On April 17, famed TV writer and producer Don Reo and actor Mayim Bialik visited Bryant University to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of Hollywood and inspire students hoping to follow in their footsteps. Reo, who has written for and produced iconic television shows ranging from “M*A*S*H” to “Two and a Half Men,” and Bialik, an author, podcast host, neuroscientist, director, and writer best known for roles on “Blossom” (created by Reo) and “The Big Bang Theory,” as well as co-hosting the game show “Jeopardy,” joined the campus community for a luncheon, fireside chat, and tour of the Koffler Center and Communications Complex.
Reo and Bialik’s visit also marked the launch of Bryant’s new Arts and Creative Industries program, which blends theory, practice, and experiential learning opportunities to help students hone their talents and prepare for careers in creative fields. During a luncheon with student leaders involved in Bryant's performing arts organizations and others interested in pursuing careers in the creative industries, Reo and Bialik, both Primetime Emmy nominees, shared anecdotes from their lives in show business, with a focus on how they built their careers and grew as artists.
“There’s a lot of luck, a lot of persistence, and a lot of dreams in both of our lives,” said Bialik, who also earned her bachelor's in neuroscience and Hebrew and Jewish studies, as well as a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA.
Reo noted that his love of the written word was sparked at an early age when a junior high school English teacher praised one of his creative writing assignments. “She said to me, ‘You have a gift, you’re a writer,’ and I really liked that,” reflected Reo, who was raised in the Garden City neighborhood of Cranston, Rhode Island. “Because now I was different, in a good way, for the first time. From that moment, I have always thought of myself as a writer.”
Following the luncheon, Reo and Bialik headed to the Academic Innovation Center for a casual “fireside chat” discussion open to the Bryant community. Punctuated by personal photos, their conversation chronicled Reo’s rise from a per diem joke writer to one of the most respected producers in television today.
“We’re kind of the anti-sitcom sitcom heroes, in that we love the artform, we believe in it, and we also believe there are a lot of ways to tell stories,” said Bialik of their work on “Blossom,” a show that Reo originally wrote about a boy but, at the urging of a female executive, rewrote to follow an off-beat teenage girl with divorced parents — an approach primetime had never seen before. The pair also alluded to a potential “Blossom” reboot with Disney.
“I’m curious about what happened to these characters when they grew up, and where life has taken them,” said Reo.
During the hourlong chat, Reo and Bialik regaled the audience with personal and professional tales — including one where Reo and actor Damon Wayans ordered a $3,200 ounce of brandy to share at a Las Vegas restaurant, only for their friend, producer Jimmy Vallely, to toss it all back, spit it out, and demand a Coke — “the funniest thing I’ve ever seen a human being do,” Reo said.
The conversation ended with questions from the audience, including a student who wondered if Reo had tips for pitching in a writers’ room or an interview.
“I’ve pitched a lot of shows, and there’s a secret: I pretend I’m someone else. Don Reo has never pitched a show in his life. Michael Jordan has,” he said to resounding laughter.
Following the fireside chat, Bialik and Reo toured the Koffler Center and Communications Complex, where Professor of Communication Christopher Morse explained how students use the space to learn about digital media production, documentary filmmaking, radio, podcasting, and more.
Bialik and Reo peeked into Bryant’s Monday afternoon Sports Media Production course taught by Adjunct Professor Wally Franco, a television director for NBC 10 WJAR. In the class, students develop skills in multi-camera directing, field production, video editing, writing, reporting, announcing, and special effects. They also work in production groups to create network-style, multi-camera broadcasts of Bryant athletic events.
Stepping into Bryant’s control booth, Bialik recalled how she would often hear notes come from the booth when starring on “Blossom.” Senior Lecturer of Communication Thomas Zammarelli explained that the building’s lower level, which could be seen through the control booth’s window, had a green screen that is used for various projects and a live newscast that students put on every Thursday morning. Using the newscasts as a guide, students examine the different roles (producer, reporter, and technical crew) that contribute to a successful broadcast and how they work together. Zammarelli added that the two newscast directors for this semester are Finance majors and, for them, it’s a treat to do something different.
Throughout the day, Reo and Bialik offered students who hope to build careers in the creative arts a glimpse into their potential futures and inspiration for the entire campus community to pursue their dreams. Katherine D’Ordine ’23, a founder of Bryant’s Arts Council, which provides support for the members of the university’s creative arts groups, found the visit invigorating.
“It was so impressive learning about where they started and how they were able to pursue their own individual paths to success,” she said. “I also appreciated learning about everything that helped them succeed along the way and how it wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies, but they still kept persevering.”