TV Legend Returns to Syracuse

By Virginia Breen

May 5, 2009 4:27pm

ABC News On Campus reporter Meghan Lisson blogs: "You want to go where everybody knows your name…" The familiar "Cheers" theme drifted out over the loudspeakers and people in the audience happily hummed along.  Following in quick succession were the themes from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Charlie’s Angels," and "The Waltons."  With each new song, Syracuse University seniors Kate Rovito and Becca Wyant smiled even more widely.  “It’s amazing, we’re giggling like excited little girls about Fred Silverman,” said Rovito. “You watch all legendary shows and the people behind them are sitting right there talking to you.” “It’s the greatest moment of my life,” added Wyant, laughing. As Television, Radio, Film majors, they were student guests at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School Silverman Symposium, an event honoring a man who didn’t play any roles onscreen but played several major ones off it.  If you think of almost any television show from the late 1960s through the1980s, chances are Fred Silverman  was behind it.  From "Roots" to "All in the Family" to "Three’s Company" to "M*A*S*H" to "Hill Street Blues," the shows he’s backed are a veritable laundry list of achievement.  The only person to ever have run the programming of all three major TV networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC), Silverman came back to his alma mater to share his insights into the world of television with a whole new generation of viewers. “I think I look back, [of] all my network experiences, on one in particular,” said Silverman. “And that was when ‘Roots’ played for that week where, it not only set viewing records but it changed the country.  I don’t think that our people were ever the same again.” Whether he was enacting social change through the shows he programmed or creating the perfect Thursday night lineup, the aptly named “man with the golden gut” always seemed to know where the future of television was heading next—and he still does.  “In the future, television will be kind of a combination of TV as we know it now and the Internet—and we’ll be looking at it on a single screen,” predicted Silverman.  “Over the next few years, you’ll be able to go from YouTube to ABC.” Television legends from across the country came to Syracuse not just to discuss the power of TV and future of the media; they came to pay homage to Fred Silverman, a man many of them worked alongside. “The shows he programmed were groundbreaking and fabulous,” said Marcy Carsey, producer of hits including "The Cosby Show" and "Roseanne."  “There’s no question that a lot of it would hold up today—and would make people’s heads spin.” “Fred Silverman is what they call a piece of work,” said George Schlatter, producer of Laugh-in and Real People. “He’s the best friend a show ever had. He’s got taste, he’s got energy, he’s got enthusiasm and he’s a driving force behind any show that he likes.  And if he doesn’t like it, forget about it.” Students got the chance to meet their idols, and to realize that their dreams might be closer than they thought. “At lunch today I was able to meet Marcy Carsey and she was talking about being a woman in the industry,” said Rovito.  “Getting advice from her was great—I felt like I could do it too.” “When you’re a little kid and you look up to someone like Shaquille O’Neal, you know you’re never going to be in the NBA,” said Wyant.  “With people like this, you look up to them but at the same time there is a chance that you could be contributing the same things in 20 years.  This could be you in 20 years.” Silverman had a few words of wisdom for graduating seniors, whether they’re going into television or taking a completely different career path. “I would give people the same advice today as I would 50 years ago, basically, to follow your passion,” Silverman said. “You really have got to be passionate about what you are going to do for the rest of your life.  Pick something where every day you can’t wait to get up and go to work.”

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