St. John’s Alumni and Students Collaborate on Hit Show

St. John’s Alumni working on the TBS game show, The Misery Index

Pictured here are St. John’s Alumni working on the TBS game show. From l to r: Joe Steves, current CCPS student; Mike Bonifati ’17CPS; Vinny Steves '96SV; Sal Vulcano ’98CBA; Jim Tomlinson ’82SVC, ’91MBA; Paul Steiner ’19CPS; Jim Tomlinson Jr. ’12CPS and Joe Leuthner ’19CPS

May 11, 2020

St. John’s University’s vast alumni network is most prevalent in New York City. Often called the media capital of the world, Manhattan is home to a large number of alumni working in television, film, radio, and book publishing, as well as marketing and advertising. The Misery Index, a popular game show currently airing on TBS, is taped at ABC Television Center on the Upper West Side, and several members of its production staff are Johnnies.

The show is predicated on guests ranking “miserable” true stories that are culled from the internet, clips of which are featured. Two teams of three compete against each other during three rounds; prize money increases with each successive round. The show features members of the The Tenderloins Comedy Troupe, which includes Sal Vulcano ’98CBA, who also stars in truTV's Impractical Jokers. The show was recently renewed for a second season.

Jim Tomlinson ’82SVC, ’91MBA, Editor-in-Chief of Disney ABC Television Group, and his colleague and fellow alumnus Vincent Steves ’96SVC, Line Producer for Sony Pictures Entertainment, both work on The Misery Index

The pair have worked together in the industry for more than 35 years, and both feel a great debt to the University, one reason they prefer to hire St. John’s graduates for internships and staff positions after graduation. 

The oldest of five, all of Mr. Tomlinson’s siblings attended St. John’s, as did his son. He began working in the industry at age 16 when his uncle got him a job at Columbia Pictures, so he already had a foothold in the industry when he came to St. John’s. 

Mr. Steves was also working in the business during his years at the University. Currently, five of his six children attend St. John’s, as does his wife. While they were at St. John’s, both men shared their knowledge of the industry with students and professors. 

“We have a few key production assistants who stay with the show for an entire season,” Mr. Steves related. “We always try to get a St. John’s student into one of those slots.” Earlier in his career, Mr. Tomlinson worked as a Vice President at A+E Networks and was hired by Chief Executive Officer Emeritus Nickolas Davatzes ’62C, ’64G, ’95HON. A former St. John’s University Trustee, Mr. Davatzes has been a generous contributor to St. John’s for many years, and Mr. Tomlinson has sought to emulate his kindness by offering positions to worthy St. John’s students. 

Michael Bonifati ’17CPS obtained an internship with Mr. Steves during his senior year at St. John’s and has worked with both men several times since graduation. “Working with Jim Tomlinson and Vinny Steves on any show is an amazing experience,” he said. 

“The tools and guidance given to me at St. John’s helped me excel in this industry, and the Mass Communication program is a hidden gem within the University,” Mr. Bonifati stressed. “Organizations such as the Film Society, WREDtv, and WSJU Radio are great, artistic, safe havens where students have creative control and gain hands-on experience outside of the classroom.”

Dramatic Arts, Film, and Television major Paul Steiner ’19CPS stressed that as a recent graduate, the experience he gained on The Misery Index was invaluable. “Each day was different, and I always learned something new. Most significantly, I understood the importance of creating a network of contacts. It is extremely helpful in this industry.”

“Working with St. John’s students and alumni on The Misery Index was a great experience,” recalled Joseph Leuthner ’19CPS. “Working with Sal and Jim was unforgettable, and this was the first time in five years of being in the field that I was on a production team filled with St. John’s alumni. It was awesome.”

Current St. John’s student Joseph Steves was impressed at the scale of The Misery Index production. “Being behind the scenes was really eye-opening and beneficial, as I am still trying to figure out what direction I want to take in the industry,” he noted. Joseph also spoke highly of his professors in the Division of Mass Communication. “They play a major part in guiding me in the right direction, and their knowledge of the subject matter is absolutely invaluable.”