Hollywood school ties

Associated Press

Many know of the University of Michigan through its famous alumni -- Madonna, Gerald Ford, Arthur Miller. And . . . Gregory House and Gerald and Karen DeGroot.

The first three names are really well known in public policy, music and theater.

The last three aren’t real at all.

House, the lead character on the Fox medical drama of the same name, is a Michigan medical school graduate, and the DeGroots are Michigan doctoral candidates who founded the mysterious Dharma Initiative at the center of the ABC serial “Lost.”


Such tie-ins allow TV and film productions to be more authentic while at the same time providing universities with free advertising and the chance to up their coolness quotient.

“It’s fun for everyone -- alumni and students -- to see their university pop up in film,” said Lee Doyle, who heads the University of Michigan’s film office.

And while that may be, it sometimes can be serious business for Doyle and others who hold the equivalent job at major universities.

They have their school’s reputation to consider in weighing whether to allow it to be associated with a TV show or movie.

USC, which sits in the heart of the entertainment universe, often receives requests to use its name in the form of diplomas, shirts, pennants and the like.

“If we feel that the script is a positive reflection of higher education in general as well as USC specifically, then we will approve the use of the item,” said Torie Daves, the school’s director of campus filming.

Princeton University also weighs filmed entertainment pitches case by case. One consideration sometimes is whether the production supports a university effort or initiative.

“We try to look for synergies with the project,” said university spokeswoman Emily Aronson. “For instance, our interest in having more young women apply to the university and movies such as ‘A Cinderella Story,’ and ‘Spanglish,’ which featured female characters who apply to Princeton.”

Another Ivy League school, Yale University, took extra steps to assist a production team in making Rory Gilmore’s campus accommodations authentically Yale for the Connecticut-based but California-shot TV show “Gilmore Girls.”

The University of Michigan similarly assisted the British production of the 2005 Joan Allen-Kevin Costner flick “The Upside of Anger” in staging a full-on commencement ceremony for Alicia Witt’s character -- complete with visually accurate representations of the university seal and caps and gowns.

Michigan also created and shipped to “House” a diploma to be placed on the wall in the good doctor’s office on the show.

Unlike “House,” “Lost” decided to go ahead with its Michigan connection without any input from the school -- a move that at first was a tad unsettling for Doyle, the film office chief.

She found out about it while watching the show.

“I was sitting in the living room with my husband and said, ‘Oh, my goodness!’ I won’t quote exactly what I said. [It was] more colorful than that,” she said, laughing.