Jacob Huddleston “thought it would be cool to work in movies.” While he was studying communication and history at UAlbany, however, “reality TV was just becoming popular” – and he would soon find opportunities in that genre.
After completing a brief post-graduate internship with documentarian Rory Kennedy, then answering telephones for a company owned by “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels, “my career kind of snowballed,” the Goshen, N.Y., native recalls. He was hired as post-production coordinator for Disney’s “Johnny and the Sprites” and later accepted a similar position with “Real Housewives of New Jersey” – “my first
Huddleston let his employers know “I really wanted to be in the field, making the shows.” He got the chance to do exactly that the following season when he became associate producer. “I scheduled the women and children, took notes on the scenes we shot in the field, and cleared a lot of locations.”
“Real Housewives” is unscripted, but the plots do follow “what’s actually going on in each cast member’s life,” according to Huddleston. “A scene [might depict] a husband and wife talking about having another baby. If she has issues becoming pregnant, then we follow her to a specialist. If a friend suggests adoption, we encourage her to have the conversation and voice what she really feels about it. We put the cast into real situations and capture their real reactions and thoughts.”
Now a showrunner, Huddleston says the team-building and public-speaking skills he honed at UAlbany have furthered his career.
“I have to get the cast members to open up to me, listen, and talk to me. I also oversee a team of producers and two production crews. We work 12-to-15-hour days, six days a week, for the most part. On my off day, I’m dealing with phone calls and creative concerns from various cast members. These people are on TV for a reason: They are huge personalities, and that doesn’t stop when the cameras stop rolling for the day,” explains Huddleston.
At UAlbany, he realized that “history is story-telling and reading other people’s realities from years ago. I document people’s stories. Twenty years from now, ‘Real Housewives’ will be considered a form of history, documenting our society in some way.”
Huddleston’s other projects have included “Money Power Respect,” which débuted last fall and focuses on the fast-paced lives and careers of six successful women attorneys in New York City. He also does freelance work. “Right now, I’m contracted for three months to a TLC show about a couple with 16 kids; then I have to find another show. It’s not as stable as a 9-to-5 office job, but it’s exciting. I have an agent at CAA who can get me meetings, so I’ll pitch different ideas. I made two tapes for A&E; the network didn’t buy them but liked them,” he remembers.
Asked why audiences clamor for reality programming, Huddleston responds: “One thing that makes ‘Housewives’ so appealing is that these ladies are relatable. Ensemble casts get into arguments, have good and bad days, deal with issues with their kids. Viewers relate to those things. People also watch because it’s entertaining. They tune in to the show and forget their own problems for a while.”
And why do people perform in reality shows? Huddleston surmises that virtually every cast member second-guesses the wisdom of participating in a reality show, but he adds: “I think it gives them a platform to celebrity or to business opportunities. If you want to write a book, people won’t buy it if they don’t know who you are.”
His work affords the eight-year veteran of reality TV a unique perspective on human nature. “Teresa [Giudice] went to jail for mortgage fraud. But I’m with her every day, and she’s a loving mother. When we come to her home, she’s helping her daughters with their homework, watching to see that they get picked up for practice, having breakfast with them. Deep down, these are good people.”
Since graduating in 2006 – “it seems such a long time ago” – Huddleston has enjoyed following University sports and “seeing UAlbany center stage.”
He adds: “I loved the University; it was a strong community and a great option for me. I had a great time there.”