be real at BC
While at BC, Jamie Canniffe ’91 played Nick in an adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and spent a summer acting and writing at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Canniffe says that he’s always felt compelled to tell stories. His own narrative, in fact, is as entertaining as the reality shows he creates for Sony Pictures Television, where he was recently promoted to senior vice president.
The Marblehead, Mass., native had his first taste of Hollywood in 1993 as a volunteer turned production assistant on the Jeff Bridges actioner Blown Away, which was filmed in Boston. He had been selling mutual funds before the gig and soon left for the West Coast, taking a job answering phones on the Warner Bros. lot.
“I figured my best chance to get ahead was to work cheap,” says Canniffe. It soon paid off, when he talked his way onto a syndicated sports show hosted by Dan Marino. Canniffe left as an associate producer, later venturing to VH1’s Behind the Music, where he produced episodes on David Crosby and John Lennon, among others.
When reality TV exploded onto the scene in the early 2000s, Canniffe was at the right place at the right time, serving as producer and then co-executive producer of the Emmy-nominated hit The Apprentice for six seasons. In his current role, Canniffe develops reality shows for a variety of audiences. His touch can be seen on NBC’s breakout hit The Sing Off, ABC’s Shark Tank, and the nationally syndicated Dr. Oz Show.
Below, Canniffe provides his take on life and BC:
What is the most satisfying moment in your professional life?
Writing, producing, and directing a short film, titled Foto Fandango, with the help of some friends in 1997. It was recognized in a half-dozen major film festivals and even won a couple prizes.
In your personal life?
Running the Marine Corps Marathon.
What is your fondest BC memory?
Studying at the Abbey Theatre.
What is your next goal?
To complete an open-ocean swim race, travel to every continent, and start my own television production company.
What is one thing everyone should do while at BC?
Try everything. The college life—without responsibility and with endless opportunity—is a gift.
How have you changed since graduation?
Not sure that I have changed. I still feel 21, but I certainly look older.
Why did you decide to attend BC?
For the great education and the tailgating—not necessarily in that order.
What is the secret to success?
Doing what you love.
Where is your favorite spot on the Heights?
The Bonn Studio in Robsham, where I first acted in front of a couple hundred people. It seemed like anything was possible in that little black-box theater.
What would you do if you were BC president for a day?
I’d give all my nieces and nephews full scholarships, so they could experience everything I did.
What was your first job?
I sold mutual funds at Fidelity Investments for a few months before I could muster up the guts to follow my dream of working in the entertainment business.
Where did you live freshman year?
I lived off campus, because I didn’t receive housing. It may have made it a little harder to meet people, but we had some good parties.
How do you relax?
I run at the beach or surf.
What was your favorite BC class?
Freshman philosophy. I had a gifted teacher who was a graduate student, and he inspired me to major in philosophy. I remember staying up all night trying to figure out the meaning of life.
What do you look forward to each day?
Developing TV shows. There’s a great feeling of accomplishment watching something on TV that you helped create and knowing that it wouldn’t exist without you, for better or for worse.
What was your favorite BC activity?
Theater. Because I’m really shy, and it was a rush to be on stage completely vulnerable.
What is something your friends don’t know about you?
I sang for Pope John Paul II in Rome with the University Chorale. I auditioned on a dare and somehow made the group. I had never sung in public before.
How much can you sing of the BC fight song?
I know “For Boston, for Boston…” Then it gets fuzzy.
Who would play you in the film version of your life?
If Michael J. Fox, Joel McHale, Michael Douglas, and William H. Macy had a child with Mikhail Baryshnikov, he would play me. Of course, that’s if Brad Pitt wasn’t available.
What was the best meal at the BC dining hall?
I remember the chicken sandwiches being good for some reason.