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For students deciding whether to attend Emerson College Los Angeles, Jennifer O’Connell ’94 says, “I can’t recommend it enough.”
The alumna is living her dream: working as the head of U.S. television at CORE Media Group, the production company that developed American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance. O’Connell has also worked as an executive producer on shows at Disney and NBC, including The Biggest Loser.
“I can’t imagine how I would have been able to get a job as quickly if I hadn’t been here interviewing and meeting people,” said O’Connell, reflecting on her experience in Emerson’s Los Angeles Program.
The new Emerson College Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard is opening on Sunday, January 12. But the College’s program in Los Angeles has existed for more than two decades.
“I would say if people are thinking about moving to LA, doing the LA program their senior year is the best way to test the waters to see if it really is right,” said O’Connell, who participated in the program with the hope of landing a job through an internship.
She recalls interning in the casting department at MTV and working in the media relations department at Paramount. In addition to her normal duties at Paramount, she regularly did work for the assistant to the head of television.
“I’m sure there is a glamorous, fun, glossy side. But really, a business is a business,” O’Connell said. “It wasn’t a fairy tale. It was a real job and real careers. It was obvious that the people who worked really hard and stayed focused were going to make it and the ones who kind of took it as a joke or a fun ride weren’t necessarily going to go as far.”
“I’m sure there is a glamorous, fun, glossy side. But really, a business is a business. ... It was obvious that the people who worked really hard and stayed focused were going to make it.”
Ultimately, her boss at Paramount, who happened to be Emerson alumna Kristin Torgan Flannery ’90, helped O’Connell find a job as assistant to the management department at the former MTM Enterprises.
After graduation, O’Connell moved into an apartment with some of her Emerson friends who also found entry-level positions in the industry.
“The early years when I was an assistant were hard and there were long hours, but they were also probably some of the most fun years I’ve had because everything’s new and you’re meeting a ton of people,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom; don’t have an ego about it. Everyone starts somewhere and being a PA or assistant is a great way to begin. Do that job really, really well and you will rise.”
Once she got her foot in the door, she was soon promoted to junior executive in family programming at The Family Channel, and later, The Disney Channel. She helped develop TV movies such as Johnny Tsunami and Halloweentown.
“The most rewarding part is when a show actually goes into production and I get to help craft what the show is and who the people are who are putting the show together,” she said. “It’s about putting the puzzle pieces together and being excited about who we’re all working with and what we’re creating together.”
For seven years, O’Connell worked in NBC’s TV department as an executive producer for several shows, including The Biggest Loser and the Emmy Award–winning TV movie The Matthew Shepard Story. She moved on to Shed Media in 2007 to work on projects such as The Real Housewives of New York City and the Emmy-nominated Who Do You Think You Are?
“Don’t be afraid to change your mind about what you want to do,” she said. “I started in marketing. Ultimately, I didn’t want to end up in a marketing job, but I started there because it was my way in and it opened up a whole world to me. You can always switch the path and take a different turn as you go.”
O’Connell advises students to seek out as many internships as possible, meet as many people as possible, and help each other out.
“I feel very fortunate…that I am definitely doing what I set out to do,” she said.