Dave Binegar, Media Studies '08
Representation on TV
"One of the greatest lessons I received at USF was an understanding of inequality."
It’s notoriously difficult to break into and sustain a career in the entertainment industry. That’s one way to explain the winding road that Dave Binegar ‘08 took. After graduating with a degree in Media Studies he worked in animated features and co-created his own web series before moving to Los Angeles to pursue scripted television. Dave had to try a lot of things that didn’t fit before discovering a dream job he’d never imagined – Director of Original Programming for Showtime.
Although it can be grueling and is rarely as glamorous as it’s often made out to be, most of the people in the industry can’t imagine doing anything else, which is certainly true for Dave. He brings a USF-born sensibility for social justice to his work in mainstream media, making it twice as much work and twice as rewarding.
Tell me about your work at Showtime.
My job involves developing new projects as well as giving notes and helping to guide shows currently on the air which include comedies, dramas, limited series, and occasionally even a docu-series. I love that every day really is different but in general I’m meeting with writers, directors, and producers as well as their reps to talk about their ideas and work. I also spend a lot of time hearing pitches, reading scripts and series documents, and occasionally watching existing pilots or international series to assess what could be right for us.
You’re very social justice oriented on Twitter. How do you bring that into your career?
One of the greatest lessons I received at USF was an understanding of privilege and inequality in a way I really didn’t have before (which is a form of privilege in itself). In the Media Studies program, we spoke a lot about the power and influence of the media, and specifically the power of representation. While my job is to help facilitate truly excellent and hopefully culture-influencing episodic stories, my career goal is to expand the limited range of life experiences on television because there’s almost nothing more impactful than seeing a compelling character who looks, worships, loves, or acts like you.
For example, Queer as Folk and The L Word were seminal shows for a generation of LGBTQ+ people. Queer as Folk in particular was the first time I saw what a non-heterosexual relationship could be like and the first time I saw gay and lesbian people as the flawed but relatable heroes of their own stories at a time when there was very little LGBTQ+ representation in the mainstream media. No matter how you feel about the show now, at the time it showed me that being an openly gay person was more than a punchline or a death sentence which changed the way I looked and felt about myself.
Your web series Cost of Living is hilarious! Any connection to your own experiences?
Thank you! It was a labor of love. Most of us have struggled financially in SF at some point and nearly all of us have wondered what the hell we’re supposed to be doing at least once in our twenties. My close childhood friend and co-creator Shannon Bowen (a longtime Oakland resident) wanted to explore the toll this economic shift could have on a dynamic female friendship, played skillfully by USF alums Meghann Hayes (BA in History ‘08, MA in Education ‘09) and Kate Elston (BA in Media Studies ‘09).
Tell me about starting USFtv.
I co-founded USFtv with James Kilton (BA in Media Studies ‘08) and Bobby Lee (BA in Finance ‘07) in 2005 because we were looking for an on-campus outlet for students to create video content outside of our classes. USF used to have a TV station, but it had been dormant for years — maybe decades. Professor and filmmaker Melinda Stone very generously agreed to be our first faculty adviser and gave us the space to create and make mistakes which is crucial! It was A LOT of work to generate an infrastructure and create content for the first couple of years but it taught me nearly as much as many of my classes did.
Are you working on anything exciting right now? No spoilers, of course!
There’s a project called Work In Progress that started as a pilot I saw at the Sundance Film Festival and championed here. It’s a darkly comedic half hour series from a creator with a point of view we’ve never quite seen on television. I can’t say much yet but it’s getting a big show of support at the network which I’m thrilled about!
In addition, I’m working on an hour long drama pilot called Hombre written and directed by Jonás Cuarón (Desierto, Gravity) about an undocumented immigrant played by Gael García Bernal who goes to unprecedented lengths to save his wife and protect his family. I’m also working on a limited legal thriller called Your Honor created by Peter Moffat (UK’s Criminal Justice) about a judge played by Bryan Cranston whose son is involved in a hit-and-run that forces him to make impossible choices. I also have some less serious stuff in development that should be fun should we get the chance to make it!