When School of Communication alumni Sean Kennedy first stepped foot on Florida State University’s campus as a freshman in 1995 he had aspirations of a career in genetic counseling.
Little did Kennedy know an aversion to Calculus and a flyer seeking students to create their own television shows would lead him to winning an Emmy Award in 2013.
“Florida State did a great job opening and presenting options that I never knew were available,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy’s History Channel production team garnered an Emmy at the 65th Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Sept. 15 for the documentary series “Remembering 9/11” for History.com, beating out nominees such as “Jay Leon’s Garage”, Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” and “30 Rock: The Final Season” in the category of Outstanding Special Class – Short-Format Nonfiction Programs.
“Being recognized with my industry’s highest award is pretty crazy, but really satisfying and humbling,” Kennedy said.
“Remember 9/11” is about several items in the 9/11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center site in New York City. The videos are also available for view by visitors of the museum.
“I moved to New York after graduation in 2000, so I was living here and got to know the city pre-9/11,” Kennedy said. “The World Trade Center was so large and looming over the city that I could look up to the horizon and see the towers and know which direction I was going. After 9/11, I was literally lost and I think a lot of other people felt the same way — both emotionally and literally.”
Kennedy, who graduated from Florida State with a Bachelor’s degree in 2000, made a lot of videos in high school but was originally interested in genetic counseling because it was the “wave of the future.” Then, he saw an advertisement for the closed-circuit campus television station, which was recruiting students to create programming. He teamed up with his brother, who also attended Florida State, to create “The Sideshow” – a sketch comedy program.
“(The show) was not very good, but it was so popular that people called in and wanted to see it again,” Kennedy said. “When that happened, I decided it was the direction I wanted to go and changed my major to communications. It all fell into place after that.”
With a new focus, Kennedy immersed himself in his new field of study and welcomed advice from faculty members such as Mark Zeigler, who encouraged his work as a writer and video producer. Shortly after winning the Emmy, Kennedy wrote to Zeigler and thanked him for his support and guidance.
“Sean was a superb writer as an undergraduate,” Zeigler said. “He also has the tenacity to make it in the business. This recognition surprises no one and will be the first of several Emmys. I am sure of it.”
In search of a part-time job during his college years, Kennedy went to the Florida Channel and pleaded for a chance. He started answering phones a couple of days a week and was the first to hear about an associate producer position when one opened.
Kennedy was hired as a reporter and producer for “Capital Update”, which recapped legislative activities on a daily basis. He even took a semester off because he was so busy during the legislative session.
After finishing up classes, Kennedy still needed the required internship to officially graduate.
“I knew I wanted to work in television so I sent out about 25 letters to every major studio or network – and I only got one response from MTV Networks,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy interned at Nickelodeon, a part of MTV Networks (now Viacom Media Networks), and when he was finished landed a job with the children’s network.
“I owe my career to Florida State,” Kennedy said. “They were the ones who pushed me into getting an internship. I don’t think I would have ever considered an internship, especially in New York City, if they hadn’t required it.”
Kennedy worked his way up the ladder and then headed to A&E Networks, which owns the History Channel. He produces both on-air programming and web programming that stands alone, like “Remember 9/11.” The position allows him to delve into his other interests like history and science.
“It is the best of both worlds,” Kennedy said. “I love the historic aspects of it, but also like the entertainment part of it. I like to educate as well as entertain. If someone can learn something by watching one of my videos, then that is really satisfying.”
In addition to “Remembering 9/11”, Kennedy has also worked on web videos and on-air specials, including “Big History”, “Bonnie & Clyde”, “Vikings 2” and “Pawn Stars.” He is also producing another special about 9/11 that will air next September.