Award winner and Santa Clara alumnus speaks on campus
THE SANTA CLARA
February 12, 2014
His talents as a director, producer and editor have earned Andy Ackerman Emmys and other awards for his work on popular television shows “Seinfeld,” “Cheers” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but it was his early achievement – and persistence – that launched his success.
Ackerman, who graduated from Santa Clara in 1978, returned to his alma mater Monday as the featured guest in the President’s Speaker Series. Addressing a near-capacity crowd in Mayer Theatre, Ackerman reflected on a career that could have easily veered down another path if it weren’t for the determination that got his foot in the door and into the business.
After months of networking post college graduation, Ackerman said he found himself jobless and frustrated. He said that one day he visited the production offices of “Welcome Back, Kotter” – the television series that launched actor John Travolta’s career. Turned off by Ackerman’s youthful appearance, the receptionist tried to shoo him away. Instead of leaving, Ackerman opted to wait in the office in the hopes that someone would see him. Ackerman said he waited for four hours, until finally the head of production brought him into her office.
She directed him toward the editing department, where he learned how to use the equipment in a few days – something he likened to cramming for finals at Santa Clara – and he landed the job of assistant editor. Soon after, he went to work as an editor on the show “WKRP in Cincinnati” and earned his first Emmy (for technical achievement in editing) – just two years after graduating from Santa Clara. To this day, he remains the youngest recipient of the award.
In the years since, Ackerman has pursued a prolific career that has included successful stints as director and producer of some of television’s most popular sitcoms. He directed 89 “Seinfeld” episodes, including the classic “Soup Nazi” episode.
“Few television directors have shaped an entire genre of television programming, as Andy Ackerman has done with American television comedy,” said Stephen Lee, associate professor of communication.
Lee emphasized Ackerman’s shooting style is a huge part of his legacy, and that Ackerman used shorter and faster-paced scenes to create the “stand-up comedy feel” unique to his shows.
“I believe that Andy Ackerman was instrumental in the success of ‘Seinfeld’ and other sitcoms like ‘Frasier’ and ‘Cheers,’ among others, because he truly understood the role of television as the collective modern bard in popular culture,” said associate communication professor Yahia Mahamdi.
Ackerman said that at Santa Clara, he “fell in love on the spot” with television production.
He even helped build the first TV studio on campus, which, according to Ackerman, became his “true home.” Santa Clara, Ackerman said, fueled his thirst for learning, which continued to thrive long after he left campus.
“Every day, when I go to work, it’s like I’m rediscovering things all over again,” Ackerman said.
In an industry that holds no job security for rookies and veterans alike, Ackerman said, “You want to create your own opportunities, your own luck.”
He closed the evening presentation with his own favorite piece of advice, which he said helped him overcome many challenges: “Have fun, work hard and never take yourself too seriously.”
Contact Maura Turcotte at firstname.lastname@example.org