They Won't Win Any Scarlet Letters, but the Kids of UCLA's Campus Soap Opera Are in a Class by Themselves

updated 02/29/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/29/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

All right, students, settle down. The subjects we will be covering in University this semester are sex, drugs, rape, murder, kidnapping, homosexuality and rampant infidelity. Now, all of you are familiar with the character John, who is our drug pusher and the biggest antihero on campus at San Angelo U. John, you'll recall, has just gotten out of the slammer, but even before he can resume matriculating, two suppliers have tried to kidnap him, forcing John to shoot one of them and adopt a false name. As we join him, John is trying to get an okay on his schedule from Josh, a professor who was fired from his previous job because he had an at-fair with the varsity quarterback:

Josh: So who's Nick Waterman?

John: My old roommate.

Josh: But I thought he was dead.

John: He is. That's why I used his ID.

Josh: John, you've got to go to the police.

John: I am. As soon as I get enough evidence to nail Sven.

Cut, class, and welcome to University, a college soap opera created, produced, performed and directed by the graduate and undergraduate students of UCLA. Now in its second thrill-packed season, the half-hour show is considered the classiest of a handful of college-made soaps, and it is the first to go national: Each University show is repeated five times pet week on 310 campus cable TV Stations in linked by the New York-based National College Television network. Even some of the soap's most faithful viewers concede that it is dramaturgy at its most aromatic—"Ohio State could do much better," sniffs one Ohio State freshman, who still watches every installment—but participants earn two to four credits in the theater, film and TV department as well as obtaining marketable TV experience. "Some students pooh-pooh anything they see as being below some high level of integrity," says executive producer Alan Skinner, 26, a senior who works 50 hours a week on the program. "But they're waking up to the value of this soap for getting jobs. Now they stand in line to audition."

Only 10 students have roles on the show, but any student is eligible to spend a term working off-camera. Currently, 64 staffers tape each episode with three video cameras, the same setup used by the pros, and the results are technically, if not artistically, impressive. "I am truly amazed," says Al Rabin, supervising executive producer of Days of Our Lives and an adviser to University. "I couldn't have survived in the business on my schooling. These kids can."

So far University's most visible success is Mitch Watson, the senior who plays John. Watson, 21, recently landed a lead in a forthcoming sci-fi film, Primal Rage. But like actors everywhere, he has a few gripes. "This year, the show's slower," he says. "No one's in bed together. Nothing. Come on, this is a soap opera. Where's the prostitution ring?"

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