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MSG Classroom Helps Kids Learn About Life at a Sports Network

Before the Nov. 30 New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden, starting point guard Raymond Felton sat for a pregame conversation with a reporter in the courtside interview area.

But it wasn’t MSG Network talent Spero Dedes, Walt “Clyde” Frazier or Tina Cervasio posing questions.

Kiara Harris, an 11th grader from Manhattan’s The Young Women’s Leadership Academy, held the mic.

Her conversation with Felton was part of MSG Classroom, the educational program MSGN launched in 2007, in partnership with the Garden of Dreams Foundation, MSG’s non-profit charity that aims “to make dreams come true for kids facing obstacles.”

Teaming with The Children’s Aid Society, MSG Classroom aspires to help high school students learn the ins and outs of the TV business, gaining skills that can help them pursue future careers. Over the last five years, the program has had 10 graduating classes (one each fall and spring semester) and more than 100 student participants.

Harris and her eight MSG Classroom classmates sat in on a production meeting for the pregame and live game coverage of the Knicks’ contest. Brandon Michael, a 12th grader from Fannie Lou Hamer High School in the Bronx, interviewed John Starks, the former Knick player who now works for the team. Parts of both Michael’s and Harris’ interviews ran during the pregame show that night.

With eight two-hour sessions, the curriculum has students meet and work alongside MSG employees across various aspects of the RSN’s operation from production, editing and interactive, to marketing, public relations and ad sales.

Alumni have gone on to pursue communications/journalism degrees in college, and a number have become full-time interns at MSG.

“We wanted to do something for kids that would be long-lasting, that would give them skills and thoughts about life,” MSG Media president Mike Bair said. “When kids watch TV they see the stars, the talent. They don’t know there are all these other positions. They find, ‘I like being a writer, a producer, a cameraman.’ ”

Harris said she got to talk with Felton because she was the most aggressive in the group. She aspires to be a TV host, “so this was a perfect opportunity to practice my skills.”

Was she nervous? “Honestly, yes,” she said. “But I’m prepared and I think I’ll do well.”

She did. Poised and personable, Harris asked Felton about his return to the Knicks, what he would be doing if he weren’t playing ball and what he likes most about New York.

She fired off follow-ups and said she would love to try City Crab, after Felton said it was his favorite eatery.

New Creative Exec At Ovation Is Open To Finding Hits

On his first official day as chief creative officer at arts channel Ovation (Dec. 3), Robert Weiss and some of his new colleagues met with The Wire and said he was joining a network that has momentum — but will need some hit shows to meet its goal of moving beyond the 51 million- subscriber mark to 75 million and beyond.

“I don’t have a lot of very specific ideas yet, but I’m very excited about where Ovation is and where we can take it,” the former VH1, FX and Fuse programmer said. The channel has grown its base strongly the past few years, largely on “the promise of the brand,” Weiss said. “You can only go so long before you need a hit show or two.”

He said he has set reasonable goals to get there, and thinks Ovation can “walk that line between being commercial and being classy.”

The channel (which claims its total-day household audience reach rose 55% in 2012) plans to be more assertive in co-productions, Weiss said, and it also opening up to more outside pitches than in the past.

He expects Ovation-styled documentary series, countdown series and scripted series to be part of a successful mix.

“If we don’t have a hit show by 2014, we’re going to flatline,” he said.

Ovation has already decided to do at least two more renditions of the documentary show Song by Song next year. The first show under that banner spotlighted Johnny Cash in October; a second will profile Dolly Parton in the first quarter.

And of the previously-scheduled fare, Weiss said he’s a fan of the doppelganger mystery movie The Scapegoat, starring Matthew Rhys, debuting on Jan. 22. He also promised to revisit with The Wire after more programming plans are solidified.

— Kent Gibbons

C-SPAN’s Collins Says ‘Thanks’ to Cable Folks Backing Cancer Research

Bruce Collins, vice president and general counsel at C-SPAN, is grateful for many things.

The biggest: He’s alive, at 61, a decade after being diagnosed with a blood cancer called chronic myelogenous leukemia.

“When I got this, it was a fatal disease,” he said. Treatment options were few, and the best prospect seemed to be living another five to eight years.

But the Food and Drug Administration had recently approved a new drug, Gleevec. A few weeks after taking it, he said, he started feeling normal again.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society had funded early research that led to its development.

To “convey what successful medical research looks like,” Collins surrounded himself with empty Gleevec bottles (which he had saved) and had Joe Virgilio, a friend, take a photo.

Collins had the photo displayed at his induction into the Cable Pioneers in May, kicking off a campaign to raise $50,000 for the LLS to fund more research. (Visit his campaign at

Now, he’s grateful that he exceeded that goal, raising $53,270. “The industry deserves credit for it, because almost everybody I asked was in the cable business, in one way or another,” he said.

The LLS has a strong track record in backing promising research much earlier than the drug companies will, and has helped bring about several FDA-approved treatments, Collins said.

— Kent Gibbons