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The Best New Show on TV: Tom Fontana's The Philanthropist


Bigtime TV writer/producer Tom Fontana is a mensch -- he does well by doing good! All the time.

If he's not making hundreds of Xmas wish-lists for kids come true, he's hosting benefits and contributing big bucks to rebuild houses for Hurricane Katrina victims. His incredible new TV show's close to his home. I'll let him tell you:

What's the Opposite of Bernie Madoff?

by Tom Fontana

Immediately after the great American tragedy which was (and is) Hurricane Katrina, I had an impulse to get on a plane, travel to New Orleans and rebuild houses. The problem is: I can't hammer straight or saw with confidence.

So, instead, I wrote large checks to five Louisiana-based charitable organizations and went to bed, convinced that I had done something. And to an extent I had, researching which non-profits would use the bulk of my donation to actually help the victims of the hurricane and not to sustain its own bloated upper management.

But my conscience kept nagging at me. There was more to do than rebuild houses, we needed to rebuild homes. There was more to do than provide food, clothing and shelter, we needed to restore whole lives.

And what of those men, women and children who had nothing before Katrina?

My best intentions soon faded into the everyday chaos of my own life -- with work, family, friends -- and New Orleans became the thing I intended to do, when I had time, when it was convenient.

Which leads me to my new series, The Philanthropist, which premiers on Wednesday, June 24 at 10PM on NBC.

I am a writer and, though I can't handle a buzz saw, I can build stories.

Along with Jim Juvonen and Charlie Corwin, I've created a character, Teddy Rist, a billionaire playboy/party boy, whose entire life has been dedicated to accumulating wealth and indulging himself with wine, women and the aphrodisiac of power. He is the CEO of a major US corporation, with quarterly fiduciary responsibilities to his stockholders. He's always had a buzz-saw approach to generating profits.

A personal tragedy brings him face-to-face with all of his demons and he begins, slowly, tentatively, to try to fill the gaping hole in his soul. Yet, he is no Saint Francis, willing to wear sack cloth; on the contrary, Teddy Rist loves his private jet and his spacious penthouse and his fast cars. While maintaining that lifestyle, he attempts to use his money and influence to keep other people -- strangers -- from experiencing the depth of pain from which he is suffering. This philanthropy puts him at odds with his business cravings.

Not exactly your average television action hero.

If Jack Bauer represents the anger and frustration of the Bush years, I hope Teddy Rist will mean something in the dawn of the Obama era -- a sense of hope and the thrill of possibilities.

The world is complex, with conflicting cultures, and so it would be the ultimate TV lie if Teddy could fix every problem he sees. His money only takes him so far, then he must dig deeper inside himself, utilizing his negotiating skills, his wit, his humanity, his faith, as he struggles to find answers to the tragedies he witnesses -- tragedies which are at once global and intimate. He must come to terms with the fact that solving one problem often exacerbates another; that making a choice between two moral dilemmas still leaves collateral damage.

Ultimately, Teddy Rist is us, wanting the best for the people we love and yet knowing that we are all part of a larger human family, which, at this moment in time, is crying out for our attention and care.

And Teddy is also like us because he knows, in the truth which only comes in the middle of the night, that being generous is the most selfish thing a person can do.