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Student journalists dig for scandal at rotten university in new comedy, ‘COPY’

The Carter years had Animal House. The Clinton years had PCU. The Obama years had Community.

The protagonist in Van Wilder – a lovable goof-off whose school spirit outperformed his grades – seems modeled on the college career of a certain compassionate conservative who was in office at the time.

Every presidential era is defined, in my mind, by its college comedies. That’s why I want to put my stamp on the waning years of the Obama administration, defined by exalted rhetoric and inept governance, with my own show about the farce that is the modern university.

‘Bigotry’ at a state university, ‘un-Christlike’ at an evangelical college

The first half-season of COPY debuted this month after two crowdfunding campaigns, high placement in a national screenwriting competition and a detour from an expensive TV show to a more manageable Web series that serves as a prequel to a full-length series.

It’s about a group of inexperienced student journalists who fight each other even as they tangle with a craven university administration that brooks no dissent.

Tired concept, you say? The heroic but self-destructive journalist has been done to death? If it were set at a typical politically correct university, I might agree.

COPY, however, is partly based on my time as a student journalist at Seattle Pacific University, an evangelical school with a social-justice bent, which I’ve written about for The College Fix. 

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The mixture of piety and power at religious colleges can prove fertile ground for scandal of all kinds, often financial in nature, and not just those peculiar to certain sects.

At Harvard or Berkeley, dissenting views or criticism are met with cries of “bigotry” or campus adjudications. At a school like SPU, they may be easier to handle by deploying Christian rhetoric – the dreaded “un-Christlike” – in a bid to limit transparency and debate.

Predicting The Fix‘s coverage

I created COPY with my longtime writing partner Jeremiah Lewis, a Virginia Tech alum with several short films and a major release under his belt, as a 13-episode series intended for cable – in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration. Our planned budget for the pilot was $200,000, which Jeremiah assured me was modest by Hollywood standards.

More than halfway through the Obama presidency, we shot six episodes as a much cheaper Web series with a student cast and crew – just like The Fix, made by college students with professional guidance.

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What I didn’t realize when I joined The Fix last year was how COPY‘s plot lines, most of them predating the popularization of “microaggressions,” seemed to predict our later coverage.

A scandal over cheating in ethics class? That’s in the Web series. A student editor forced out after an ombudsman with a huge conflict of interest called for her resignation? Eerily close to our hourlong pilot script, which made the semifinals of Scriptapalooza in 2012.

If you enjoy reading The Fix for all the latest outrage (and occasionally redeeming news) on campus, you might like what we’re doing with COPY. The full run of the first half-season is online now.

Greg Piper is an assistant editor at The College Fix. (@GregPiper)

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IMAGES: COPY the Web series

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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