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Civic Skinny

How can ‘Girls’ sully U of Iowa’s reputation? No spoilers here, but you can fill in the blanks.


Before we get into this, it should be noted that the University of Iowa was voted this year as the top party school in the nation.

Just to put things in perspective.

Now, with that in mind, the story: the university this spring turned down the request of HBO’s “Girls” to film on campus, where the fictional Hannah Horvath has been admitted to the real Writers’ Workshop.

“After reviewing the script, I felt the storyline placed the city and university in an unfavorable light,” Joe Brennan, the university’s Vice President for Strategic Communication, told The Register earlier this spring. “I won’t share details as I don’t think it fair to reveal the plot in advance. I understand this is a popular show, but it’s my job to safeguard the reputation of the university.”

Absolutely.skinny 1

Prep Iowa

Nevertheless, Cityview filed a Freedom of Information request with the university asking to see the script, to see what’s in it that is going to sully the reputation of the nation’s number one party school.

It turns out that despite Brennan’s statement “HBO did not provide the UI with a script,” according to the university’s reply. But it did send an e-mail “setting forth a brief description of the types of scenes that HBO wanted to shoot on campus.”

The relevant parts of that e-mail are printed here.

You’ll note some words are missing.

The deletions were made for two reasons, the university told Cityview. It cited sections of the Iowa Open Records Law protecting “trade secrets which are recognized and protected as such by law,” and communications to a governmental body that that body “could reasonably believe” would not have been made if the person making them thought the communications might be made public.

skinny 2The second reason is bogus, for that section of the law is there to protect the identity of the person sending the communication. Since the identity is clear — Suk Yi Mar, the location manager for Girls — the university shouldn’t hide behind that section. As for trade secrets, is the plot of an HBO episode a trade secret? Cityview asked that three weeks ago, but has gotten no response from the university yet.

Tobe Becker, the publicist for the show, declined to provide the missing words to Cityview. In fact, she said, “At our request, the University redacted significant plot spoilers.”

So you can fill in the blanks yourself with lines that might sully the reputation of the nation’s number-one party school:

Hannah drives through campus in the back of a taxi…

Studying for her finals.

Sipping on a lemonade.

Looking in a catalog for a pair of flannel pajamas.

Trying to find a Saturday class to take.


While exiting the building after a heated workshop, Hannah walks through campus with another classmate…

“Let’s go back to the dorm and go over our notes,” she says.

“I can hardly wait for my mom and dad to visit this weekend,” she says. “We’re going to West Branch to visit the Hoover Library on Saturday night.”

“I wonder when the Jackson Pollock Mural will get back on campus” she says. “It was so inspiring to me when I went to see it every day.”

“Let’s hurry back so we can watch Marnie’s dad anchor the NBC Nightly News. And then we can go bowling.”

It’s unclear — everything about this is unclear — whether the show will shoot any scenes off campus in Iowa City. And it’s even unclear when the episode will run. “I am sorry, but I do not yet have any details to share with you on either of these questions,” Tobe Becker told Cityview.

Stay tuned. …

Footnote: For those people in the wrong demographic group, here’s what Girls is: It’s an enormously popular drama, or a comedy — depending on who you are and what episode you’re watching — about four mid-20s girls living in Brooklyn, dealing with sex, jobs, money, sex, boyfriends, parents, sex, drugs and anything else that comes to mind.

One of the writers, Sarah Heyward, attended the Writers’ Workshop at Iowa, which presumably led to the episode for next season — the fourth season for the show. The third season, 12 one-hour episodes, ended in March.

As for what might happen to Hannah — other than having her bicycle stolen twice — a writer for the e-magazine vulture notes she might feel right at home in Iowa City. “Drinking and hookups are as notoriously rampant here as at writers’ colonies,” he writes. CV

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