Media & Communication Department
Career of the Month
The Department is proud to feature monthly profiles of Media & Communication Department Alums, describing their individual career paths and sharing tips with students on how to plan for their own future careers. Profiles focus on the wide range of careers that our liberal arts oriented program has helped to launch.
This month the spotlight is on Television Production and Media Consulting, featuring a profile of Donna Wright-Somerville, Class of 1985.
Donna Wright-Somerville '85
“Be prepared to persevere,” says Donna Wright Somerville '85. “There is no easy ladder to climb in TV.” Donna has worked as a television producer for twenty years and now she is a media consultant, using the skills she learned as a producer to help others create television programming.
Donna’s first job after graduating from Muhlenberg was answering the phones at KYW-TV, an NBC affiliate in Philadelphia. She stayed extra hours after work to learn how to log tapes from shoots and to watch studio shoots and editing. After a few months, Donna became an assistant to the program manager. Neither of these jobs were exactly what she wanted to do, but she learned a lot and several months later they paid off. A producer from KYW got a job as an executive producer at a talk show in Minneapolis, and hired Donna as a producer. T hat local show was very successful and Donna did a variety of tasks: live studio, field pieces, live remote pieces, and stories about celebrities and current issues. Donna’s first experience in “starting up” a television program was a talk show hosted with Matt Lauer in Boston. She has also worked with Joan Rivers and Phil Donahue on talk shows. Since then, Donna has produced various shows for companies including CBS, Buena Vista Television, Telepictures, and Dick Clark Productions.
Donna enjoys starting up a project and moving on after the show develops. “I never wanted to just stay in a show that was working,” she said. “I always wanted to be creating something new, trying new things, figuring out what would work.” These are the reasons Donna enjoys consulting. “There is no format or map, you are just making it up as you go.”
If you are interested in working in television, she suggests that you “watch yourself watch it. Become very aware of what you watch, what keeps your attention, what perks you up, why you clicked the remote when you did, why that story made you cry.” By doing this you can teach yourself what works on television.
Donna said the most important skills in her career have been “writing, interviewing, knowing how to recognize a good story and how to tell it, organization, [and] perseverance.” But she points out that she has learned those skills over time. When she graduated from Muhlenberg, she was a “pretty good writer” and organized. The rest of the skills developed later. “Nowadays many producers shoot and edit their own pieces, whether high or home quality. Because of this, the job of the producer has changed a lot…but I think for the better. If you are a producer who has cut and shot your own pieces, you have a much better sense of what needs to happen to make the story work.” She added that the internet has made research easier and people more accessible. “Always do your research,” Donna said. “Being prepared and well-informed is the best thing you can do to succeed as a producer.”
Donna learned production skills on the job, but her education at Muhlenberg prepared her to learn about new and different things. “Producers know a little bit about a lot of things” and Muhlenberg gave her “the opportunity to study things I never knew I’d even be interested in. Consequently, when I had to take on a topic I knew nothing about for a show, it wasn’t intimidating or scary to me. I also learned achieving at Muhlenberg, about doing everything at a certain level, at my best possible level. I definitely took that into the work world and it served me well.”
Interview conducted by Kaliope Kambouroglos, '11