August 22, 2001

TV Experiment Sparked Greatness

They were mostly misfits-neither the most-popular in high school, nor the most-likely-to-succeed. They didn't always get the best grades. They didn't drive the nicest cars or score lots of points playing sports. But, they were destined for greatness anyway.

There's a rumor going around that during the '80s and '90s a frequently asked question in Hollywood film circles was "Where's South Bend, Indiana, and why are so many young filmmakers coming out of that place?"

If the answer to the first part of the question was easy to figure out, the second part wasn't. There were no great film schools in South Bend- no renowned theater groups or actor's workshops and no plausible explanation for the plethora of talent pouring out of the little town in middle-America. There was only the implausible, the impossible, the absurd explanation that a group of kids had somehow captured the keys to a local television station and clung to them for the next 18 years.

From 1968 to 1986, if it was irreverent, if it was satirical or preposterous, it was "Beyond Our Control" a weekly television show on WNDU-TV, written, produced and directed by a revolving door of local high school students-misfits, if you will.

By the time they surrendered the keys, kids like Larry Karaszewski, David Simkins, Traci Johnson, Ellen Akins, Dan Waters and Chris Webb had already entered the ranks of professional publishing, network television and big budget film-making. They were creating things like "Blues Clues," "Ed Wood," "Batman Returns," "Toy Story II", "Man on the Moon" and more. What was it that made all these local kids so great? Was it the water they drank? Or, was it an 18 year experiment on local television called "Beyond Our Control"?

When they returned to town a few days ago for their first, and possibly the only reunion they'll ever have, they talked openly about their professional good fortune and candidly about the concept of "greatness."

Ask former "Beyond Our Control" members about being "great" and they'll proudly tell you that the irresistible message of the 18 year "Beyond Our Control" experiment had less to do with making feature films and national television shows than with the secret of where to find "greatness" in life. Whatever "greatness" is, whatever it means, "Beyond Our Control' proved that you needn't look elsewhere to find it. "Greatness" is all around us. It's sitting next to us at work. It's in our schools and churches right now. It isn't found elsewhere. It's found everywhere.

And of course, they're right. How else can anyone explain the remarkable success of so many local kids, those marvelous "misfits." from "Beyond Our Control."

Lou Pierce is director of audience development and television at WNDU- TV. He is a Granger resident. "Beyond Our Control began as a Junior Achievement Company operated by high school students, in 1968 and ran until 1986 on WNDU-TV Channel 16.

From the South Bend Tribune