Mike Baireuther: Supervising Producer, Discovery Communications
WFU Class of 2008
Double Minor: Entrepreneurship & Journalism
Mike Baireuther came into his own as a Lilting Banshee during undergrad at the Forest. He recently shared on his path since Wake, from Turner's T3 program in Atlanta to his current role in DC at Discovery.
DeacLink: Tell us about your current job and what it entails.
Mike Baireuther: I work at Discovery Communications, which owns Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, and the Science Channel. We’re about to acquire Scripps which includes HGTV and the Cooking Channel. I’m a supervising producer in the branded entertainment team, which means I make commercials for the companies that sponsors the network’s shows. For instance, when Volkswagen sponsors Shark Week, I make commercials for that.
DL: That’s a pretty cool job. How did you arrive here since Wake?
MB: Definitely with a little luck. I applied for the T3 program at Turner which is based in Atlanta. They’ve got Cartoon Network, CNN, TNT, TBS and Turner Classic Movies. They had a bunch of positions available when I applied, so I went for about 20-30. I had to do a project for each one; I was desperate because the economy collapsed as I graduated.
I started at Cartoon Network and spent a year there. At the end they let all 25 of us T3’s go. They laid off 20 full time employees, too. I transitioned to an unpaid internship from this, doing marketing and strategy but desperate to do more creative work.
I ingratiated myself (whether they wanted me to or not) with the promotions team and spent six months with them. When a job opened at TNT, I got my foot in the door there through a recommendation. I spent three years at TNT’s with their on-air promotions team, making commercials for shows like Law & Order. I was doing a web show for their online outlet too, making jokes about internet videos. I also pitched in with a kid’s show on Cartoon Network which broke down the Thursday night NBA game for kids in video game format.
After these years my wife got a job in Philadelphia and the closest I could move was DC. I got referred to a job at Discovery as a copywriter. With my background in TV I was eager to go into video production. They brought me into a supervising producer role after about two years of copywriting.
DL: What’s been your favorite project so far?
MB: There’s been quite a few standouts! The first big job I concepted and brought to fruition for Discovery was a shoot with Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry in Atlanta. I got to meet and work with Oprah which was pretty special. Working on those spots was really validating and enjoyable.
My two big yearly projects are Shark Week and Puppy Bowl. I’ve gotten to visit some interesting places and meet smart, passionate people who really care about the science involved with Shark Week. Puppy Bowl allowed me to meet lots of people in animal welfare, who dedicate their lives to helping stray animals. It’s one thing to shoot with celebrities, but another to work with people changing the world in their own way. That’s always inspiring.
As someone who majored in history and focused on East Asian history, my job shockingly led to fulfilling a lifelong dream shooting a VR experience in Japan. I never thought I’d get an amazing opportunity like that through work. The final product was really strong as a 360 video as well, so I was proud of that.
Pretty soon I’ll be travelling to Asia again as part of a program set up through Eurosport, a sport network in Europe which Discovery owns. Eurosport have acquired rights to the Olympics for the next decade, so they’ve begun a program where us non-Eurosport employees can help out with the grunt work at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February. It’s a great opportunity to pitch in with the event and learn about what we’ll be representing. I’ll be behind the scenes documenting how the crews document the games.
DL: How did your undergrad experience at Wake inform or drive your career decisions?
MB: I often joke with people that I graduated from the Lilting Banshees, not Wake Forest. Being part of the troupe fundamentally changed my life. I hadn’t been involved in anything theater or creative before college… I actually auditioned because someone on my hall was planning to. He chickened out but I still went; I threw myself into the troupe once I realized I was actually good at it.
I was passionate about what I studied as well. History strengthened my writing and forced me to organize my thoughts better. Journalism added to this as well. The journalism program at Wake isn’t as renowned as others in the country, but the professors were dedicated to being hard on the students’ writing. With my current job I get to write some fun creative stuff, but the bulk of it is institutional writing aimed at explaining what we could do for a client.
So yeah, Banshees definitely changed my trajectory in terms of who I thought I was and what I wanted to do professionally. Ultimately, my extracurriculars were more influential for me getting started in my career as well. I tapped into the Banshee network asking former troupe members about their experiences, getting advice and so forth.
DL: Did you tap into resources on campus like OPCD as well?
MB: I did and I didn’t. That’s to say, so much of the career center is oriented towards the Calloway School and people looking for entrance to med and law school. Which is absolutely great, but it’s much harder for a school like Wake that doesn’t have a stronger creative arts presence to connect you with those fields. I did however do a test interview with OPCD once, which was great because I discovered my weak points while interviewing. I had this tick where I kept insisting about eight times that I was a hard worker… I was explaining myself a lot. The OPCD did get me an interview with an environmental non profit in Raleigh. It was nice and mission oriented but I of course ended up running away to Atlanta.
Once out in my field, I found that having a few fellow Wake alums in my immediate area was really beneficial. When the sky was calling at Cartoon Network, someone in my adjacent department who was also a WFU grad became my friend. He was incredible as a mentor and encouraged me to press on with my work despite all of the layoffs that were happening.
On a similar note, I reached out to another Atlanta based Wake alum called Dave Willis, on more of a dream-come-true level. I was desperate to work on projects like what he’d created in Aqua Teen Hunger Force, so I sent a rather pathetic email saying I was from Wake too and on my way out with the T3’s but looking to pick his brain. He was a lovely guy and incredibly generous with his time, and let me hang out with him for a week. He let me join him in the studio for a voice recording session, which was pretty cool. It didn’t materialize into a job or anything, but it was encouraging to have someone on his level that was willing to sit down, talk and take an interest in me. Both of these relationships were really influential for me, and we keep in touch to this day.
DL: What does it take to stand out in your line of work, to get your foot in the door?
MB: There’s a lot of chance and luck involved. In general that’s with any job, really. But one thing I’ve benefited from a lot is doing extra side projects. The Olympics thing is a good example, because it was an open application process that anyone could submit for. Even my job at Discovery came from doing the web show for TBS, because a colleague ended up referring me to this position here. The basketball kid’s show allowed me to distinguish myself creatively, and all it took was staying up late once a week to watch the game and explain it to young audiences.
Balancing multiple projects at once can be tiring, but especially while you’re young try to do things outside the confines of an expected path. Going above and beyond pays a lot of dividends in the long run. You learn how to be more bootstrappy and figure things out on your own from these pursuits.
DL: What is it like living and working in DC?
MB: I’m not from here, but I love this town. It’s pretty expensive which is a bummer. But it’s a mecca for nerds, and there’s a lot of smart people who are very passionate about what they do. The city is small but has tons of arts and culture, as the nation’s capital of course. There’s lots of Wake people here as well which a bonus.
DL: What is your mantra, or best piece of advice you can think to pass on?
MB: Work hard, be nice, and keep in touch. If you can do those things consistently, you’re probably gonna be okay. I think a lot of people like to say that entertainment or creative work is about who you know, but it’s also about who you trust. When you find people you enjoy working with, in whatever capacity, it’s good to keep in touch with them and remind them of that. That sort of stuff really does come around.