for Parity
‘The Celluloid Ceiling’ is no barrier
to Bucknell women in entertainment
by Eveline Chao
for Parity
‘The Celluloid Ceiling’ is no barrier to Bucknell women in entertainment
by Eveline Chao
Photo: Shayan Asgharnia
Close friends at Bucknell, Nadia Sasso ’11 (above) and Nakea Tyson ’11 live near each other in Los Angeles, where they are making their way in the new-media landscape.
Alumnae Are Making Waves in Film, TV and Entertainment
The last few years have been a dramatic time for women in show business. On the one hand, the industry has celebrated a slew of new milestones: Just this past year, Sandra Oh became the first Asian woman to host the Golden Globes — and win several of the awards herself — while Lena Waithe became the first black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. On the other hand, such moments are celebrated precisely because they’re unusual: Is it a triumph or a travesty that it took until 2006 for Katie Couric to become the first woman to solo anchor a Big Three network news show?

Certainly, the culture has reached a new level of awareness when it comes to gender-related issues in the industry — from sexual harassment, to the gender pay gap, to representation. The first step toward fixing the problem is acknowledging it. Just a few concerning statistics among many: In 2018, women comprised just 20% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on the 250 top-grossing domestic films, according to San Diego State University’s “Celluloid Ceiling” report. Or another: 63% of TV prime-time news broadcasts feature male anchors and correspondents, versus 37% women, according to the Women’s Media Center.

While the debates around these issues can be fraught, there are at least a few clear pathways to fixing them. One straightforward solution is simply to have more women working in the industry. Bucknell boasts an impressive number of women who are doing precisely that: working as producers, storytellers, makers and executives — or executives-to-be. (Coincidentally, all six women highlighted in this feature majored in English, though many also had second majors in disciplines such as sociology, women’s & gender studies, and biology.)

Through their work, they’re paving the way for other women to feel just a little more comfortable speaking up in meetings, trying out something new and challenging or telling an important story. One alumna, CNBC producer Leanne Bowes Miller ’10, says she’s proud to work in an environment where many of her bosses, and 17 out of 19 field producers, are women, though there’s still room to improve at the senior management level. “The more that we see senior-level roles given to well-deserved women, the more empowered women as a whole feel at that organization,” she says. “I hope all the women now entering the workforce are feeling ‘This is my time. My time is today.’ ”

2. Finding Fulfillment in ‘the Digital Space’
Marylanders Nadia Sasso ’11 and Nakea Tyson ’11 met while in the same Posse — that is, a group of 10 students with extraordinary leadership potential, recruited by the Posse Foundation to attend and support one another at Bucknell. Now, Sasso and Tyson support each other in Los Angeles, where they work in entertainment and live just minutes apart.

Tyson spent four years in marketing at USA Today and now handles brand partnerships at Complex, a media company focused on youth culture. That could mean executing photo and video shoots with artists, or managing the production of custom marketing partnerships with companies such as Amazon Prime Video and NBA2K, and “bringing that to life in a dope, experiential way that will be engaging to consumers,” she says. “I’m like the glue that keeps everyone together.”

Sasso is a “digital storyteller” — an umbrella term for her many disparate projects, including fulfilling contract work for media companies while launching her own creative projects. She recently was a writing-room consultant and occasional host for the PBS show Say It Loud. She’s just finished a Ph.D. in Africana studies at Cornell University, is writing a “dramedy” and started a production company with three other African American women. That’s enough to keep anyone busy, but on top of all that, she’s raising her 9-year-old niece (“I call myself her ‘mom-ty,’ ” she jokes), and is pondering how to get back to Maryland more often, so she can create a mentorship and youth empowerment program in her old neighborhood. When it comes to job titles, Sasso says, “Most people like to be able to check off a box, but I don’t feel like I have to fulfill all these traditional roles. The cool thing about the digital space is that I can create and do whatever I want and say screw all the rules.”

Leanne Bowes Miller, producer for the CNBC morning host David Faber
Illustration: Delphine Lee
“I love business news — there is a huge responsibility dealing with corporate news, the stock market and politics on a daily basis. Making sure viewers are receiving factual news in real time from journalists with integrity is more important now than ever before.”

Leanne Bowes Miller ’10, producer for the CNBC morning host David Faber

Producer Mary Agnes Mullaney
Photo: Steve Klise, courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen
Producer Mary Agnes Mullaney ’01 works on a segment of America’s Test Kitchen.
Cooking Up Her Own Delicious Shows
With a double major in English and biology, Mary Agnes ’01 graduated from Bucknell planning to become a surgeon. But before heading off to med school, she decided to have a little fun in L.A. “My big plan was to be a surgeon who writes Oscar-winning movie screenplays,” she recalls. But an early job with a casting company quickly led to another job in TV development, where she learned to develop and pitch TV shows. She’s since worked on a PBS kids’ show, several Animal Planet pet shows, multiple infodocs for the History Channel, a series for the Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, HGTV and VH1. A career high was selling a series to A&E in one day.

For the last three years, Agnes was the executive producer at PBS’s highest-rated cooking shows, America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country, “the most delicious job I’ve ever had,” she says. “You shoot the ‘beauty’ shot of the food steaming, then everybody comes in and eats it up.” As the executive producer, she was “in charge of making sure everything goes the way it’s supposed to” — overseeing all creative, staying within budget, on schedule, and ensuring every team is communicating and getting things done. This March, Cook’s Country was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Culinary Program.

“My parents say, ‘What do you do all day at work?’ I’m like, ‘I have a million meetings and am constantly putting fires out!’ ” she says. Earlier this year, Agnes left America’s Test Kitchen to return to freelancing and is developing her own shows, which hopefully will include a feminist comedy, “because I feel like we need more of that.”

The development work has its downsides. “You put everything you can into an idea, and if it gets passed on, you have to be able to put it down and move on to the next thing,” she notes. However, she adds, “I’ve been making tons of TV the last 17 years, and I feel like I’m good at what I do; now I want to make the shows I want to watch.”

Polishing Stories
for ‘60 Minutes’
Emily Hislop Gordon ’11 caught the journalism bug after interning at 60 Minutes during her sophomore year at Bucknell. “I fell in love with talking to different people, learning their stories and really making a difference by sharing information that people might not know — information that could help them look at things from a different perspective,” she says.

After postgraduation stints at CBS Evening News and CBS This Morning, Gordon has landed back at 60 Minutes, the place that first sparked her enthusiasm for journalism, but this time as an associate producer. She has produced stories on a wide range of subjects, including an interview with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and a firsthand look at the immigration crisis at the U.S.–Mexico border with correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi.

“We were blown away by what we saw, and Sharyn really captured that surprise throughout our interviews and in the script,” Gordon recalls. “Working and collaborating with the correspondents is a true highlight of the job.” She also works on lighter fare, such as a profile of actor Bradley Cooper. “The breadth of material we cover is really wide, and nothing is off limits, so it’s really dynamic and exciting,” she says.

Gordon’s responsibilities as producer are equally broad: She researches stories, interviews potential subjects, develops budgets for shoots, books team travel and repeatedly refines stories with correspondents, editors and executives. They often shoot more than 40 hours of material for just a 12-minute piece. “It’s like a big puzzle, piecing together and marrying all the interviews so they bounce off each other and everything makes sense,” she explains.

Emily Hislop Gordon ’11 works with contributing correspondent Jon Wertheim
Photo: Courtesy of 60 Minutes
Emily Hislop Gordon ’11 works with contributing correspondent Jon Wertheim on a 60 Minutes segment.
Gordon has been at 60 Minutes for six years — and she’s looking forward to the opportunities the next six years bring. “There’s so much room to grow,” she says. “I want to stay here and keep evolving my craft, working with peers — each one more brilliant than the next — and keep telling stories that could change people’s lives.”
6. Bringing ‘Masterpiece’ on PBS to the Classroom
Illustration of Gay Leightheiser Mohrbacher
Illustration: Delphine Lee

Gay Leightheiser Mohrbacher ’82 has been interested in TV and radio since hearing a talk at Bucknell by a 60 Minutes producer.

For the last 20 years, she’s been at WGBH in Boston, the country’s largest PBS broadcasting station. Mohrbacher works in project management and outreach for the station’s education department, helping to develop and share educational resources tied to the station’s children’s shows and other programming for children and youth. “If you’re an educator teaching Wuthering Heights, for example, you can utilize key scenes from the Masterpiece broadcast and follow a lesson plan and contextual resources all tied to the educational standards in your state,” she explains.