Interview With Marisa Serafini, Senior Content Producer “AfterBuzz TV”

By Ruth on April 17, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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No doubt that devoted Hearties will be well aware of the work of AfterBuzz TV on behalf of our beloved When Calls the Heart TV show. They consistently conduct an amazing After Show for the Hearties, and they have even interviewed some of our favorite actors. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Marisa Serafini, one of the hosts of this celebrated after show, and she and I discussed a variety of things, including how she got started with AfterBuzz TV, her diverse work on the show, and the unbelievable schedule that she and the entire group at AfterBuzz TV continue to maintain as the show continues in its quest to expand and reach as many viewers as possible.

RH: Marisa, I’m so glad we could chat today.

MS: Thank you for asking me.

My pleasure. Have you been interviewed in the past?

No, usually I’m the one doing the interviewing.

I understand that. I was interviewed once by some indie filmmakers in New York for their podcast, and that is the only one I’ve ever done. But I think you guys do so much for When Calls the Heart and other shows that I thought people might like to get to know you better. And I will tell you that the Hearties did have lots of questions for you. 

Oh, did they? That’s great.

They were all excited. I think some were even more excited that I was interviewing you than some of the actors I’ve interviewed. You’ve got quite a following. The Hearties are very appreciative of what you guys do on Afterbuzz.

Oh, I’m glad. Honestly, we just do it for fun. We didn’t really expect such a following.

How long have you been doing the When Calls the Heart recaps?

We actually started at the beginning of season three. Unfortunately, we were kind of late to the game, but better late than never, right?

I don’t think that’s a problem. I’ve watched When Calls the Heart from the beginning, but I only started doing the twitter stuff from the second season. And then I really started to get into it during the third season. {pause} So what is your official title with Afterbuzz?

I am a senior content producer, but the three of us–James {Lott}, Maria {Menounos} and me–we call ourselves hosts because that’s what we do on the After Shows. Actually, I’m a film major.

How did you end up in your role at AfterBuzz TV?

Well, it’s a funny story. About five years ago…actually, April 9, 2012 was my first day at AfterBuzz. I had just graduated college in December 2011, and I was out there in the world trying to find that first real job. In this industry, as you know, you kinda have to know someone to know someone to know someone to get your foot in the door. Weirdly enough, I knew a friend of Keven Undergaro, who is the executive producer and founder of AfterBuzz TV. So I talked with this friend of Keven’s, and I told him about my background and what my skill sets were. I told him I had just graduated. I had done a lot of film projects, and I shot him my resume and my demo reels, and he really liked what he saw. After that, he said, “You know, I like your personality. I like your attitude. I’m going to forward your information to Keven and recommend you to him.”

Literally the next day, I got a call from Keven, and he said, “I saw your stuff that was sent to me. I looked over it and liked it, and I wanted to talk to you personally.” I talked to Keven for about an hour, and this was when AfterBuzz was still fairly new. They had only been around for about a year. It wasn’t nearly as big as it is now. Keven was like, “We’re a start-up and we do after shows of television shows, and we would love to have you come out to LA to just audit some of the shows.” I was like, “Sure.” So I was going out to check the place out and see what they do to see if it was the right fit for me. Keven said, “I like your personality, and I think this would be a great starting position for you. Hands-on and you can learn everything.”

Now, this was a Friday. I booked my flight to LA for that Monday. I called Keven back and told him I was coming out Monday. I was supposed to be there from Monday through Thursday. At the end of that Thursday, I had checked everything out. It was pretty cool. I liked the people. They were like, “We’d like to have you come back for two weeks if that’s possible ’cause we can’t fully train you properly in everything you need to do in just four days.” I thought, “Well, I’m already here. Why don’t I just push my flight and stay?”

So I agreed to stay for two more weeks. Fortunately, they were gracious enough to give me a bed to crash in. I stayed for two weeks and kept learning the ropes. At the end of two weeks, they were like, “Can you stay another month?” And I was like, “Sure.” So I pushed my flight again, and I stayed for another month, still learning everything. Engineering the shows, producing. I learned to do everything in producing. How to do the audio, how to run the studios and turn everything on, engineering, all the technical aspects of producing the after shows.

At the end of that month, they finally said, “We like you, and you seem to be getting the hang of everything. If you want the position, it’s officially yours.” I was like, “Yeah, of course!” So at the end of that, I ended up canceling my return flight back home. In retrospect, I should have just bought a one-way ticket. So after a month and a half or two months, I finally got my position at AfterBuzz, and I just went from there. What was supposed to be a four-day stay ended up being a permanent job.

That is fascinating! It reminds me of some of the stories actors tell me about when they were supposed to only come out to LA for a short time, and they end up staying and making it their new home. 

Yeah, funny how that all worked out.

And that’s the beauty of being young. You get to be my age, and it’s not so easy to do that kind of stuff. 

Yes, I was fresh out of college and had no job. And it was LA which was my whole teenage life dream. Ever since I was really young, I had wanted to be out in California. I had no idea in what aspect or form, but this was my first opportunity to go to Los Angeles and so I grabbed it.

I didn’t realize you had all those different responsibilities. You know, as a viewer, I think some of us just think, “Oh, you watch the show. You prepare what you’re going to say.  And you talk about your commentary, your take on the show.” We don’t always think about all the technical aspects of it that you have to learn and that you have to know how to do.

Oh yeah, I actually know the technical aspects more than just watching the show. When Calls the Heart is just one of the one hundred thirty plus shows we do a week. We have a very condensed schedule with all of our after shows.

I only started noticing your after shows for other shows here and there in the past year or so. I don’t know how you keep up with your schedule. 

Lots of coffee. {laughs}

I’m with you on that ’cause I keep a rather busy schedule myself. {pause} One of the questions the Hearties asked was really a pretty interesting one. Since you have all of these shows going on, are you ever able to sit down and watch a show just for fun without having to think, “I need to review this,” or “I need to critically examine this”? Do you get to watch shows just for fun?

Yes, absolutely. I think my personal taste in shows run the gamut. I have a broad variety of genres that I like to watch. I do like some dark shows like Criminal Minds and ones that are dark horror stories. There are other shows I do love watching that I know I don’t have to cover. I just watch them. I still sometimes think of them in a little bit of a critical way, but in a way that doesn’t bother me ’cause I see them just as pure entertainment so I turn my brain off at the end of the night.

I’m so glad you have those shows that you can just enjoy. I do the same thing. You need a break because you can get burned out reviewing so many shows.

Absolutely. You keep doing that, and it just feels like work. It takes the fun out of it. Fortunately I’m a film major, so I do generally love it. It’s my passion. There are some that bleed into work and some that are just pure entertainment.

How do you decide what shows to cover on AfterBuzz?

We have our big shows like Game of Thrones or Walking Dead which generates the humongous numbers. Of course, we keep those shows going. If we can find a panel of people that are willing to commit to discuss the specific show every week, then generally we’ll start it. If we can find a time during the week where they can all meet up and talk about it and it works with our AfterBuzz schedule all right, then we pretty much start it. We have little restriction on what kinds of shows we do. We don’t do talk shows. We mostly do episodic shows. We cover reality, drama, horror… if there’s a show, there’s a good chance that we cover it.

When we watch AfterBuzz, we notice there are no commercials. How does the show generate profit?

With the AfterBuzz for When Calls the Heart, we don’t have any commercials. It’s one of the general principles that Keven and Maria believe in. One of our basic rules at AfterBuzz is that we never have fans pay for the content. The content is all free. But it does cost a pretty penny to keep these studios running and keep the lights going and the staff  and engineers that are needed. We have what we call “wide read” where different sponsors have actual on-air reading of a pitch. So it happens in the middle of the show, and we will actually tell the audience to go to a specific website and use a promo code to get a certain product. It’s called a call to action. We do that during the show, and whoever is listening or watching can’t skip that. You know how on YouTube or anywhere you’re generating video content, you usually have the option of skipping the commercial. Everyone is doing that; no one is watching the commercials anymore. So this is an opportunity to still tell the audience about the product without skipping it. So during the show, you have to listen to the advertisement, and you cannot skip it. It will tell you exactly where to go, and if you use this promo code, you’ll get so many percent off. So we do it in a positive way. Thanks to this strategy, it keeps the light on at AfterBuzz and keeps all of us giving you more free content.

That’s really smart of the advertisers to do that. Even when you go to YouTube and you have to watch a part of an ad for five seconds, the moment you can skip it, you do.

Exactly. Advertisers got smart.

Now I do have a When Calls the Heart specific question. I’m sure you are aware of all the people making predictions about the show and the finale. The biggest question is–will Jack come back? Is Jack gonna die? So do you have any predictions that you think might happen on the show before the season ends?

During the After Shows so far, my predictions have all been coming to fruition this season. They’re not going to kill Jack. He is a main character, so I’m not too worried about that. I think the most they could do is put him in harm’s way, so like I said in the After Show, maybe there will be a cliffhanger that Jack will be in a near-death situation. And then cut to black so it’s a cliffhanger. But they’re not going to kill him because I think that would also kill the ratings, which would in turn kill the show. And we don’t want that. If they want a season five, they’re not going to kill him. I don’t know if he’s gonna come back. We might see him the rest of the season away from Hope Valley, but they’re not gonna kill him.

And I’m with you on that. I think sometimes people forget that this is Hallmark. While I’m not saying they wouldn’t potentially remove one of the other more main characters, they’re not gonna remove Jack. If you don’t have Jack and Elizabeth–

–then you don’t have a show. We finally got an engagement between Jack and Elizabeth which means we have to see the wedding. And if they did kill Jack, then the show belongs on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

I’m with you also on there being a cliffhanger. There’s going to have to be some kind of cliffhanger because I think we got really lucky last season that there wasn’t as much of one. We got a lot of resolution. I actually thought last season that they were going to end it where Jack doesn’t wake up till the next season. 

That’s also what I was thinking because some people are saying that it’s redundant putting him in a near-death situation. While they did that last season, they resolved it in one episode. If they didn’t resolve it in the finale. then that’s the cliffhanger that brings us to the next season.

In general, you have brought on some really great people for interviews. Who have been some of your favorite guests to have on the show?

I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of cool, big-named people. And even some of the lesser-known names that are really down-to-earth people. One of the highlights of my entire life–I got to interview Famke Janssen, who plays Jean Grey on the X-men movies. She tuned in for my Hemlock Grove After Show. I had followed Famke for the last ten or fifteen years of my life. I grew up watching her movies, and she’s literally one of my favorite actresses. I own all of her movies on DVD. I started the Hemlock Grove After Shows because I was such a big fan of Famke. So we actually had her call in the first season, and I about freaked out at that moment. She actually physically came into the studio the next season, and we interviewed her for about a half hour. And that was the best half hour of my entire life. Literally I was interviewing one of my favorite people. It was incredibly surreal. I never thought I’d meet her in real life, and it happened.

We’ve had a lot of other cool people who have been in the studio. Weird Al Yankovic came to the studio one day. The nicest, most down-to earth guy ever. We’ve had a lot of different, random people. Throughout our industry, people know other people. We work with a lot of publicists to get talent in. Every once in awhile, there are a lot of big names that come through, and it definitely leaves an impression.

It sounds like you guys understand that concept of building the relationships within the industry.

Oh, yeah. Even when it comes to When Calls the Heart. We’ve had Brian Bird in our studio twice now. Definitely keeping those relationships so they can keep coming back.

He asked you this last time, right?

Yeah, he reached out to us. And we were like, “Absolutely. Come on this date.”

And that is the best when they reach out to you and you don’t have to. That’s the best compliment I think.

Yeah, absolutely. It makes my job easier.

Since you do these shows live, I haven’t seen any major issues. But I’m sure there have to be last-minute things that come up or technology doesn’t work right. How do you cope with those kinds of things?

Oh my goodness, we’ve had so many false starts on all of our shows. I always joke that I wish I could make an entire blooper reel of all our false starts where the picture doesn’t show or the wrong song plays or the wrong host speaks. I would just laugh my head off. There are times when our engineers show the wrong photo or something like that, and it’s just something that we have to move on. We don’t dwell on it. We can’t spend five times worrying about it because we are on such a tight schedule. If we have a false start, we just start over. I even put one of our false starts this season on instagram because I just laughed my head off. I have seen everything go down at AfterBuzz. There are all sorts of issues, and I’m used to it. You just laugh it off and move on.

That’s the best way to handle it. Have you ever had people you were interviewing cancel at the last minute?

Oh yeah. We have scheduling and guest coordinators, and we all work in tandem. If someone has to reschedule at the last minute, we still go on with the show. Sometimes we have to change the format of the show since there’s no interview. But things like that is when the hosts realize they still have to produce a good show even if you don’t have a guest. What other topics can you talk about?

You have to do a lot of thinking on your feet.

Yeah, that’s right.

When I’ve seen you, you seem to have each other’s backs. Ideally, that’s on every show, and everyone gets along. But sometimes there are those shows where you can tell these hosts don’t get along well. With you guys, it always seems like you enjoy each other’s company and enjoy talking with each other. And you probably enjoy spending time together outside of the show. You seem like friends.

Absolutely. James and I see each other every day or every other day. Maria is a little busier, but James and I get together loads. We seem to have similarities, and it helps us bond more. James and I like the same type of music, and Maria likes cooking.

I also love that you have so many interactions with the fans and invite them to watch you live. You’re trying to interact with as many of the viewers as possible. So I think that’s great.

Thank you. Yes, and I think it’s also coming from the producing side. I am an engineer. I have been the person behind the booth running the camera. So it’s not just my show I work on. I have seen all the other after shows, and I can pick up on the elements I like and incorporate those elements into my after shows. I don’t want a boring conversation. I don’t want to step-by-step saying everything that happened in the episode. I want the most conversational type of show. You mention the moment that happens, but what is your opinion on it? That makes it more conversational.

Well, you certainly are accomplishing your goals, at least from my perspective. 

Thank you.

One last question. You probably don’t have a lot of free time, but what do you like to do when you do have free time?

Saturdays are usually my only day off. So I do everything that is away from media. I like to do something physically active. I go run, workout, or I go to a movie. I go to places where there is forced silence. You can’t talk in a library or the movies. I like to be isolated so I can clear my mind because it’s racing every day at work. It’s also relaxing and enjoyable.

I want to say one more thing about the When Calls the Heart fans. We started the after show because we wanted to, but we’re continuing the show because the Hearties wanted it. And so do we. We love all the Hearties and their undying, endless support that they’ve given us. They’re fantastic.

I am so glad that I had the opportunity to interview the delightful, kind, knowledgeable, and pragmatic Marisa. Whenever I mention her name online, the Hearties are quick to point out just how wonderful and amazing she is. Those who have met her say she is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. There’s no doubt she’s good at her job, but in spite of her busyness, she makes the time to reach out to others. She is genuine and engaging, and she never draws undue attention to herself. While it may have been a small thing, I will always be grateful that she reached out to me and asked if she could share my interview with Erin Krakow on the After Show. It is those kinds of gestures that elevate her to a higher plane in my eyes, and I am fully committed to doing all I can to support her and the other hosts on every After Show I can, but especially with When Calls the Heart. Be sure that you tune in tonight (April 17th) to see the latest recap, and scroll down to the bottom to see who their special guests are going to be! Furthermore, check out all the links and follow her and AfterBuzz TV on social media so that you never miss an update from this exceptional hub of After Shows and this charming woman who is an integral part of the show franchise!

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth

43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl
Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA
Entertainment Writer
Available For Interviews and Reviews
Substitute Teacher

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