Pop culture and great food: a winning combination

by Lyle Andrew Michael

February 14, 2019

‘Tuesdays with Bleier’ draws crowds for deep discussions of classic TV and film

Every Tuesday during the semester, the whiff of pizza and wings or hummus and falafel draws passersby to the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture on the fourth floor of Newhouse 3. There, a living/dining and theater space welcomes students, faculty and staff for food, screenings and deep discussion about the cultural implications of film and television.

Robert Thompson, professor of television, radio and film serves as director of the Bleier Center, which he runs with the assistance of the center coordinator, Mylinda Smith.

“Professor Thompson has made ’Tuesdays with Bleier’ a key component of the Newhouse experience,” says former Warner Bros. president Edward Bleier ’51 who endowed the center in 1997. The center is dedicated to the exploration of television and popular culture, and boasts an impressive library of rare film and television videos that have been providing the entertainment for the Tuesdays with Bleier events for more than a decade.

“Twelve years ago, Mylinda and I decided to introduce ‘Tuesdays with Bleier’ when the new Newhouse building opened,” Thompson says. “We began with a few students [attending], increased to 12 on an average and today it’s more. [The] more, the merrier.”

Smith, who has been with the center since 1997, enjoys the familial energy, especially at the holidays.

“Thanksgiving is my favorite,” she says. “To see [the] kids just relax and enjoy the meal as one big family is the best feeling.”

Thanksgiving 2018 saw students feasting on roasted turkey with all the trimmings, cornbread, Brussels sprouts and baked beans with bacon. And dessert, if space allowed, was Smith’s homemade whipped cream custard and warm pumpkin and apple pies.

The day’s lineup was clearly themed; Thanksgiving episodes from “The Simpsons” and the classic “Turkeys Away” episode of the 1970s sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati” were on the docket, followed by the CBS Reports documentary “Harvest of Shame,” showing the plight of migrant agricultural workers in the 1960s. While watching, visitors crafted turkeys from colored paper, with feathers representing personal gratitudes.

Everyone was thankful for the Bleier Center.

“I love Tuesdays with Bleier,” says Lily McCausland, graduate student in the television, radio and film program and a regular at the Center. “Professor Thompson is the smartest beam of sunshine around. He once took [the 1948 John Wayne western] ‘Red River’ and made it seem like an anthropological marvel.”

Thompson, meanwhile, is happy to play host. “This year, we have a bunch of very interested people, an excited lot,” he says. “The saddest part is when [the graduate students] leave us, after just one year.”

Screenings tend to be topical; this spring has included an episode of “Laverne & Shirley,” to commemorate the passing of Penny Marshall, and Spike Lee’s “Superfly,” to celebrate Black History Month.

On the last Tuesday of the spring semester, the Bleier Center will host its own graduation ceremony for graduating students, robes and all, Thompson says. In the meantime, the center continues to offer a cozy space to watch and deliberate over popular culture sourced from Thompson’s private collection of classic film and television. The extensive library, much of it painstakingly converted to DVD by Thompson, allows visitors to revisit Hollywood icons who have passed, see how history has repeated itself and laugh—or cringe—over dated shows and commercials.

“That is why we started this space,” Thompson says, “for students to break away from the hassle of classes and come together to learn something in a more informal and friendly environment.”

Students also have the opportunity to screen their own films. Neil Powless, a doctoral student at Newhouse and a Bleier Center regular for the past three years, hosted his critically acclaimed film “Crooked Arrows” in November. Powless, a lacrosse player and member of the Onondaga Nation and Eel Clan, was grateful to Thompson and the Bleier Center for the opportunity.

“It is especially interesting to see how non-natives react with excitement and how the movie translates to a larger audience,” says Powless, while helping himself to some hummus and pita.

“Here, take some candy, too,” Smith says.

Tuesdays with Bleier events are held every Tuesday from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in the Bleier Center, 430 Newhouse 3.

Lyle Andrew Michael is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism Program at the Newhouse School.