For over 50 years, the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) style of educational, civic, and cultural programming has proven popular with television viewers across the United States.

This is why Nashville’s WDCN-TV—the state’s second oldest educational television station, preceding PBS by more than seven years—would eventually join the PBS family, updating its programming and adopting its most recent brand as Nashville Public Television (NPT) in 2000. Since joining the airwaves, the station has expanded its availability to almost 2.4 million people throughout Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky via a mix of broadcast and digital streaming options.

Megan Grisolano serves as both the executive producer of NPT and as one of its content creators. Her background includes building an audience on digital platforms, strategic planning, data tracking/analysis, and leading multiple creative teams.

Pictured: Megan Grisolano. Photo credit: Jason Winkeler.

“I have a few responsibilities at NPT,” Megan says, sharing that NPT’s fight to retain its current audience prompted its evolution into a newer production model. “As an executive producer, my job is to provide viewers with relevant local content that viewers and organizations want to support so that we can keep the lights on and keep making amazing content. As a content creator myself, I work to tell compelling stories that inform, inspire, and celebrate our community.”

Joining the Program

Long before accepting her current role in the world of television, Megan’s career interests were centered on business management. These interests would change after attending Vanderbilt University. In 2007 as an undergraduate freshman at the university, Megan was still trying to find her niche. 

Megan recalls, “I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I got this random email from a campus media group offering a workshop before classes to learn more about newspapers, television, and other different possible careers in media.”

Megan applied to participate and was accepted into the workshop. Of the different career tracks to explore, Megan found her strongest interest was in television. She began working with fellow students on a series for Vanderbilt Television, a station broadcast on campus.

Featured: A “Tennessee Crossroads” segment on Joanie’s in downtown Murfreesboro.

“I really enjoyed that experience,” she recalls. “Not only did I get to host a program, I got to learn about how a weekly series gets made, and all of the effort required to get something on the air. There are so many questions that go into program creation, such as ‘How can the intro serve to pique interest?’ or ‘How can this content add value to viewers?’”

“We’ll Be Right Back…”

Megan was excited by the prospect of pursuing a career in television. But her parents found the idea risky and pushed her to other concentrations that would ensure her career success. Taking their advice, Megan double majored in Spanish and economics, adding a minor in corporate strategy. While in college, she would spend her summers volunteering for WCTE (Central TN PBS, which is based in Cookeville) so that she could continue learning about media. Following graduation from Vanderbilt, Megan stayed with WCTE, writing fundraising copy for the station and helping it solicit donations. 

Wanting a break from business, Megan moved to Madrid for two years to experience life abroad. She joined the Fulbright Program as an English Teaching Assistant for Instituto Severo Ochoa. There, she offered biweekly American and Spanish movie screenings to students. 

Pictured: An “Arts Break” shoot featuring Nashville Shakespeare Festival. From left to right: Denice Hicks, Megan Grisolano, Armondo Moralez, and Donald Capparella.

After her Fulbright grant ended, in 2013, Megan moved back to the U.S., relocating to Chicago to attend the University of Chicago Booth School of Business to earn her MBA. This time, Megan would re-enter media production through the channel of business management.

“Now that I’m older, I realize that becoming an executive producer this route was not something that people commonly do since it’s a horizontal move from the money side of media to the production side of media,” she says. 

In her second year, Megan co-chaired the Entertainment and Media Group—a student organization—to learn more about career tracks in media and support fellow students with similar interests. She also worked as a research intern for “Chicago Tonight” at PBS’s Chicago member station WTTW.

Entering the Frontline of TV Production

After earning her MBA in 2015, Megan was ready to fully transition into a media career. She had had her heart set on something in public television and eventually landed a role as a business development manager for Nine PBS in St. Louis. There, Megan researched business opportunities that help keep public stations going.

“It’s through using the principles of business that I was able to support other team members early on. All of the things that happen within a particular station, production company, etc. require money. Without that money, there is no mission because the content can’t be created,” she says.

Featured: One of NPT’s “A Slice of the Community” episodes discussing mental health and gun violence.

Earning money for public television has only become more difficult over the past decade. More viewing options are certainly great for the viewer but come at the cost of programmatic loyalty. 

“We know that traditional broadcast television is only one of many options for content now, ” Megan says. “Viewership is decreasing as more people want on-demand services.”

Changing viewership also impacts funding for NPT. Many of the old methods to encourage donations to PBS stations aren’t as effective as they once were. Since many PBS member stations are still mostly funded through donor memberships, it’s imperative that new and existing members continue to pledge support. 

In her time with PBS member stations, Megan has seen public media embrace technology and adopt new strategies to reach audiences and drive revenue.

“Public media stations have been trying a lot of new things. Across the system, we’re experimenting to determine how to best reach community members and optimize our usage of broadcast television, email, direct mail, digital ads, owned media, and more. All of these means of reaching people are important, and we’re working to adapt to this rapidly evolving media landscape with limited time and resources. It’s all part of staying relevant and meeting people where they are.”

Pictured: A picture of the team behind “Retro Tennessee Crossroads.” From left to right: Paul Mojonnier, Shane Burkeen, Jessica Turk, Joe Elmore, Armondo Moralez, Megan Grisolano, Ed Jones, and Jim DeMarco.

A Happy Little Accident

Jumping into business development for Nine PBS, Megan made herself useful by staying on the financial side of the production process for a few years. 

Seeing that she wanted more from her job, her husband encouraged her to pick up a camera. “He knew that if I wanted to take on a more creative role, I needed to show that I could. My past experience wouldn’t be enough,” Megan says. 

She loved the idea of making content. But Megan was drawing a blank on what she wanted to do. Chatting with Nine PBS’s head of production, Megan was given the recommendation of doing stories about local visual artists. 

She says, “They’re actually really easy to produce, and it’s generally a compelling story. It was also a great way for me to get my foot in the door because the footage you capture lends itself to B-roll.”

Megan found her rhythm in doing art stories and created a digital series for St. Louis public media viewers. She did this for a while, enjoying her time behind the camera. 

But life abroad was calling her away again, as she was obligated to move back to Spain for a few years so that her husband could spend time with his family and friends. Megan moved back to Madrid in 2019, continuing her work with Nine PBS as a business development manager. She also continued her hobby of studying successful YouTube videos and making her own content, which focused on observations about life in Spain and America. 

Featured: A segment from NPT’s “Arts Break” on the Spotlight Awards.

Megan says, “There are all of these little tricks YouTubers use to make content appealing to a wider audience. Looking at those tricks, you spend time wondering about which thumbnail images or keywords might grab the most viewers, or ‘Should I frame this video as a quote or a question?’”

Looking at the mechanics of YouTube video creation, Megan created content for her own channel, tinkering with each one to maximize its exposure. This tinkering paid off her “What do Americans think about Spain?” video went viral. Since its upload in 2019, this video has earned over a million views. As of this writing, Megan’s YouTube channel has generated an estimated 15M views between all of her videos.

“After that one video, my YouTube channel really started taking off! Before I knew it, I had 50K subscribers!” she says. 

What she’s learned from her time on YouTube has helped make her a better content creator and a better business developer. She shares that many common YouTube practices—which are driven by audience expectations—go against the straightforward desire of telling an engaging story. Megan says, “People who work for public television stations are so earnest, and many are not trying to do these little tricks. They just want to tell informative, compelling stories that take their time, building momentum to naturally satisfying moments. YouTube represents a completely different format that’s built quick gratification over slow buildups. Here, you may have to tease that you’re getting to something good with a story, if not jump right away to its revelation.”

Featured: A video from the “Next Door Neighbors” series, entitled “What Surprised These Tennesseans?”

Megan’s time in Spain was short-lived. Learning that there was an opening at Tennessee’s NPT in 2021 for the role of executive producer, she leaped at the opportunity to move back to her home state. 

This position was a godsend for Megan. As an executive producer, she was able to put her newly honed skills in content strategy and production to work. Attached to the role of executive producer was the expectation that Megan would be creating unique content. Now, Megan could do just that, pulling from five years of life in Spain.

“After spending time in different countries myself, I’ve become particularly interested in exploring the cultural differences noticed by immigrants who’ve moved to the U.S.,” Megan says. 

To highlight those commonplace cultural differences, Megan launched “The Little Things,” a series that features short, lighthearted stories about cultural nuances many Americans take for granted. A blend of shorter videos and half-hour documentaries, this content is part of NPT’s ongoing “Next Door Neighbors” series which highlights Nashville’s diverse population. 

Capturing the differences between Nashville’s sundry populations is an exciting task for Megan, and it’s a through line that can be observed in much of her work. Collaborating with three other (consulting) producers, Megan produced “Aging Matters: Aging with Pride.” This documentary covers the social, economic, and health-related challenges faced by older members of the LGBT community. This documentary is a part of the “Aging Matters” series and is also an installment in a broader scope of national PBS station programming. Unlike other projects, however, “Aging Matters: Aging with Pride” was syndicated by PBS station distributor American Public Television for public broadcast and streaming across the U.S.

Featured: Megan’s viral “What do Americans think about Spain?” YouTube video.

Such content comes to NPT through a “small but mighty” team of five additional producers who work with Megan to create NPT’s local content. This team makes it a point to produce something for everyone, hitting a wide range of interests.

Perhaps one of the most recognizable and endearing shows in the NPT roster is “Tennessee Crossroads.” Megan shares, “The show has actually been around since the late ‘80s… But this year, we started producing ‘Retro Tennessee Crossroads.’ This is nostalgia programming for viewers who like those ‘blasts from the past.’ We have Joe Elmore and NPT President/ CEO Becky Magura watch these old segments from the ‘80s, 90s, and early 2000s, commenting on them.”

Certainly more niche, “Volunteer Gardener” is a program that’s also been around since the ‘80s, proving itself to be a mainstay of NPT’s docket.

“It’s all things gardening and yards, with tips on how you can surround yourself with beautiful plants,” Megan says. 

Predating both shows is “A Word on Words,” which originally aired from 1972 to 2013. Hosted by  Originally hosted by John Siegenthaler, the program was later revived in 2015.

“We do 15 episodes of that show a year. It’s basically an interview with authors who could be from anywhere. Two local authors host the series: New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison and Jeremy Finley, whom many know as the chief investigative reporter for WSMV,” Megan says.

Pictured: Megan and Tomicka Delgado (right), NPT’s senior director of human resources during a pledge training.

Other programs like “Arts Break,” “Learning to Read,” “Clean Slate with Becky Magura,” and “A Slice of the Community” feature Tennessee artists, literacy tips, well-known community members discussing how their lives could be different, and pressing local issues, respectively. On top of this episodic programming, NPT produces one-off documentaries and short video segments for topics such as citizenship, cybersecurity, and health care.  

Viewers Like You

Megan tells readers that the era of television broadcasts functioning like a megaphone to reach viewers is over. NPT is now yet another combatant in the new arena of streaming options. 

If NPT is to meet this challenge, then it must evolve to match the expectations of current viewers. The polished hosts from previous generations of content have now become more informal, resembling someone you might meet for coffee. The narrative frameworks that supported a thirty second intro complete with theme music are out of vogue. Now, it’s preferred that intros run only a few seconds, sometimes telegraphing the climax of a story first to guarantee that a narrative’s setup will have an enjoyable payoff. 

Pictured: A promotional image from NPTs’ “The Little Things” with episode guest Pablo Bodini.

For 2023, her goal is to grow NPT’s viewership by stressing the value of local programming, as other streaming options aren’t serving Nashville in the same way.

“I want people to know that we’re here and that we’re doing something unique that streaming media giants aren’t offering to their viewers,” she says. “They’re never going to be incentivized to tell local stories. They’re never going to come here and talk to local artists, talk to local entrepreneurs, or talk to local people whose amazing stories make Nashville a great place to live. It’s NPT that gives Nashville a voice in streaming content options, and puts on local events for people to meet one another.” 

For further information about Nashville Public Television, visit its website and social media.

Pictured: Megan and Sadie Wang (right) during a recording for NPT’s “The Little Things” series.