Kathryn Stroomer is something of an anomaly among television producers. While others may fondly recall
thousands of hours spent before that glowing box during their formative years, Stroomer readily admits to
a long-term aversion to television.
"When you grow up in a house with four older brothers," she says, "what ends up being on TV is
sports, which bored me to tears back then. So I just never watched television. I was the only
person I knew who still had a black-and-white set in 1985. I was probably the only person in America who
had never seen even one episode of MASH, Cheers, or The Mary Tyler Moore
Today, Stroomer ("Pronounce the o’s like Roosevelt") is spending more time making television than she
ever did watching it. The twice-monthly live call-in show she currently co-produces and directs, Let’s
Talk About Jobs, has been gaining in popularity since it first aired last summer on CTV, the New
Haven, Connecticut, public access channel. Though she is phasing out her own taped public access show,
Career Talk, to make time for the live show, she still finds time to tape special events for a local
church, work on an anti-crime show for kids, tape state labor commission conferences, and plan future
projects with her former teacher at NYU.
"I am absolutely the last person on earth you would expect to find in television production," says the
forty-something New Englander. "But here I am, and I love it."
Stroomer’s anti-TV stance first began to change in 1986 when she heard a speech given to a local
business group by Ted Turner.
"I was very impressed with him and what he was doing," she says. "He thought the same thing I did:
that there wasn’t much on television that was very good. But he was really trying change things and that
impressed me. It started me thinking about television in a new way."
But it wasn’t until the Summer of 1992, when she was laid off from her well-paying job as a technical
writer for Sikorsky Aircraft, that Stroomer seriously considered working in television. After the layoff, she
attended a meeting of a job-search support group. She had met the speaker, Keith Jurow, a few years earlier
when she was thinking about making a career change. After the meeting, she talked with him about the
possibility of starting her own business. The two hit it off so well, they started dating.
"Keith is very entrepreneurial," Stroomer says. "We talked about doing something with public speaking.
He was a great speaker and I was a Toastmaster myself. So I suggested we tape his speaking engagements
and try to do something with that."
Using $600 of her severance pay, Stroomer bought her first video camera: a Sharp VHS camcorder. She
also picked up a cheap tripod and stopped by the local Radio Shack for three wireless mikes.
"The equipment wasn’t very good," she says, "but I didn’t know any better. I had done still
photography, but I had never even held a video camera."
In addition to taping Jurow’s presentations, Stroomer used her new video equipment to tape other
members of her support group during practice interviews. When she learned that one member was a part-
time actor, she enlisted his help and produced a video short demonstrating the wrong way to interview for a
"It was a big hit," Stroomer says. "Everyone wanted a copy. I began to think, Maybe I can do this. But I
didn’t even know where to start. Then a member of the group suggested I look into public access."
Stroomer learned that New Haven, just a few miles south of her home in Seymour, was about to open a
new public access facility. She signed up immediately and made it into the first training class.
"The whole thing blew me away," she says. "They had these great cameras, all these overhead lights,
this beautiful control room, three edit suites, a dubbing room. Something just hit me. I thought it was
But in order to get her hands on all that beautiful gear, Stroomer had to become a producer.
"The training was very elementary," she says. "They just taught us enough so we wouldn’t break the
equipment. But the rule was, you couldn’t actually use any of the equipment unless you were producing a
show. So I said, Okay, I’ll produce a show."
Not surprisingly, the subject of Stroomer’s first show was jobs. Using members of her training class as
her production crew, she enlisted Jurow in the project, taping one of his presentations before a studio
audience. She called the show Career Talk.
"I know what it’s like to get laid off," Stroomer says, "and I wanted to do something to help people with
their careers and job searches. But that first show was a real disaster. I knew nothing about
television production and it showed."
Stroomer shelved her first effort and switched to a talk-show format, taking a turn in front of the camera
as the show’s host.
"The most important thing I learned from that show," she says, "is that I’m a lousy host."
Just as she shelved show number two and began planning number three, Stroomer was contacted by the
New Haven Register. She was to be the subject of the newspaper’s newest feature: "Today’s
"Here they were," she says, "coming to write a story about me and I hadn’t produced one decent show
yet. But the article turned out to be phenomenal. It really helped to get a lot of people interested in the
After the article ran, Stroomer says, she received calls from potential viewers and others interested in
appearing on the show as guests–among them, the state commissioner of labor and a man who would
eventually host the show.
The show on which the labor commissioner appeared was a technological turning point for Stroomer.
Ten minutes before the show, her technical director collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital. Stroomer
faced a choice: cancel the show or run the switcher herself.
"This was a very good guest," Stroomer says, "and I didn’t know whether we could ever get him back
again. But I had never run the switcher before. In the end, I decided however it turned out, it would be
better than no show at all.
" That show came out great and I realized that I could really do this stuff."
Career Talk had been airing monthly when the program director at CTV approached Stroomer
about working on another show about jobs. Its producer and host, Warren Gould, wanted her to direct a
live, call-in show called Let’s Talk About Jobs, which he had scheduled for a six-week run.
"We were really still just getting our feet wet," Stroomer says. "We had only done taped shows. I had
never even thought about attempting anything live. Frankly, it scared me to death."
Despite her reservations, Stroomer agreed to do the show. At her suggestion, Gould added a co-host,
actress Meg Barone, to the show. She was also able to keep most of her crew. The first show aired in June
"As usual, we had our problems," says Stroomer of that first show. "The phone didn’t work. The audio
went dead about a minute after the show stared. The lights were all wrong. But we fixed everything while
we were on the air and forged ahead. And now I love doing live television! There’s something so
exciting about communicating directly with your viewers, knowing they’re out there, hearing them call
Stroomer says that first show attracted only a few callers, but by Labor Day the phones were ringing off
"The show is more global that Career Talk," Stroomer says. "We’ve done shows on sexual
harassment, GATT, and even on how domestic violence affects the job scene."
The show also features an interpreter who signs for deaf viewers.
"She [the interpreter] had been doing a show in L.A.," says Stroomer, "but she got married and moved
to Connecticut. It’s a three-camera shoot, so we just put her in a corner and point a camera at her and use
the other two for the host and co-host. She’s also a great substitute host."
She has recently phased out Career Talk to devote more time to the live production.
Stroomer also continues to get field work. She has taped a number of Jurow’s seminars using her little
VHS camera. The labor commissioner liked her show so much (he appeared on Career Talk twice)
that he calls Stroomer in to tape labor department conferences. For those shoots, Stroomer puts her
camcorder aside and uses the S-VHS or Hi8 cameras from the public access studio.
"I’m trying to get familiar with those two formats," she says. "Those and three-quarter. I think it’s very
important to take advantage of every opportunity to enhance your skills and education. Especially in
television and video production, where the technology is always changing."
Last Fall, Stroomer began to look for just such an opportunity. Finding nothing to suit her needs in
Connecticut, she enrolled in a production course at New York University.
"I knew I had to get more training if I really wanted to go anywhere with this," she says. "And I also
knew that most TV stations don’t want interns much over 20. That’s when I took a look at NYU. It’s a two-
hour commute, but I wanted to go for the best and maybe get a chance to meet some of the people who are
really doing this."
Stroomer’s instructor at NYU was Richard Martin, an independent producer from Manhattan who has
worked in television for many years. Stroomer says Martin liked her enthusiasm and the two have begun
talking about working together on commercial a project.
"The next step is definitely to get into a commercial environment," says Stroomer, who is still doing
most of her production work without compensation, making ends meet with freelance writing jobs. "I think
leased access looks like a good bet."
One of the projects Stroomer is considering is a leased access news program, covering the area around
Seymour, known as The Valley.
"There’s a need for this kind of local show," she says, "since our newspaper got gobbled up by the big
Stroomer says her writing background has been invaluable in her video production work. Even though
Let’s Talk About Jobs is broadcast live, she puts together a script for every show.
"That way we have a focus and a format," she says. "Even if we had no callers, we would know where
we were going with the show and we’d have a beginning, a middle, and an end."
Both her public access shows and her field work have gotten high marks from viewers, guests, and other
professionals. Stroomer says that’s because she keeps things simple and focuses on her three-Cs: content,
composition, and continuity.
"My goal is always to do the little things well," she says. "To get the basics down. I want the show to
look like network television, but you don’t need a lot of glitzy special effects to do that. I pay attention to
things like the lighting, the audio, and simple-but-interesting shot composition. I put together a very simple
opening clip and some PSAs so we look like a real show. I make sure the hosts are entertaining
personalities who can move the show along."
Another mistake Stroomer says fledgling TV producers make is committing to too many shows.
"Never get carried away with committing to a huge series," she says. "Especially when you’re just
starting out. Especially if you’re in public access. Most of the people who work on my shows also
work at other jobs, so it’s difficult sometimes for them to be there. You’re much better off doing a few
shows well. You’ll be much better off with one very good demo tape that you’re really proud of than a
huge stack of tapes you’re embarrassed to show to anyone."