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'Happy Valley to Hollywood' Set for Oct. 26

by on October 17, 2012 6:00 AM

Four Penn State alumni turned American television legends will be guest speakers on Oct. 26 at the Playhouse Theatre for an informal conversation titled "Happy Valley to Hollywood."

Panelists are Gerald Abrams, Don Bellisario, Carmen Finestra and James Jimirro. Each alumnus has been honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award, Penn State's highest award for an individual. Among the four, they have won or have been nominated for 15 Emmy Awards from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

According to Penn State Live, the 75-minute program starts at 3 p.m. next Friday in the 388-seat Playhouse Theatre, adjacent to the Forum Building. The event is sponsored by the College of Communications and the College of Arts & Architecture and is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required.

Amanda Gifford, Class of 2004 from the College of Communications and director of national weekend programming for ESPN Radio, will serve as moderator. She held a similar role in 2006 for a Penn State program featuring Bob Costas of NBC.

The four TV legends will discuss their careers, which featured leading roles in the creation of some of television's most popular shows, as well as an iconic cable network and several Emmy Award-winning television movies.

Each is a benefactor of the College of Communications, creating centers of study, a learning laboratory and endowing scholarships, according to Penn State.

Abrams, Class of 1961, and founder of Cypress Productions, has been a television producer for more than four decades, winning Emmy Awards for such productions as "Nuremberg" and "The Defection of Simas Kudirka." His "Family of Spies" was also nominated for an Emmy Award. He executive produced "44 Minutes," the FX Network's highest-rated show during its first nine years as well ESPN's acclaimed "Four Minutes."

Abrams' late wife Carol graduated from Penn State with honors and was a National Peabody Award winner. His son, J.J. Abrams, has followed in his father's footsteps, as director of "Mission Impossible" and "Star Trek," and creator of the TV series "Lost."

Bellisario, also Class of 1961, has created several of TV's most successful shows over the past 30 years, including "Magnum, P.I.," "Airwolf," "Quantum Leap," "JAG" and "NCIS," earning six Emmy nominations for Best Drama Series. His other creations include "Tales of the Gold Monkey," "Tequila & Bonetti" and "First Monday." He was also a writer and producer on "Black Sheep Squadron" and the original "Battlestar Galactica." He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

A retired Marine, Belsiario's shows have often featured military veterans as characters. Belisario has established a $1 million scholarship in the College of Communications, Penn State officials said.

Finestra, Class of 1971, moved to TV after a stint as an Off-Broadway actor and began writing for "The Cosby Show" in 1984. He left the show in 1990, having made it to the supervising producer position. Finestra received three Emmy nominations for that series. From 1991-99, he was a writer and co-executive producer for "Home Improvement," garnering three Emmys and two Golden Globe nominations.

Finestra is currently is a partner in Wind Dancer Productions, a firm he co-owns and co-founded with actor Tim Allen. According to Penn State, it was his financial support built the College's Carmen Finestra editing lab.

Jimirro, Class of 1958, was the creator and founding president of The Disney Channel and Walt Disney Home Video, and is currently chairman of the board of National Lampoon. At The Disney Channel, Jimirro was responsible for the conception, development and launching of the fastest-growing pay service in history.

Under his guidance, The Disney Channel introduced many innovations, such as interactive programming and The Disney Channel Magazine. In 2003, he established Penn State's Jimirro Institute For the Study of Media Influence, which explores the role of the media in influencing such behaviors as public opinion and buying habits.

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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