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Buffalo angles in television are plentiful in Hollywood

Alan Pergament

PASADENA, Calif. — If there is one thing I’ve learned coming to the semi-annual Television Critics Association meetings for 37 years, it's that you can always find a Buffalo angle.

That was especially the case in the days Buffalo natives David Milch (“NYPD Blue,” “Deadwood”), Tom Fontana (“St. Elsewhere,” “Homicide”), Diane English (“Murphy Brown") and Anthony Yerkovich (“Miami Vice”) were writing and producing some of the best shows on television and writer-producer Patrick Hasburgh was casting Brad Pitt (“Glory Days”), Johnny Depp (“21 Jump Street”) and George Clooney (“Sunset Beat’) in his series.

It is still the case today.

There were several Buffalo angles in my recent weeklong trip to Pasadena to preview many of the cable offerings premiering over the next several months and interview some of the stars of the series.

One of the biggest Buffalo angles was learning that Carolyn Cassidy, who attended Nardin Academy for three years when her late father Paul was the general manager of WKBW-TV, will be solo president of 20th Century Fox Television, effective in June.

Cassidy, who has been with 20th since 2009 when she joined as vice president of comedy, was named president of creative affairs in July and has run 20th Century Fox TV with business operations leader Howard Kurtzman since July. Cassidy's promotion to solo president was announced the same day Kurtzman announced he was retiring in June.

The announcement came a week before I arrived here, so I set up an interview with her about Buffalo’s influence on her career.

After he left Western New York to move to the Dallas area, Paul Cassidy occasionally called me and spoke of how proud he was of his daughter as the Harvard graduate advanced in television circles on a path that included jobs at all four major broadcast networks – CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox.

I’m not ashamed to say Carolyn made me cry as she discussed her father’s subtle influence on her career choice, and she wiped away a few tears reliving some moments with her father.

I don’t cry often during interviews. The last time I did was when I visited Channel 7 anchor Irv Weinstein in California after he was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

I do occasionally cry watching “This Is Us,” one of the NBC shows that Carolyn worked on as a network executive, but she doesn’t take any credit for its success. Stay tuned for my lengthy, revealing interview with Cassidy in the weeks ahead.

• • •

I left my interview with Cassidy at her office in Beverly Hills to drive 30 minutes away to Sherman Oaks to speak with Williamsville East graduate Michele Fazekas about her new ABC series, "Emergence,” which has its season finale Tuesday.

It became one of my favorite new shows this season, partly because of series lead Allison Tolman as a Long Island police chief who was investigating a mysterious accident where she found a little girl named Piper who appears to have supernatural powers.

We discussed the mystery of the Artificial Intelligence child that will lead to another more important mystery: Will “Emergence” get a second season? More on that interview in an upcoming column, too.

• • •

On the same day of the Cassidy and Fazekas interview, Buffalo native and Nichols School graduate Nanette Burstein sat next to Hillary Clinton at a news conference to talk about a new upcoming, four-hour Hulu documentary called “Hillary.”

That’s the documentary in which Clinton reportedly said no one likes Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and he can’t get anything accomplished because of it.

Nobody at the news conference asked her about that now-controversial quote, probably because we hadn’t seen the film that premieres on the streaming service in March and so few of us were able to ask a question. When I raised my hand to do so, I was told I was 12th in line.

I wasn’t able to ask a question of either Burstein or Clinton before the 30-minute session ended, partly because Clinton’s answers were so long that only about 10 critics got to ask questions. I had to laugh because Clinton's news conference was given the same amount of time as later news conferences for Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian.

During the questioning, Clinton was funny and self-deprecating and explained there were no preconditions to Burstein’s interview, which she agreed to do because she wasn’t running for anything.

There were no so-called “scrums," the term given to the 5 or 10 frantic minutes reporters are given to talk to interview subjects in a mass huddle after the sessions end.

I didn’t get to find out how and why Burstein, an award-winning documentarian, was chosen by Team Clinton to do the film. But I set up a phone interview with Burstein and talked to her Wednesday after I returned home.

Part of that interview ran Thursday. More will come closer to the Hulu air date.

• • •

Before I even arrived in Pasadena, Dr. Kelvin Lee, senior vice president for Basic Science at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, was part of a PBS session for a NOVA production, “Cuba’s Cancer Hope.”

I missed the interview and only learned of it from a fellow critic who was impressed by Lee.

A release for the “Nova” production noted that in 2016 Roswell Park “became the first American research center to sponsor a clinical trial with a Cuban-made drug, marking a historic, first-time collaboration between Cuban and American scientists.”

The release added that Roswell Park also made history when it announced “the first-ever biotech joint venture between the United States and Cuba. The two agreed to build a new biotech facility in Cuba dedicated to cancer drugs, jointly owned by Roswell Park and the Cuban Center for Molecular Immunology.”

The program doesn’t air nationally until April 1, so I have plenty of time to catch up with Lee and ask him about a Buffalo TV angle that is bound to generate some great national publicity for Roswell Park.

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