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UNH grad explains why she gave $20 million to her alma mater

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 06. 2013 8:54PM

After decades of creating some of television’s most iconic shows, University of New Hampshire alumna Marcy Carsey has dedicated herself to helping this generation’s students achieve success through education, she said.

“I really believe in affordable education and public education,” Carsey said Sunday in an interview from her home in California, days after she gave $20 million to UNH to create the Carsey School for Public Policy.

The gift will set up a school to train future leaders in numerous disciplines to use research to solve problems.

It was Carsey’s second major gift to UNH, and is in addition to donations she has made to the University of California-Irvine, where her children attended college. In 2002, she gave $7.5 million to establish the Carsey Institute at UNH. The Institute, in part, conducts national and regional policy research on vulnerable children, youth and families and on sustainable community development.

“I wanted to make sure that kids in this generation aren’t deprived of a quality public education,” the 1966 UNH graduate said.

The gifts to the schools came after a career spent producing prime-time hits including “The Cosby Show,” “Roseanne” and “That 70s Show.” “My definition of a hit is something where people watch it and say ‘Whoa!’” the Emmy award winner said. “You want it to be worthy of your air time.”

Carsey co-founded Carsey-Werner Productions with Tom Werner. The independent company produced shows and sold them to the networks before closing its doors in 2005. As executive producers, the two presented the public with shows that didn’t fit into easy, formulaic molds.

“Obviously, there’s risk involved because when you do them, (new types of shows are) not already on the air,” Carsey said. “You’re opening a new window.”

“Frannie’s Turn,” a situation comedy about a homemaker frustrated with her life, was on the air only about a month before being cancelled.

“It was a wonderful premise, but it just didn’t work. We all do shows that don’t work. The miracle is when it does work,” she said.

Carsey said she knew she wanted a career in television, even while growing up as the daughter of a steel worker in Weymouth, Mass.

“I was a television freak growing up,” she said. “And (while in New York) I realized you could have jobs in that industry.”

Carsey’s first job in the entertainment industry was as a tour guide at NBC studios in the famed 30 Rockefeller Plaza building. She went from being a tour guide to getting “the lowest job you can possibly get,” working on the set of “The Tonight Show.”

Carsey later moved from New York City to Los Angeles and “had to kind of start over” after taking a job as a script reader.

Then she got her first break, when she was hired in the early 1970s to work at the “struggling” ABC in a “low-level job.”

After that, she cofounded her production company, landed a huge hit with “The Cosby Show” and now gets to use her time and wealth on her passion of helping college-age kids get the type of education she said she enjoyed at UNH.

“If you don’t have your head on straight about putting money on what you value (into education), then what are we doing?” she said.

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