As freshmen, film majors Raffy Cortina '13 and Daniel Watson '13 found themselves perplexed that Occidental didn't have its own television network.
After picking the brains of Oxy students and administrators to gauge interest and support for starting one, they realized it was a popular idea.
During the second semester of their freshman year, the duo began working on a 15-minute pilot episode of the TV network they dubbed CatAList "We hoped that the show would be the catalyst for the campus community coming together," said Cortina, explaining the name. It was also pitched as "the A list of news and entertainment on campus, and cat for Tigers."
Almost a year later, there have been 13 episodes of CatAList, each ranging from 15 to 30 minutes long. Each show features a mélange of special-interest segments such as restaurant and car reviews; opinion pieces, including Poll of the Week; the weekly weather forecast; current campus events; animated shorts; musical performances; classifieds; and "shout outs" (for birthdays, getting into graduate school, etc). Many of the segments have a humorous bent or are tongue-in-cheek.
Highlights of the February 14 episode included a review of the low-fat lemon-poppyseed muffin available at the Marketplace and a contest in which a student and cafeteria worker faced off over who could stuff the most cherry tomatoes in their mouth (the student won).
The pilot CatAList episode premiered in April 2010 before a film club screening of Amelie. Cortina, who hails from New York City, then posted the pilot live on CatAList's Facebook page. "The first week and a half after we released the pilot, we had 350 people join the group, and by the end of the school year we had 450 people," he recalls.
"We were proud of our pilot. We thought it was pretty cool. But from there we didn't know where to go," Watson, originally from San Francisco, said. "We needed support from the school. The pilot was something the two of us did all by ourselves. We knew we needed help from other students and the administration if this was going to be here for the long run."
The pair scheduled a meeting with Dean Barbara Avery and showed her the pilot. She immediately got on board. "Very quickly after that we realized that it was something that was going to happen. And that next year we were really going to launch it," Cortina said.
When Cortina and Watson returned to campus for sophomore year, their first goals were to get funding from the school for equipment and office space on campus. They also needed a staff. "We wanted to oversee the operation and let other kids make the shows," Cortina said.
"We've had the most amazing group of kids come to save us," Watson said. They have about 45 students working to create CatAList episodes now, with a core group of 12 including a programming director, chief editor, commercial director, and Web designer. Cortina is head of production, Watson the creative director. "We've basically started to structure the organization so it can sustain itself and be here for years after us," Cortina said.
Today a new CatAList episode is aired every Monday online on the CatAList website (which has replaced the Facebook page) and on television sets in the Cooler. The show's producers now have an office in the library for meetings and editing, equipped with a computer, camera, and television. The College has even donated a little money "to go toward labor compensation," Cortina said-meaning student contributors now get $10 per episode.
When they began broadcasting CatAList in the Cooler, "at first no one was watching or knew what it was," Watson recalled. "Then after two weeks there would be people sitting there watching the show. It was touching."
Cortina and Watson's next goal is for CatAList to become an official student media service with a budget and annual funding. "Hopefully by next school year we'll be an actual TV network," Cortina said.
They've also started a fundraising campaign to raise money for more equipment and a larger office space. "We've been making it work so far, but it's been a grind," Watson said.
"At this point, we see CatAList as being an information and entertainment resource for prospective students, alumni, students, and faculty," Cortina said. "We want to try to get everyone involved." In the CatAList world, that might involve pie-eating or equation-solving contests pitting faculty against students.
Cortina and Watson are thrilled to see their pet project taking off. And as for their original goal: "It has definitely brought the campus community together in a really fun way," Cortina said.