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Emmy Winner Tom Fontana Addresses LIU Brooklyn TV Writers Studio

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LIU Brooklyn welcomed a giant of the entertainment industry on March 21, as award-winning writer and producer Tom Fontana visited the TV Writers Studio.

Fontana – whose laurels include three Emmy Awards for his writing on St. Elsewhere and Homicide: Life on the Street, along with four Peabody Awards and three Writers’ Guild Awards– spoke to students about the current creative environment, emphasizing the growing prestige of television and the opportunities available for talented creative professionals.

“Every screenwriter who lives in or around New York wants to get into television right now,” Fontana said, “because it’s so hard for them to get the features done that they want to make, and it’s so easy for them to write the ones that they don’t want to write. They’re looking at television, and they’re looking at shows like House of Cards, and they’re going ‘Wait a minute. That’s writing, that’s character, that’s what they want to be doing. That’s happening to feature directors as well. Fincher and Scorcese and Baz Luhrmann are all looking at television in a whole new way, because they’re going, ‘this is where some of the best work is being done.’”

At the same time, Fontana acknowledged the challenges writers face in a broadcasting environment where reality shows are so prevalent.

“The thing that we’re all competing against is the reality show. What they do is –where you could write a show like Homicide and people could behave the way people really behave – the reality is so heightened that if you put just a normal drama series on now, people go, “They’re not eating worms! How am I supposed to watch this?”

The creator of the long-running HBO hit Oz also spoke about his early work in theatre, the beginnings of his transition to television at the Williamstown Theater Festival, and the foundation his theatre background continues to provide for his television work.         

“In my darkest days in television,” Fontana said, “because what happens in television is, you’re reading scripts and some of them are just really awful, and you’re starting to lose perspective of what good writing is, I have on my desk the collected plays of Chekov and the collected plays of Shakespeare, and I’ll just open, read a scene and go, ‘OK, that’s good writing. I’ve got my perspective again.’

“I think the theater is much more prone to collaboration than some television shows and movies. I also think there’s a striving for honesty that I think is important, whether it’s comedy or drama.”

The LIU Brooklyn TV Writers Studio is a one-of-a-kind program that gives studnets a real world TV writing experience, led by Emmy-winning screenwriter Norman Steinberg (Blazing Saddles, My Favorite Year, Johnny Dangerously). Classes are held at the state-of-the-art Steiner Studios, a 305,000 square-foot, Hollywood-style production and support facility in the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard. For more information, click here.

Posted 03/22/2016

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