Tom Fontana spends most of his time behind the scenes.
But on Sunday night, the Buffalo native and three-time Emmy-winning television writer and producer was the star of the show.
The Federation of Italian-American Societies of Western New York named Fontana its Honoree of the Year during the organization’s 106th annual Columbus Day dinner at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens in Depew.
Fontana, 62, is best known for work on “St. Elsewhere,” “Oz,” “Homicide: Life on the Street” and, more recently, for his latest project, “Borgia.”
“The first thing, when they called me, I thought immediately that they must have run out of other people; they must have gotten to the bottom of the list,” Fontana quipped.
Peter R. LoJacono, federation president, said Fontana represents the values and work ethic of Italian-Americans and remains involved with local organizations, including the West Side Rowing Club.
“He is extremely hardworking; he is very devoted to his craft; he’s very talented. He’s left an indelible mark in American television with his creations, and he’s still going strong,” LoJacono said.
Fontana also has never forgotten his roots, he said.
“He’s one of us who kind of made it big that we’re very proud of,” LoJacono said, “so we want to give back to him tonight.”
The Federation of Italian-American Societies consists of 25 groups from across the region.
Last year’s honoree was developer Rocco Termini. Previous honorees include former Gov. Mario Cuomo, Linda Pellegrino, Carl P. Paladino, Billy Fuccillo and Russell J. Salvatore.
On Saturday, Fontana, a graduate of SUNY Buffalo State and Canisius High School, served as grand marshal of the eighth annual Columbus Day Parade down Hertel Avenue.
Being recognized at home left him humbled, Fontana said.
“Let me put it this way – I’ve been very blessed in my life,” he said. “I’ve been blessed growing up in Buffalo, being a part of the Italian community. I’ve been blessed in my career, my family, my friends. And so to get something like this, you go, like, ‘Oh, OK. You’re giving me something for something I should be giving them for all the good that’s come my way.’ ”
Fontana noted the work of his youngest brother, Paul, who is a teacher.
“He does something that’s far more important than what I do. I make little TV shows,” Fontana said.
Fontana, who lives in New York City and said he comes home to Buffalo about four or five times a year, is heading back to the Czech Republic later this week to continue filming of “Borgia,” a dramatic series about a ruthless Renaissance pope. The show is available on Netflix.
On Friday, he heads back to Prague, where he’ll stay until before Christmas. Shooting will pick up again in Italy, Croatia and Spain until near the end of February.
Fontana said it’s been great working on “Borgia.”
“If you had said to me five years ago you’re going to spend three years of your life off and on going to Europe to film, I would have said, ‘How could I ever do that?’ ”
What projects lie ahead for Fontana? He wasn’t giving away any secrets Sunday night.
“There’s a bunch of stuff, but I’m not allowed to talk about it,” he said. “But it’s fun stuff. It’s really fun stuff.”