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Tom Fontana

Tom Fontana

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Also Known As: Thomas Michael Fontana Died:
Born: September 12, 1951 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Profession: playwright, screenwriter, TV series creator, producer, restaurant-bar owner

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

While Tom Fontana was playwright-in-residence at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Jake and Gwyneth Paltrow saw his play "The Spectre Bridegroom" and insisted their father, producer Bruce Paltrow, give Fontana a job on his new show "St. Elsewhere" (NBC, 1982-88), the perfect prescription for jumping a struggling playwright's yearly income from $5000 to $90,000. As one of the three top writer-producers for that series, he made a name and the beginning of a sizable fortune pioneering the story structure that weaves several narrative threads together in one hour, a formula that still successfully powers shows like "ER". Three Emmy Awards later (all for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series), he is one of the most powerful television producers in the world. And yet . . . Fontana considers himself a writer, period. He produces so that he can have control over what happens to his words, and he does it well. After "St. Elsewhere" went off the air, Fontana served as co-creator, writer and executive producer for the short-lived NBC series "Tattinger's" (1988-89) and the even briefer runs of "Nick & Hillary" (NBC, 1989) and "Home Fires" (NBC, 1992). Barry Levinson originally hired Fontana as executive...

While Tom Fontana was playwright-in-residence at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Jake and Gwyneth Paltrow saw his play "The Spectre Bridegroom" and insisted their father, producer Bruce Paltrow, give Fontana a job on his new show "St. Elsewhere" (NBC, 1982-88), the perfect prescription for jumping a struggling playwright's yearly income from $5000 to $90,000. As one of the three top writer-producers for that series, he made a name and the beginning of a sizable fortune pioneering the story structure that weaves several narrative threads together in one hour, a formula that still successfully powers shows like "ER". Three Emmy Awards later (all for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series), he is one of the most powerful television producers in the world. And yet . . . Fontana considers himself a writer, period. He produces so that he can have control over what happens to his words, and he does it well.

After "St. Elsewhere" went off the air, Fontana served as co-creator, writer and executive producer for the short-lived NBC series "Tattinger's" (1988-89) and the even briefer runs of "Nick & Hillary" (NBC, 1989) and "Home Fires" (NBC, 1992). Barry Levinson originally hired Fontana as executive producer for "Homicide: Life on the Street" (NBC, 1993- ) to fight the fights with network executives, but as the show progressed, even though Levinson's name provided a certain clout, it was Fontana (in Levinson's absence) that was getting the show ready and on the air every week. Often frustrated by the network's failure to see eye to eye with him over content matter, Fontana co-created (along with producing partner Levinson) a one-hour dramatic series set in an urban prison for HBO. Writing the first eight episodes entirely by himself, Fontana took the world of "edgy" TV one step farther with "Oz" (1997- ), a show which has featured quality actors like Rita Moreno, Ernie Hudson and Terry Kinney, among others, happy to make a little less money in order to work with a writer of Fontana's stature.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
2.
 Miserable, Les (2000) Interviewee
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Grew up in Buffalo, New York
1970:
Wrote "Johnny Appleseed: A Noh Play", produced at Studio Arena in Buffalo
1975:
Became playwright-in-residence at NYC's Writers Theatre
1979:
Playwright-in-residence, Williamstown Theatre Festival; plays produced there include "This Is On Me", "The Underlings", "The Overcoat" and "The Spectre Bridegroom"
:
Writer and producer for NBC series "St. Elsewhere"
1985:
Wrote teleplay for ABC special "The Fourth Wise Man"
:
Co-creator, executive producer and writer for short-lived NBC series "Tattinger's"
:
Served as executive producer and writer for "Homicide: Life on the Street" (NBC)
1996:
Executive produced and co-wrote the NBC movie "The Prosecutors" (a pilot on which everybody passed)
1997:
Co-creator (with Barry Levinson) and executive producer of HBO's "Oz", a gritty dramatic series set in an urban prison
:
Started a new, multi-million-dollar New York-based production company with Barry Levinson (Levinson-Fontana Productions)
1999:
Billed as 'creative concultant' on the Showtime series "The Hoop Life"
2000:
Executive produced the CBS miniseries "An American Tragedy" which focused on the murder trial of O.J. Simpson
2002:
Wrote the teleplay and executive produced the religious-themed TV-movie "Judas and Jesus" (ABC)
2003:
With Levinson, served as executive producer of the HBO series "Baseball Wives"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Canisius High School: Buffalo , New York - 1969
State University of New York, Buffalo: Buffalo , New York - 1973
State University of New York, Buffalo: Buffalo , New York - 1973

Notes

Fontana has received two Writers Guild of America Awards and a Peabody for his work on "Homicide: Life on the Street". He earned a Peabody, the Humanitas Prize and a Writers Guild Award (among others) while affiliated with "St. Elsewhere". He is also a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award from his alma mater, the State University of New York at Buffalo.

"Personally, I think there's enough of 'Prozac television,' comforting, undisturbing, gentle, huggy-squeezy television, that I would hope there's a place for a show like 'Oz'. That is, if it's grim, then I think people who like grim television deserve to have a place to go on a weekly basis and be grim if they want . . .

"If you didn't like the characters, if they didn't get in your psyche, then--and forgive me--you probably shouldn't come back." --Tom Fontana to San Francisco Eaxaminer, July 22, 1997.

"With 'Oz', I'm flying without a net. Instead of having stories that overlap, each story will last as long as that story needs to. So if we need to tell a story in fifteen minutes, we'll tell a fifteen-minute story. And then the next story may be a one-minute story, and the next a 35-minute story, within the hour. Each story lives on its own dramatic engine and is told from the perspective of a different character. I've never done it before, and as far as I know, nobody else has done it before." --Tom Fontana quoted in New York, July 14, 1997.

"I'd rather be Dennis Potter than Aaron Spelling." --Fontana quoted in Los Angeles Times, August 8, 1999.

"I've got enough Emmy Awards, I've got enough money. I've got enough of the stuff that you think you want at the end of the tally sheet. At this point in my career . . . my whole goal is to keep having fun and keep making as much trouble as I can." --Tom Fontana quoted in Los Angeles Times, August 8, 1999.

Fontana owns La Nonna, a restaurant in Manhattan.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Sagan Lewis. Actor. Married on December 18, 1982; no longer together.
companion:
Deborah Oppenheimer. Producer. Worked on "The Drew Carey Show" and produced the Oscar-winning documentary "Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories from the Kindertransport" (2000).

Family close complete family listing

father:
Charles Louis Fontana. Crew coach, wine salesman.
mother:
Marie Angelica Fontana. Hospital unit coordinator.

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