Each quarter we will feature a story about our Parchment alumni here.
By Dave Person
For Liza Keckler, the 25-year journey from Parchment to Los Angeles, where she is senior vice president of development for Irwin Entertainment, has been an adventure in which she is constantly learning new things and sharing them with the public.
"I like that it is creative and always changing," she says of her job as a TV producer. "And I get to learn new things all the time. I feel like I am constantly writing research reports."
Keckler, 42, whose credits include series producer for 19 episodes of Hoarders and executive producer for seven episodes of Fuse Excellent Adventure and 16 episodes of The Legend of Mick Dodge, now develops shows for Irwin Entertainment, which is heavy on the production of comedy specials, such as Daily Show writer Michelle Wolf s comedy special on HBO, and talk shows.
"What I do is come up with ideas, produce the sales materials, try to find a network interested in airing the show, then hand it off to a production team," she says.
Irwin Entertainment is known for E! Entertainment's Famously Single and NBC's New Year's Eve with Carson Daly.
"And we do (NBC's) Red Nose Day (Special), a live show that raises money for children and hunger," she says.
Keckler has bounced between both coasts and had the opportunity to travel the world in her career, which had its beginnings when she was a student in Parchment.
Shaped by the teachers and the school system she went through from kindergarten through her 1993 high school graduation, Keckler points specifically to some of her experiences that led to her work in television.
They include participation in Kindleberger Summer Festival productions in the park, Odyssey of the Mind competitions, classes at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts that sparked an interest in photography, and a recommendation from high school teacher Dan DeGraw that she get involved with the Kalamazoo Community Access Center.
It was at the latter that she honed her skills in television production that continued at Western Michigan University, where she graduated with a degree in communications and broadcasting in 1998.
"My thought at that point was that I would work in a TV newsroom in broadcasting," she says.
Keckler's older sister, Catherine, who graduated from Parchment three years before she did, was living in Seattle, so during spring break of her senior year at WMU, Keckler went there to visit her and apply for internships.
"I wound up with an internship with a CBS station there (KIRO TV)," she recalls. "I started in the sales department and I moved into local programming."
She spent a year there, with the first three months as an intern after which she was hired full time, giving her the experience she needed to launch a career in television production.
"I just kept getting jobs from there," she says.
Next up was a position with Screaming Flea Productions, with whom she left Seattle for New York and eventually returned to Seattle.
"They develop shows and sell them to the TV networks, mostly cable TV shows," she says. "They were looking for a producer on an HGTV show."
"I worked at that company on a variety of shows for almost 10 years," she says. Those programs included Fuse Excellent Adventure, which took her to music festivals all over the world, and Hoarders, which she says is probably the most memorable show she has worked on.
In 2010, Keckler moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as an executive producer for The Travel Channel, a job which did not include traveling.
"I was more like a taxi dispatcher," she says of her responsibilities of sending others to places around the world.
It was about that time that Keckler started a family, creating a desire in her to stay closer to home.
"I really enjoyed being able to travel for that first 10 years of my career. I got to travel and see the world," she says. "(But) it was an intentional change that I decided on staying closer to home with less travel."
She is married to Mike Min, a product manager for tech products, and they have two daughters, Coco, 7, and Copper, 3.
Her desire for stability and more family time brought her back to Seattle and Screaming Flea Productions in 2012, where she was vice president of development.
During the four-plus years of her second stint with Screaming Flea she led the production of National Geographic Channel's "The Legend of Mick Dodge," which follows the life of an outdoorsman in the Hoh Rainforest of Washington state's Olympic Peninsula.
"The guy lived out in the forest; nobody knew this forest existed, and it reminded you of Middle Earth from The Hobbit," Keckler says.
In January 2017, she left Screaming Flea for Irwin Entertainment and moved to Los Angeles.
Keckler says it is the nature of the business that not all ideas for new TV shows see the light of day. In fact, about 90 percent of what she works on will never be seen by the public and some that are won't have a long life there.
"Everything is in the hands of the viewers and their remotes," she says.
But that doesn't stop her from putting everything she has into her work.
"You can't give up; you have to be tenacious and work hard, and be sensitive to when you know ?something isn't going to happen.
The ones that do make it are the reward for her efforts. Currently, her company has a new show in production that is being shot in and around Los Angeles that she is excited about, although she can't give further details at this time.
Her younger brother, James, a 1995 Parchment graduate, also resides in Los Angeles. Their mother, Kathleen Keckler, retired from Western Michigan University a few years ago and moved to Seattle, where Keckler's sister still lives, putting the whole family on the West Coast. Keckler's father, Robert, died eight years ago.
Keckler still has a grandfather and several aunts and uncles in the Parchment area.
And also many positive memories from her time growing up here.
"The best thing about being in Parchment at the time is you could get creative with your high school education and if you had an interest in anything in particular they would help you get there," she says, citing DeGraw's pointing her in the direction of the Community Access Center and high school history teacher Max Steele's refreshing way of bringing stories from the past to life.
Keckler also credits a parent, Zen Campbell, with providing her with opportunities to participate in the Kindleberger plays, which Campbell initiated, all through Keckler's middle school and high school years, and Ben Tanis, middle school wood-shop instructor and the father of one of her friends, who had his own brand of creativity.
He was just a fun teacher to have because everything wasn t by the book, she says of Tanis. If you were interested in photography (for example) he would teach everyone to make a pinhole camera.
Campbell and Tanis also were among the coaches for Odyssey of the Mind, which develops problem-solving skills in young people and helped her master the creative abilities that remain ?important in her line of work.
Keckler has no regrets about the career path she has followed.
"In the moment there's frustration and rejection and the hard parts," she says, "but I would have to admit it's been pretty good."