Tough teen issues on Blair TV show

Students look at controversial topics

Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2006

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Charlie Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
Montgomery Blair High School senior Karla Berberich (left), 17, of Silver Spring, producer of the Blair High television show ‘‘Shades of Life,” works Friday on the timing of a script with associate producer Mara Duquette, also 17, of Silver Spring.

Karla Berberich wanted to see some real, controversial issues addressed on Montgomery Blair High School’s cable television shows.

So the 17-year-old Blair senior conceptualized a show of her own: ‘‘Shades of Life,” which will look at issues today’s teens face, like homosexuality, military recruiting in schools, and adults’ and teens’ views regarding MySpace, a popular Internet networking site.

‘‘Shades of Life,” the latest addition to the Blair Network Communications — the school’s television, radio and Internet network, will air live Oct. 4 on Montgomery County Public Schools’ cable channel 34. Students who work for BNC’s television department also produce ‘‘Face the Music” and ‘‘Double Overtime,” music and sports shows. BNC’s television division produces three 29-minute live-to-tape shows and one post-production show each month.

Last year, Berberich produced ‘‘Double Overtime.” This year, she wanted a greater challenge.

‘‘She said, ‘I want to do something with controversial issues,’” said instructor Shay Taylor.

Berberich did not want to make her show like ‘‘Shades of Gray,” a Blair television show banned by then-Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Paul Vance in 1997 for being too controversial. That show was formatted like a debate, presenting two opposite points of view. Its final show before the ban addressed gay marriage.

‘‘It was very much black and white,” Silver Spring’s Berberich said.

Instead, Berberich said she wanted ‘‘Shades of Life” to present multiple points of view — much like life itself.

Getting the word out
The Blair Network Communications has five student-run departments: television, radio, Internet, public relations and Infoflow, the school’s daily morning announcement show. To learn more about BNC, go to
‘‘The idea is to look at a lot of different perspectives,” Berberich said. ‘‘Everyone has a different view.”

‘‘Here are controversial topics relevant to teens. Kids live with it, deal with it, on many different sides of it. I loved it,” said Taylor, who was a student at Blair in 1997 when ‘‘Shades of Gray” was produced.

‘‘We really got away from some of that after ‘Shades of Gray,’” she said. ‘‘We got away from doing an issues show.”

Those shows are important, she said, because students learn more about topics and people’s different views during their research.

‘‘They realize it’s not just a topic, it’s a life for some people,” Taylor said.

Blair Principal Phillip Gainous said students will benefit from being able to talk and hear about issues that are important to them, or that are troubling them, and he thinks ‘‘Shades of Life” will be received differently than ‘‘Shades of Gray.”

‘‘It will potentially ruffle some folks’ feathers,” he said. ‘‘But just about everything on teens’ minds will ruffle some folks’ feathers.”

Gainous said he thinks ‘‘Shades of Life’s” first topic, which addresses homosexuality, is legitimate, as some teens do struggle with their sexuality as their hormones change.

Students working on the BNC’s various mediums have to run their content ideas by Taylor before moving forward with them, she said. However, she said, it’s mainly so they can receive guidance, not approval.

For her show, Berberich said, she’s had to spend time finding people to come in to be interviewed. Associate producer and Blair senior Mara Duquette, 17, has helped her find subjects as well as write the script.

In this case, Duquette said, they contacted a gay high school student, his parents, a psychologist and a member of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays. ‘‘We basically decide what different points of views we want on the show.”

Television executive directors Avi Edelman and Scott Wittmann, 17-year-old seniors from Silver Spring, help ensure BNC’s shows air live on MCPS’s education channel. They are looking forward to Blair’s newest show.

‘‘It’s good for students to see, and good for parents to understand what some teens go through,” Edelman said.