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OSU alum, ‘Alcatraz’ creator breaks into mainstream TV

Courtesy of Leigh Dana Jackson

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For some of us, dreams don’t always come true, but for others, hard work and dedication is what makes it all possible. Bryan Wynbrandt might just be the perfect example.

As a former Ohio State student who moved westward with a dream, Wynbrandt has struck potential gold with his new show “Alcatraz,” which debuted Monday on Fox. The show follows the investigation of 302 Alcatraz prisoners and guards who reappeared 50 years after they vanished.

After having several behind-the-scenes roles, including writing for the ABC Family show, “Kyle XY,” he can now add “creator” to his resume.

Along with his writing partner, Steven Lilien, Wynbrandt, who also serves as co-executive producer, helped construct a storyline strong enough to entice the producing talents of J.J. Abrams, whose past experience includes shows such as “Felicity,” “Alias,” “Fringe” and “Lost.” Success might have struck Wynbrandt in 2012, but it has been a life-long journey up to this point.

Wynbrandt, a Cleveland native and an OSU alumnus, said television shows during his childhood greatly impacted his aspirations.

He had a fascination with “The Twilight Zone” and Alfred Hitchcock productions.

“It was always TV and film — it always spoke to me more than written words,” Wynbrandt said.

This fascination led Wynbrandt to OSU where he pursued a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing. Summer internships allowed him to hold positions at the movie studio Miramax and the Cannes Film Festival in France.

His former instructor and professor in the creative writing program at OSU, Michelle Herman, said she remembers Wynbrandt very well.

“He talked a mile a minute and had a very memorable presence in the classroom,” Herman said.

She said although she didn’t think Wynbrandt would end up being a fiction writer, she wasn’t at all surprised to hear that he was writing for television and movies. She said she always believed that he was a diligent student who had it in him.

“He was absolutely determined not to give up,” Herman said.

Wynbrandt himself stressed the importance of going after your dream.

“You need to take a big chance and take risks,” Wynbrandt said.

He also encouraged students not to be afraid of traveling and to realize the importance of location.

“If you know you want to do film, go to L.A.,” he said. “If you want to go into alligator farm raising, you go to the South. Go where the work is.”

Being independent isn’t the only thing Wynbrandt said is hard. He said it is essential not to underestimate your own value.

“No one will do anything for you,” Wynbrandt said. “Trust your own voice.”

It is these pointers that Wynbrandt said he has used to get where he is. He said he hopes they help students to realize that it is possible “if you have a vision.”  

He has worked in Hollywood for more than a decade but said attending OSU is still one of the things he holds dear.

“It is one of the things that defines me still,” Wynbrandt said.

As for Herman, she will stick to her guns throughout the season and focus on content rather than visual appeal.

“I will probably watch the show with my eyes closed and my hands over my eyes,” Herman said.

Others, while proud of the accomplishments of an OSU alumnus, were reserving judgment for the premiere.

“I’m glad that an OSU student wrote a TV show that was good enough to be on network television,” said Chris Seaman, a second-year in interior design. “We’ll see if it’s any good. That’s a surprise.”

“Alcatraz” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox.

Shay Trotter contributed to this story.

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