Selling Ivory Soap

The Best and the Beautiful
Elizabeth M. Mcmillen

A group shot of cast members from HRTV’s new incarnation of “Ivory Tower,” a soap opera centered around fictional Harvard students.

“Ivory Tower,” which debuted in 1991, had been on hiatus for three years when Brandon C. Presser ’05, a theater and television enthusiast, took on the role of executive producer for a revamped, updated version of the show.

The Harvard-centric soap opera was once one of the most popular shows on Harvard-Radcliffe Television (HRTV) during the student channel’s glory days several years ago. Now Presser is on a mission to clean up this soap’s act and reclaim its spot as Harvard’s premiere student-run cable show.

Making Fiction Seem Real

Presser was first exposed to soap operas when an old high school friend of his landed a role on “Days of Our Lives.” Although initially he was only interested in watching the show because of her, he was quickly drawn into the genre’s outlandish plots and characters.

“All the plots were just hilarious,” he said. “It was this whole alternate universe.”

Presser has channeled that very idea into the foundations of “Ivory Tower,” which promises to be a fictional but essentially parallel version of Harvard University.

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Hard at Work

Hard at Work

“This isn’t an anonymous university,” said Presser. “The idea is to turn Harvard into a soap opera. It’ll be everyday life, times 20.”

Alexis C. Madrigal ’04, one of the show’s writers, echoed Presser’s view.

“Harvard is a very unique place, and those are the elements we’re really going to focus on,” he said. “If we’re going to extract elements, sort of take them out and make them ridiculous, it’s going to be those things which are specifically Harvard. The neuroses of everyone, the very intense psychological profiles, the general awkwardness here. I’m actually looking forward to depicting some of those incredibly awkward interactions in really unflinching and squirm-inducing detail.”

To capture the University’s identity, the “Ivory Tower” writing and production staff has been trying, above all, to firmly ground the show’s often exaggerated, ridiculous action on a foundation that’s distinctly Harvard. The show will be filmed on campus, so viewers can expect to see familiar Harvard Yard and downtown Cambridge settings in the background. However, according to Presser, artificial sets have been constructed to resemble libraries and dorm rooms, environments that may not otherwise be available for filming.

The relationships between the 10 principal characters will also be drawn from Harvard life. Characters will interact as roommates, prefects, proctors, teaching fellows and compers, in order to accurately represent the social makeup of Harvard students.

“The prep will be dressed like a prep,” offered Presser.

He stressed, however, that the show’s writing staff will not fall back on cliches and will attempt to develop involved, believable relationships and characters rather than simply exploiting or spoofing soap opera conventions.

“We really want our scripts to be original,” he said. “We’re going to make fun of cliches, but we’re really striving for originality.”

Andrew M. McGee ’05, another one of the show’s writers, expressed a long-term hope of connecting with the audience and building a dedicated following through the cast.

“We hope people become attached to the characters, ultimately, and care about them from a storyline perspective,” he said. “I think that there is perhaps a humor in the concept of the soap opera, but what we’re going for is realistic interaction and emotion. Don’t expect an outlandish spoof—an Airplane! or Scary Movie.”