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Fontana Creates TFA Scholarship in Memory of Actress Wife

Posted: January 23, 2019

Emmy-award winner Tom Fontana,'73, is helping the next generation of film and television-makers with an annual scholarship for Buffalo State's television and film arts (TFA) program. Made in memory of his late wife, actress Sagan Lewis, the Tom Fontana/Sagan Lewis TFA scholarship is designated for TFA student internships in New York City, Los Angeles, and other major cities.

“Tom understands the importance and value of internships as stepping stones to successful careers,” said Aaron Daniel Annas, assistant professor and TFA director. “He’s been a tremendous supporter of the TFA program. Buffalo State alumnus Kyle Bradstreet (executive producer and writer for USA’s Mr. Robot), began his career interning for Tom. It is fantastic to see him continue to nurture talented students into great professionals in the media industry through this scholarship.”

This spring, three students participating in the TFA Semester in New York City will benefit from the scholarship. They’ll work in the industry while living in Manhattan and participating in a TFA class taught by another Emmy award-winning alum, Marcia Mulé, '81.

Lewis, who died in 2016, was known for her role as Dr. Jacqueline Wade in the 1980s NBC drama St. Elsewhere. She later appeared in other television shows as well as the telefilms Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction and Full Ride. She also taught acting workshops at Zaki Gordon Institute of Independent Film in Sedona, Arizona, and served for seven years as program director at the Sedona International Film Festival.

“Sagan was a dynamic teacher, a brilliant actress, a loving mother, an incomparable wife, and a caring human being who fought to protect the oceans and to encourage young filmmakers,” Fontana said.

Paula Devereaux, senior major gifts officer who is overseeing the scholarship gift, said that Fontana wanted to help TFA students while also honoring his wife’s memory.

“The Tom Fontana/Sagan Lewis TFA scholarship was the perfect fit,” she said.

Prior to this, Fontana stayed in close contact with Buffalo State, helping both the TFA and theater programs.

“Ever since I met Tom in 2007, he’s been a great friend and contributor to TFA—helping it evolve into a leading creative arts program,” said Jeffrey Hirschberg, associate professor and founding TFA director. “Whether he’s visiting campus to screen his latest series, meeting with students in New York City, or opening his doors for internships, Tom has been instrumental to the success of TFA. With this generous donation, he will provide the program with a robust future.”

Fontana has received 19 Emmy nominations over the course of his career, winning for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series in 1984 and 1986 for St. Elsewhere and in 1993 for Homicide. Most recently, Fontana received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Television Movie as executive producer for HBO’s The Wizard of Lies and Paterno. Fontana’s series credits also include Oz, Netflix’s Borgia, Copper, the Philanthropist, the Bedford Diaries and the Jury (all of which he created), as well as the movies Strip Search and Judas. He also will be honored with the Writers Guild of America, East’s Ian McLellan Hunter Award for Career Achievement on February 17.


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