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Tom Fontana
Born (1951-09-12) September 12, 1951 (age 71)
Buffalo, New York, United States
Alma materBuffalo State College
OccupationScreenwriter, playwright, producer
(m. 1982; div. 1993)

(m. 2015; died 2016)

Tom Fontana (born September 12, 1951) is an American screenwriter, writer, and television producer. Fontana worked on NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street and created HBO's Oz.[1]

TV career

Fontana has been a writer/producer for such series as Oz (which he also created), Copper, The Jury, The Beat, The Bedford Diaries, Homicide: Life on the Street, St. Elsewhere, and The Philanthropist.

Fontana was born on the west side of Buffalo, New York, and is the fourth of five children in an Italian-American family; he is a cousin of actress Patti LuPone. He attended Cathedral School, Canisius High School, and Buffalo State College. He worked at the Studio Arena Theater in Buffalo in various capacities before moving to New York City in 1973. Fontana began writing plays when he was about 9 years old; his early efforts were recorded into a reel-to-reel tape recorder with the neighbor kids as performers. At least one of his plays was produced when he was a student at Buffalo State. His college stage debut as an actor was in a production of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan, directed by his frequent mentor, Warren Enters. Fontana's efforts as a playwright never proved financially successful. While working at the Williamstown Theater Festival in the early 1980s, though, he was offered the opportunity to write for television – the offer coming from Bruce Paltrow, who was launching St. Elsewhere on NBC.

Fontana wrote the HBO film Strip Search, directed by Sidney Lumet, and contributed two pieces to the September 11 special, America: A Tribute to Heroes. He was the executive producer of American Tragedy for CBS, Shot in the Heart for HBO Films, the independent film Jean, and the documentary The Press Secretary for PBS. Fontana also created the historical drama TV series Borgia for the French premium-pay channel Canal+, produced by Atlantique Productions and EOS Entertainment. The series recounts the Borgia family's rise to power and subsequent domination of the Vatican during the Renaissance. Fontana also co-created Copper, an 1860s police procedural set in the turbulent Five Points neighborhood of New York.

Fontana has received three Emmy Awards, four Peabody Awards, three Writers' Guild Awards, four Television Critics Association Awards, the Cable Ace Award, the Humanitas Prize, an Edgar Award, and the first prize at the Cinéma Tout Ecran Festival in Switzerland. In 2003, Fontana was the recipient of the Austin Film Festival's Outstanding Television Writer Award.

Fontana does not own or use a computer, and writes all of his scripts longhand on a yellow legal pad.[2]

Personal life

Fontana grew up in an Italian-American family in Buffalo, New York, and was raised in the Catholic faith.[3] Fontana's sister is a nun. He lives in New York City's West Village in a building that was formerly a branch of the New York Public Library. The book-lined, two-story main reading room is now a living room where he often hosts fund raisers for arts and civil-rights organizations.

Fontana was married to actress Sagan Lewis for 12 years until their divorce in 1993.[1] Sagan and Fontana remarried on July 10, 2015, and remained together until her death on August 7, 2016.[1][4]

Fontana has a tattoo of the Oz logo on his upper right arm, which he is shown receiving in the opening credits of the series.[5]


Fontana has written articles for such periodicals as The New York Times, TV Guide, and Esquire, and has taught at Columbia, Syracuse, Rutgers, and the State University College at Buffalo, his alma mater, from which he received the Distinguished Alumni Award and an honorary Doctorate of Letters.


Fontana has had numerous plays produced in New York City, where he lives, and at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, the Buffalo Studio Arena Theatre, Williamstown Theatre Festival, and McCarter Theatre Company.


He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, the Producers Guild of America, and the Writers Guild of America, East, from which he received the Evelyn F. Burkey Award for lifetime achievement. Fontana served as vice president of the Writers Guild of America, East from 2005–2007. He is President emeritus of the WGAE Foundation, commonly known as the Writers Guild Initiative, and serves on the boards of the Acting Company, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, DEAL, the New York City Police Museum, and Stockings With Care, among others.

Detective Joe Fontana, Dennis Farina's character on Law & Order, was named for Tom Fontana, who became close friends with Law & Order creator Dick Wolf while working as writers in the same building, at the same time, on the series St. Elsewhere (Fontana) and Hill Street Blues (Wolf).[6]


  1. ^ a b c Petski, Denise (August 6, 2016). "Sagan Lewis Dies: Actress & Wife Of Emmy-Winner Tom Fontana Was 63". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  2. ^ "Email".
  3. ^ Doyle, Paula (April 5, 2004). "'What if Judas almost got it?'". The Tidings. Archived from the original on May 2, 2005. Retrieved October 7, 2010.
  4. ^[user-generated source]
  5. ^ "Twelve Astonishing Facts about "Oz," HBO's Original Crime Drama". Paley Matters. October 13, 2017. Retrieved March 29, 2022.
  6. ^ "Dick Wolf Interview". Archive of American Television. Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation. April 21, 2013. Retrieved May 10, 2016.