Alumni, TV legends highlight 'Happy Valley to Hollywood' Oct. 26

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Four Penn State alumni who have left an indelible mark on American television will take center stage at Penn State’s University Park campus on Friday, Oct. 26, for an informal conversation titled “Happy Valley to Hollywood.”

Panelists are Gerald Abrams, Don Bellisario, Carmen Finestra and James P. Jimirro. All four have been honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award, the University's highest award for an individual, and among them they have won or have been nominated for 15 Emmy Awards from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

The 75-minute program will begin at 3 p.m. 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. The program is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required.

Amanda Gifford, a 2004 graduate of the College of Communications and director of national weekend programming for ESPN Radio, will serve as moderator. She served in 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. All are generous benefactors of the College of Communications, creating centers of study, a learning laboratory and endowing scholarships.

Abrams, a 1961 Penn State graduate, 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 a 1961 graduate, 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.

Finestra, a 1971 Penn State graduate, moved to TV after a stint as an Off-Broadway actor and began writing for “The Cosby Show” in 1984, where he would remain until 1990, leaving the show as supervising producer. Finestra received three Emmy nominations for that series. From 1991-99, he was a writer and coexecutive producer for “Home Improvement,” earning three Emmys and two Golden Globe nominations. He currently is a partner in Wind Dancer Productions, a firm Finestra coowns and cofounded with actor Tim Allen. His financial support built the College’s Carmen Finestra editing lab.

Jimirro, who earned his degree from the University in 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.

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Last Updated October 16, 2012