TV legend Bellisario set as College of Communications commencement speaker

April 08, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Legendary television director, producer and writer Donald P. Bellisario will present the commencement address for the Penn State College of Communications during exercises May 7 at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Bellisario, a Penn State Distinguished Alumnus, has been crafting stories for a variety of audiences for more than 30 years. He’s best known as a creator/producer of groundbreaking TV series such as “Magnum, P.I.,” “Quantum Leap” and “NCIS.” 

Bellisario earned his journalism degree at Penn State in 1961 and began his writing career at the Centre Daily Times in State College. He worked for the paper for four years before becoming a copywriter for a small advertising agency in Lancaster.

He later moved to Dallas to take a prestigious copywriting position at the famous Bloom Agency. After eight years at Bloom, Bellisario had risen to the level of senior vice president, head of film production, creative director and member of the board of directors. Still, at the age of 42, he was eager to gamble on a new career.

Moving to Hollywood, he became a story editor on the 1976-78 series “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” with Robert Conrad. After just five episodes, he was promoted to producer, a position he held for one year. He then became supervising producer of “Battlestar Galactica” and, subsequently, began to develop his own series.

Bellisario is best known for his creations “Magnum, P.I.” (1980-88), “Quantum Leap” (1989-93), “JAG” (1995-2005) and “NCIS,” currently in its 11th season. Except for 1994, a series created by Bellisario has aired on U.S. television every year since 1980. He earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004. 

In 2001, Bellisario was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus. This award salutes the achievement of outstanding Penn State alumni whose “personal lives, professional achievements, and community service exemplify the objectives of their alma mater.” It is the highest honor bestowed on a graduate of the University and is sponsored and administered by the Penn State Board of Trustees.

In 2006, Bellisario endowed a $1 million Trustee Matching Scholarship in the College of Communications. It remains the largest single gift in the history of the communications program. Bellisario said there were many reasons he decided to endow the scholarship.

“Growing up in a hardscrabble western Pennsylvania coal mining town, I know firsthand the sacrifices that are made to give a son or daughter a university education,” he said. “To make their burden a little lighter is what I can give back to the hard-working people of Pennsylvania.

“And as a Marine veteran who returned to Penn State with two small children and little money, I remember all too well that struggle. It’s my hope that this scholarship will also ease the financial burden of other young men and women who have defended our country to attain their academic goals.”

In addition to honors from his alma mater and industry awards, Bellisario has been the recipient of numerous other awards, including the Marine Corps Scholarship Fund Globe and Anchor Award, Red Cross Spirit Award, and an honorary doctorate of arts from Washington & Jefferson College.

Born in Cokeburg, Bellisario served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He and his wife Vivienne live in Montecito, California, and Sydney, Australia.

  • Donald Bellisario Hollywood star

    Distinguished Alumnus Donald Bellisario earned his star on Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated June 14, 2021