Albert Lawrence hosts the first-ever virtual 40th College Television Awards,
presented by the Television Academy Foundation, on May 30, 2020.
Albert Lawrence, Serena Sogules and Breanna Hogan at the Television Academy Foundation's 2016 Fall Fete Nov. 10, 2016, at the Saban Media Center in North Hollywood, California.
Identifying and mentoring exceptional young talent, poised to become future leaders in media, is the principal focus of the Television Academy Foundation's annual Internship Program.
In 2005 Albert Lawrence became the Foundation's very first intern in the newly established unscripted television category, and he's been unstoppable ever since. A versatile on-camera host/correspondent, producer and director in both broadcast and new media, Lawrence represents the next generation of multiskilled industry professionals.
Currently, he is a correspondent for CBS's The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation and IMDb's On the Scene – Interviews programs, a host for Amazon Live, and a regular correspondent for the annual Primetime Emmys Backstage LIVE! online show. In May 2020, he emceed the Foundation's first-ever virtual College Television Awards program.
Multitalented, tenacious and inventive, Lawrence also manages to find time to act, write, direct, produce and develop his own television and film projects.
Since completing his internship, Lawrence, a graduate of Yale University, has become an active and beloved member of the Foundation's alumni family, participating every year in its College Television Awards program, Emmys Golf Classic fundraiser and covering red carpet events for the Television Academy. (All students who participate in the Foundation's Internship Program and College Television Awards automatically become lifelong members of its alumni family.)
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your career/work life?
Last year and throughout the beginning of this year I was traveling all over the place for work. I was going to New York about twice a month doing on-camera work for Amazon Live and flying here and there to shoot stories for Innovation Nation. I was even in Switzerland at the beginning of March (2020) to host a podcast for Coca-Cola. So, from doing that to just kind of being grounded is weird—it's really a crazy time right now. But I also feel that the pandemic constraints have really pushed people to become more innovative than they've ever had to before in mass media.
How have you had to adjust and transform your work life during this unprecedented time?
One of the first things that I ended up doing was turning my apartment into a studio for shooting. I turned it into a space where I have about four different set looks that can be utilized based on what is appropriate for the project I'm working on.
I went on a scavenger hunt throughout Los Angeles and went on Facebook marketplace in order to find production equipment. I found a couple of Sony A6500 cameras and a shotgun microphone, and then I came back to set everything up for shooting.
I dragged my kitchen table into the living room to create what looks like a desk set-up, which I used to host this year's College Television Awards. I'll also be hosting press junkets for IMDb and moderating the ThunderCats Roar panel at Comic-Con for Warner Bros. animation from here as well. My living room is no longer an actual space for living, it's now just a space for me to make a living from!
In addition, I now host my Amazon Live show from home, which is kind of funny because my job is to demonstrate and review products on Amazon in a livestream. I'm sure my neighbors are very curious as to why I am getting so many deliveries from Amazon every single day (laughs).
When did you first become interested in the entertainment business?
One of my grandfathers was a huge film/TV buff; I remember my grandparents' basement being lined with bookshelves full of videocassettes. And when I'd stay over, I could hear him shouting back at the screen while watching In the Heat of the Night, Quantum Leap and Law & Order. I think that witnessing him engage with the screen in such a vivid way helped spark my interest in the power of media and performance. Throughout elementary and middle school, I acted in school plays; and once I attended Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria, Virginia, I joined the theater program there and started engaging with our TV station. I began filming videos of myself as a host and performer and sent Yale University my headshot and performing resume (with my very limited credits) along with my application. When a package from Yale arrived at my doorstep weeks before the expected decision date, I thought the admissions office had taken a look at all of my supplemental application materials and decided to mail them back with my rejection letter. But when I opened the bundle, inside was the university's current coursebook and a letter notifying me that they liked what they'd seen and that as long as I kept up what I was doing, I could expect a spot in the class of 2007!
When did you decide to apply for the Foundation's Internship program?
It was my sophomore year at Yale. I was planning to double major in theater and political science, and I found out about the Internship program while exploring the Television Academy's website and decided to apply. At Yale, I had produced a video series about dorm life similar to the MTV series Cribs (the now-canceled series that toured celebrity homes) and included those videos with my application and got accepted. I was thrilled and grateful to get an internship in Los Angeles that actually paid a salary, which was unusual at that time. Back then, a lot of the industry internships did not pay, so it was cost prohibitive for many students to participate. I don't think that I would have been able to take advantage of the program had there not been a stipend that was included. I had a Yale classmate from Glendale, California, who suggested I stay at her family home during the internship, which I did throughout the program; so it worked out well for me.
You were the first-ever Foundation unscripted television intern, tell me about your internship and how it helped you along your career path.
It cannot be overstated how much the Television Academy Foundation's Internship Program played a crucial role in the launching of my career.
I interned the summer of 2005 after my sophomore year at Yale, at the Fox Reality Channel (no longer operational) working under Bob Boden. (Boden is currently Governor of the Television Academy Reality Programming Peer Group.) The relationship I developed with Bob that year would prove to be a vital connection for me after graduating in 2007, and it continues to this day.
The internship was a dynamic and kind-of intense experience. One of my assignments was to help make a reality television encyclopedia that would prove to be quite useful after I graduated. I was going through and researching the history of reality television and who the big players were in the genre, such as American Idol, Survivor and Big Brother, and learning about each of their showrunners. As a student I really didn't have a lot of deep industry knowledge about the genre and the individuals who were responsible for creating and producing these popular shows, so it expanded my horizons as to all of the career possibilities that I was previously unaware of.
After completing my internship, I went back east to finish up my final two years at Yale. During this time, I stayed in touch with some of the Fox Reality Channel team I had worked with as well as the Television Academy Foundation staff.
After graduating from Yale, I moved to Los Angeles and reconnected with Bob Boden; and he introduced me to more of the staff at the Fox Reality Channel. As a result of that meeting, I was hired to work with the digital news department. It became my job to scour the internet and various sources to investigate today's latest reality television news. So, the very first official job within the television industry I got was with Fox Reality Channel where I had done my internship.
At Fox Reality they eventually let me start up my own blog on their site. Once I established the blog, they started letting me post my own videos of interviews with different reality television personalities.
These on-camera interviews became my reel that eventually got me an agent and my own website called Talk of Fame. The content and the experience that I was able to garner through Talk of Fame ended up helping me get a job at Warner Bros., which then helped me get a job at KABC, which then led to me working on Innovation Nation on CBS, etc.
When I look back, I think about the entertainment industry in Los Angeles and sometimes how evasive the dream can seem as you are trying to figure out exactly how do I reach it? How do I reach through the television screen and touch the thing that I truly do believe that I'm here for? It can seem daunting and intimidating, but the Television Academy Foundation's Internship program truly did provide a path—a bridge for me to reach through that screen and to help make this a reality ... no pun intended.
Plus, the program continues to offer really cool opportunities to network with fellow alumni, and for me, resulted in work as a correspondent for the Academy on Primetime Emmys Backstage LIVE! So, I can't say enough good things about the Internship program, it deserves all the love in this world.
Why is it important for student programs, like those of the Television Academy Foundation, to continue to promote inclusion within the industry?
By providing opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds who are talented; who show an affinity for writing, producing, creating and collaborating; and to reach out to those students who also might not have other connections within the entertainment industry, is really important in broadening the industry's scope.
It is so crucial to continue to put a very intentional lens on finding people who don't necessarily match what the industry has looked like to date. Finding people who are different—who think differently—adds fresh ideas; unique perspectives; and, in turn, invigorating content. We need that.
The fact that the Foundation can do it at such an early phase in so many people's careers with the internship program is crucial, it's vital and it provides hope.
I'm clearly not an objective party about this, but I 100% believe in the work the Foundation does and the passion that its staff has to make a difference. The Foundation has receipts from all its work. And I am one of those receipts.
What advice would you give students who are about to embark on a Foundation Internship program?
My best advice for students would be to not squander opportunities—to squeeze the absolute most you can out of them—and develop as many relationships as you can during this time because you just don't know when the next opportunity is coming.
In response to recent protests against police brutality and systemic racism, Hollywood has been called upon to make significant changes within our industry. What, in your opinion, are some immediate actions that the entertainment industry can take to facilitate change?
I've spoken with friends who've said that being the Black person in certain groups—especially when there are not a lot of Black people in a certain group—when it comes time for diversity initiatives, the temptation can be for bosses to look and say, "Oh, you're the Black person in this group. I'm going to put you in charge of the diversity initiative because you clearly have experience with that community." Although I understand why they may do that, I think that it is more helpful and honestly more fair to not just place that responsibility upon the Black person in the group because, first off, to be a diversity and inclusion officer is a job in and of itself that really does require its own special knowledge and expertise.
Instead of just finding a Black person who happens to be on a team and placing that person in charge of all the diversity initiatives, hire some of these firms that have been doing the work of diversity and inclusion since way before Black Lives Matter became a trending topic on Twitter. These people have really been putting in the work over time. These companies have been studying the best ways we can serve our workforce and make people feel included but also to make people feel comfortable, to make people feel desired and wanted and honored within this space.
Breaking down the system is not an overnight thing. This is not a sprint. This is a marathon.
As a Black man, how do these instances of police brutality affect you personally? How does it make you feel?
I have been disappointed, frustrated and upset. And now I want to be hopeful that because of the conversations that are happening now ... and gosh, it is absolutely atrocious and despicable that it took George Floyd's murder being caught on camera for the conversation about police brutality to reach the fever pitch that it has now. So when I said frustrated, I'm frustrated because I just don't fully understand why the several other cases of police brutality and the evidence that's piled up around specific circumstances of police brutality, why that was not enough for us to make some of the changes that we are now finally seeming to seriously be making progress on.
I have had multiple interactions with police officers; and many of them, the vast majority of them, have been very civil, very respectful. My father worked in law enforcement. I have major respect for people who put their lives on the line in order to protect others. But at the same time, clearly within the system there's some true reform that needs to happen because these are not isolated incidents that are happening with police. This is very widespread. There are systemic changes that must absolutely be addressed and made.
I really do hope this time will be transformative for us as a culture. I really do see us as Americans finally having stronger conversations about the reckoning of what does it mean for this nation to be built so largely by slaves and for that slave labor and for the people who are descendants of those slaves to be at a disadvantage within the current culture.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.