UC Berkeley News


And the Emmy for best use of institutional regalia in a weekly dramatic series goes to…
Any producer who wants to use Berkeley in a film or TV show has to get the campus’s OK ahead of time — and make us look good in the bargain

| 17 November 2004

Medical Investigation, a new weekly drama on NBC-TV, portrays the adventures of a mobile medical team from the National Institutes of Health that each week investigates a medical menace and averts a public-health disaster. Recent episodes have featured a mysterious illness on a college campus, a threatened anthrax plague in Philadelphia, and a fast-spreading respiratory illness on a vacation island. In each episode, young Dr. Miles McCabe, played by the actor Christopher Gorham, strives to prove himself to the other, more-seasoned members of the special unit.

Fans of the series, no doubt aware that McCabe happens to be a Berkeley alum, should be on the lookout for signs of Bear in upcoming episodes. In a recent agreement with Paramount Pictures’ Television Group, the campus granted permission for McCabe to be depicted on the Friday-night series wearing a “Merge-Left reversible knit hat” inscribed with the words “Berkeley” and “Cal,” along with several other trademarked items from the Cal Student Store. He is also legally entitled to chug his cuppa Joe from a mug bearing “a Capri white Cal-script” logo.

Legal permission for television programs and films to refer to UC Berkeley is granted by the Office of Marketing and Management of Trademarks (OMMT), headed by Maria Rubinshteyn. Her office, along with Public Affairs, reviews submissions from media producers to make sure that the campus is accurately portrayed in the proposed script. In its recent agreement with Paramount, for example, the campus expressly noted that since Berkeley has no medical school, McCabe should not be described as having a medical degree from Cal.

Proposals from film and TV producers are also reviewed with an eye to how the final product might affect Berkeley’s image. “We take the reputation of the campus seriously,” says Jan Gonsalves of OMMT, who reads script proposals in tandem with Public Affairs administrative assistant Jean Smith.

The campus recently gave the go-ahead to the forthcoming movie Bee Season, starring Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche, but nixed a proposal from the producers of last year’s widely acclaimed House of Sand and Fog, starring Ben Kingsley. Though “the script was quite brilliantly written,” Smith recalls, the producers wanted the character of the young son to be murdered on the steps of a courthouse in a pair of UC Berkeley sweatpants. “We turned it down,” she says. “It was an intense scene that didn’t really do much for the campus. Do I want to see Berkeley sweatpants covered in blood? I do not.”

Another “no” went to producers of a grade-B TV show who hoped to portray a key character — a young, ethically challenged reporter, à la Jayson Blair of The New York Times — as a Berkeley journalism graduate.

“Sometimes the production company will try to sneak one over on us” by couching its request in vague terms, says Smith, who reviews a new proposal every month or so. When the campus then requests to read the script, it often turns out to be “ghastly,” she reports, either aesthetically or in terms of its reflection on the campus.

Another recent proposal was for a film that would star the British actor Colin Firth. A subsidiary character would be provided with a Berkeley diploma as “window dressing,” as Smith recalls. “I was chit-chatting with Jan Gonsalves about whether we should approve it,” she says, “and the fact that it had Colin Firth definitely caught our attention — even though the bugger’s married. I said I’d approve it only if I got to hang out with him, but Jan claimed first dibs.”

The ultimate judgment? “He got a thumbs-up from us,” she says of Firth — but the film, in the end, got a thumbs-down from the campus.