to vote for their favorite teams become registered to win a college scholarship and other swag.

Every good reality show needs an energetic host, and Champion and Oney have signed on Jason Zone Fisher, a Cleveland-based filmmaker and freelance broadcaster who’s also the son of Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher.

“I’ll keep everyone on track and keep the mayhem in order,” laughs Fisher. “Being from Cleveland, I love the city and I’m super proud of where I’m from. It’s an incredible opportunity to help keep people my age here.”

So far, Champion’s seen tiny hints at the potential that Got City Game can have, even before a single episode has aired.

“When we did the promo video, at the end of the day we were eating pizza and one of the students said, ‘I go to CSU just a mile away, and I didn’t know about any of these places [where they filmed]. I can’t wait to go back and tell my friends about all these cool things,’ ” remembers Champion. “That’s exactly what we’re going for. She got it because she got to see it.”

Champion hopes young adults throughout the state, the country and even the world will get the same hey-that’s-cool reaction watching Got City Game and slowly change their thinking about Northeast Ohio as a pretty cool place to live, work and party.

“I hope someone’s over in China watching this, saying, ‘Where is Cleveland, Ohio, and how do I get there?’ ” says Champion. “I hope it’s not just kids. I hope there’s a perception shift. There are so many great things here, and it’s time. It’s just time.”

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