School of Communication alumnus thrives in producer role with HBO, NBC Sports
March 7, 2022
It all started with a tweet. Jonathan Williamson, a 2003 graduate from what is now the School of Communication, had spent the better part of 10 years in the news industry, beginning as an associate producer at WSLS in Roanoke, becoming a news producer along the way, and finding stops in Richmond and Washington, D.C.
Although the career was rewarding, he felt a deep desire for something more in the entertainment and documentary spheres. After spending time in New York at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, Williamson was without a job. That is, until he saw a tweet.
Men in Blazers, a soccer culture comedy show, was in need of a producer with television experience. For Williamson, it was the perfect match. He had played soccer at Virginia Tech and knew how things worked on the producing side.
“I responded to the tweet with a resume, and that was it,” Williamson said. “I have been there for the past eight years.”
Since 2014, Williamson has become the show’s executive producer and head of production. Men in Blazers can be seen on NBC Sports and listened to on all major podcast-hosting sites.
“A producer’s role is amorphous,” Williamson said. “It can mean different things on different shows. For me, I’m helping cultivate the concept of the show and the content of the show from its inception through production, post-production, and launch. It’s a lot of writing. It’s a lot of working with the talent to make sure what they’ve envisioned comes to life.”
That talent involves Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, affectionately referred to as Rog and Dav on the show. The duo brings an entertaining and humorous feel to the show that’s hard to find elsewhere.
“To get to work alongside them is a creative’s dream,” Williamson said.
In that creative environment, the best idea always wins. As a result, Men in Blazers has built a substantial following and yielded interviews with cultural icons such as Will Ferrell, Matthew McConaughey, and John Oliver.
“The biggest thing for me about Men in Blazers is the community of listeners, viewers, and fans. We have an extraordinary group of people who care a lot about soccer,” Williamson said. “We’ve had people tell us how much the show means to them during the pandemic or during a difficult time in their life. That was always my goal: to work on a show that means so much to so many people.”
His relationship with Bennett on Men in Blazers has paid dividends for Williamson in other areas of his career. The two have also worked together on HBO’s Succession Podcast.
“I cannot imagine my life without him,” Bennett said. “Jonathan’s arrival by a quirk of a tweet is proof that sometimes small moments can bring enormous change to your life journey.
“Our passions overlap so deeply. Our skill sets are so different in a deeply productive way. We both work a lot, so I speak to him more than anyone else in the world. And the breadth and depth of the work we have been able to develop together proves that a creative collaboration can accomplish so much more than solo efforts.”
Recently, that collaboration allowed Bennett and Williamson to work on what Bennett called “the project that we are proudest of in our working lives.”
With Bennett as the host and Williamson as the producer, HBO’s Band of Brothers Podcast was released this past September in conjunction with the 20-year anniversary of the release of the legendary miniseries. For Williamson, who also double majored in history at Virginia Tech, the project allowed him to rewatch the series and further research the history of Easy Company in the 101st Airborne Division of World War II.
“It was a singular opportunity for me, as I’ve always been fascinated by history and I was a humongous fan of the book and the series,” Williamson said. “To be able to tell the stories of people who, when the world looked into the abyss, pulled it back from the precipice, was just an honor.
“When Tom Hanks joined the podcast, he called it not a TV series, but a social document that people will look back on 50, 100 years from now to learn about the men of Easy Company. The opportunity to listen in and edit those conversations and help formulate those questions is something I don’t take for granted.”
It’s often those in front of the camera who are most noticed in the media and content world, but Williamson’s skill behind the scenes are what has enabled him to find these life-changing opportunities. He notes that opportunities in producer roles are now at an all-time high for college students and young professionals looking to break into the business.
“Opportunities have never been greater than they are right at this moment,” Williamson said. “Media outlets are always looking for good writers, good producers, and good editors.
“That’s wonderful for young students who are just coming out of school. If you have an idea, you now have the means and the wherewithal to produce it. Make things, do things, write things, edit things — whatever you want to be doing, you can be doing it from home now. I would advise everyone to make stuff.”
Williamson noted that the broadcast writing, reporting, and production classes he took at Virginia Tech have all served him well. He left campus knowing the best research methods and how to shoot a 20-second news voiceover.
“My Virginia Tech training remains with me all the time, even when I’m not thinking about it. Writing in the active voice, word economy — I apply these foundational principles to every script,” Williamson said. “Virginia Tech has found its way into all these projects in some way, shape, or form.”
Written by Cory Van Dyke