That’s So Tarson: NU lecturer shares TV writing, acting background

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That’s So Tarson: NU lecturer shares TV writing, acting background

NU lecturer Geoffrey Tarson has written for TV shows, such as “That’s So Raven” and “Groove High.”

NU lecturer Geoffrey Tarson has written for TV shows, such as “That’s So Raven” and “Groove High.”

Source: Geoffrey Tarson

NU lecturer Geoffrey Tarson has written for TV shows, such as “That’s So Raven” and “Groove High.”

Source: Geoffrey Tarson

Source: Geoffrey Tarson

NU lecturer Geoffrey Tarson has written for TV shows, such as “That’s So Raven” and “Groove High.”

Alix Kramer, Columnist

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Shannon Pritchard, graduate student in the MFA Writing for the Screen and Stage program at Northwestern, has nothing but great things to say about Geoffrey Tarson, lecturer in the RTVF department. Pritchard has had classes with Tarson for the past three quarters, which is especially impressive considering this is only his second year teaching at NU.

“Geoffrey Tarson hits the perfect combination you want in a teacher,” Pritchard said. “He helps you get better by giving you enough criticism to make you a better writer, but at the same time he’s really open and warm about it. He makes you feel like you’re doing a good job but that it could be better. He’s just great. He’s so smart.”

Even though he teaches writing, Tarson started as an actor, graduating with a BA in theater from Binghamton University. He lived in New York and did regional theater after college, but he soon became interested in improv. Tarson participated in a two-person, cabaret-like, sketch comedy show “Out On A Whim,” which actually landed him on “America’s Funniest People.” 

Tarson was also in a short film that aired on “Saturday Night Live.” It was part of a Schiller’s Reel, which was “in some ways a precursor to the shorts they have now,” Tarson said. Tom Schiller, former SNL cast member, would do three or four of these a year, and Tarson was brought on as an actor for one, where he acted as the boyfriend of cast member Melanie Hutsell. Tarson remembers walking by the writers’ room in 30 Rock and peeking in, thinking, “This is where the magic happens.”

After moving to Los Angeles to pursue acting for television, he realized the improv that he thrived on in New York didn’t play as well in LA. After taking a class, Tarson turned to television writing.

“I caught the last bus, so to speak, of the big TV writing time,” Tarson said. “In the ’90s it was huge, they added a couple of networks and lots of sitcoms. I got in right before reality shows got big. … I remember watching ‘Who Wants to Be A Millionaire,’ which was new, and we were all so fascinated, but at the same time we were watching scripted comedy become much more limited, with fewer shows and smaller staffs.”

Tarson said he was very fortunate to have worked for 10 years in TV writing. Notably, he worked on “That’s So Raven” while in LA, which was “very fun and different.” However, he does mention that “That’s So Raven” had the longest hours, where the writers would work until 2 a.m.

Even when he moved back to the East Coast with his young son, he continued to write and would fly back and forth between coasts working on pilots he developed for Disney. One of these, “Groove High,” is now airing in Europe, and it is a partially-animated, partially-live series with a similar premise as the movie “Fame.”

Tarson’s wife is an alumna of NU’s RTVF program. When Tarson saw there was an open teaching position here, he felt like it was a wonderful merging of his wife’s background and his experience with TV.

Although he concedes that it’s a big change from his prior careers, Tarson enjoys teaching. Tarson said the students come with an openness to find out what the real experience is like. He feels a responsibility to make sure the information he knows is imparted upon his students and that everyone gets their questions answered in the short time they are together. Tarson had to “learn on the job” for his TV writing career and is happy to share knowledge about how to pitch and write impressive scripts with the students.

“It’s my job to help them improve and tell them what to expect,” Tarson said.

Tarson says he would like to continue teaching.

“It’s very cool to have different people each year and to … see real talent,” Tarson said. “I hope I’ll see their names on screen.”

Tarson plans to keep writing as well. He’s currently working on a play and is involved with other projects, noting that it’s valuable to experience the pain and challenge that his students experience for themselves.

Communication senior Jon Oliver was in two of Tarson’s classes last year.

“Geoff is always really good with pitch fixes,” Oliver said. “In a writing class, you are kinda discouraged from being too prescriptive when giving advice to other writers and told to give general advice instead, but in both of the classes with Geoff, he helped created an environment when pitching fixes was encouraged, and it helped massively. He was always right on point with the perfect pitch within seconds.”

Email: alixkramer2017@u.northwestern.edu

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