Monday, December 10, 2012

Tom Fontana Feature from the Baltimore Sun

An article describes "Television's Family Tree"--a group of producers and writers who cut their teeth at MTM in the 80s.

St. Elsewhere writer, producer,
and showrunner Tom Fontana
"The Family Tree" referred to in the title of "Where 'Homeland' fits on 'The Family Tree' of great TV drama" by David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun is a television industry term for a group of a couple of dozen writers  and producers who got their TV training on a pair of MTM shows in the early 1980s: Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere.

Featured prominently in the piece is Tom Fontana, who was a playwright when he was hired as a story editor on St. Elsewhere, rose to become an executive producer and showrunner, and who has since gone on to produce critically acclaimed series such as Homicide: Life on the Street and Oz. The article traces how Emmy-winning writers like Homeland's Henry Bromell and The Wire's David Simon cut their creative chops under the guidance of Fontana on Homicide.

Similarly, a generation of writers emerged from Steven Bochco's Hill Street Blues and his subsequent series, the most successful of which was NYPD Blue.  On page two, the author taps Robert Thompson for a quote, who points out that the credit often given to The Sopranos (1999) as the originator of the quality-premium-cable-TV-drama is better given to Fontana's Oz, which debuted two years prior to The Sopranos, and to Hill Street BluesSt. Elsewhere and MTM, where writers were the talent, and television drama as rewarding as great literature was the product.

The article goes into more detail than I've delved into here about "The Family Tree" and its indelible imprint on the television landscape we know today, focusing mostly on the Baltimore connection forged by Fontana and Simon. It's a good read for fans of quality television.

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