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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Reliability the key to TV success

By Linda White
Special to the Toronto Sun

"Uh-oh." That's the last sound you want your cameraman to make when you've got the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the room and 15 minutes to conduct a useable interview for broadcast.

"We were having a hilarious conversation -- until we heard the cameraman say 'uh-oh' about five minutes into the interview," recalls George Tsioutsioulas, a graduate of Centennial College's Radio and Television Broadcasting program, who was shooting the segment for his popular Night Life show on CFMT (now OMNI Television).

"He had forgotten to put a tape in the camera. We spent the rest of the time trying to get our groove back. The band kept referring to the interview as our 'school project.' It was a running joke," Tsioutsioulas says.

He brings up the story to illustrate an important point about working in television: you're a slave to the clock, and if you can't think on your feet when things go wrong, you're sunk.

"The most important thing is to meet your deadlines. The industry lives and dies by the clock. Never let anybody down," counsels Tsioutsioulas, who began volunteering at CFMT when he was a first-year student at Centennial. "My professor, Ken Cassavoy, used to tell us: 'If you're sick, show up to work with your bucket.' It was the most important lesson I ever learned."

Volunteering at Toronto's multicultural TV station exposed Tsioutsioulas to all the behind-the-scenes tasks that help make a successful broadcast, everything from operating the teleprompter to writing "bullets." It was an eye-opening experience and a great opportunity to hone his skills. And for 18 months, it paid absolutely nothing.

Tsioutsioulas got his chance to work in front of the camera when he did "streeters" for a Greek program. "I would stand on Danforth Ave. and ask people passing by some pretty inane questions. I planted a friend dressed as Elvis in the crowd at a Greek festival, then I asked people if they had seen Elvis that day. Pretty silly stuff."
Film and television are highly competitive career fields that aren't easy to enter. Sheldon Reisler, co-ordinator of Centennial's popular Broadcasting and Film program, has some tips about how to break into the biz:
  • Many broadcasters have room for volunteers. Thanks to Canada's expanding digital cable network, there are lots of channels that have to produce original programming on a shoestring budget -- the perfect environment for volunteer help.
  • The Canadian Film Centre in Toronto is a fertile training ground for people who want to learn about film production. The centre can hook you up with independent filmmakers who constantly need volunteer help with their projects.
  • Wayne Campbell of Wayne's World got his start on the local community cable station. Your local cable company has all kinds of community programming that requires volunteers, too. It's a great place to start.

  • 'Grenglish'

    Thanks to Tsioutsioulas' creativity and energy, the show -- which he jokes was broadcast in "Grenglish" -- got noticed and people started calling in, asking for him. It was not a big leap for him to move to Night Life, where he hosted and produced the short entertainment feature leading into The Late Show with David Letterman.

    "I attribute my success to luck, and being at the right place at the right time," Tsioutsioulas says modestly. In reality, his breaking into television probably had more to do with the industry credo of demonstrating reliability at every turn. "You have to have a good disposition, show that you're always there, and prove yourself."

    After eight years at Night Life, Tsioutsioulas felt it was time to do something fresh. "No matter how cool your job is, if you're doing the same thing, you stop challenging yourself." So he started his own production company, generating shows for other broadcasters.

    He's currently working on a documentary of local guitarist and composer Pavlo. "It's a behind-the-scenes look at how an artist pulls together an album of original music," Tsioutsioulas says. He's also worked on the program Other Sounds, which examines the world beat culture. His gardening show on the W Network is on hiatus over the winter.

    To get noticed in the highly competitive television industry, Tsioutsioulas tries to be distinctive and zig when everyone else zags. "When you're interviewing, you have to ask things no one else has asked," says Tsioutsioulas, who's a veteran of red-carpet walks at celebrity-studded events.

    "The best compliment I can receive is when a star says to me: 'No one has ever asked me that before.' "

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