Rick Sebak makes unusual television programs.
His slightly wacky documentaries celebrate various aspects of modern American life and the unexpected charms of Pittsburgh. Audiences have learned to recognize his friendly narrative style and the unusual topics that he obviously loves.
In October 2005, his program celebrating American burial places titled A CEMETERY SPECIAL premiered on PBS stations across the country. Rob Owen in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote "The tone is vintage Sebak, chipper and inquisitive with a love of people in all their varied, colorful, quotable forms…There are so many stories in "A Cemetery Special," all of them told with such efficiency and joy, this may be Sebak's best, meatiest national show yet." Charlie McCollum for KRT News Service said, "Done with intelligence, efficiency and charm, it is a fine piece of filmmaking."
In 2004, Rick put together a Pittsburgh program called IT'S THE NEIGHBORHOODS, full of unexpected stories about various aspects of a few neighborhoods in southwestern Pennsylvania. As usual, the stories are told primarily through the voices of the people involved, whether they be folks in Bloomfield bragging about their Little Italy Days parade or coffee drinkers at the Tazza D'Oro coffee shop in Highland Park or the feisty women in suburban Collier Township who formed the Hi Neighbor Club in 1958 and have been meeting the fourth Tuesday of the month ever since.
Rick's 2004 national project, an agreeably goofy documentary titled A PROGRAM ABOUT UNUSUAL BUILDINGS & OTHER ROADSIDE STUFF, took viewers around the country to see structures in strange shapes (like the Big Duck on Long Island and the World's Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, Illinois.)
In 2003, after the death of Mister Rogers, Rick rewrote an earlier documentary he had made into a new program titled "Fred Rogers: America's Favorite Neighbor." For his work on this new program, Rick was nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards: one for Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming, and another for his work as one of the producers of this Outstanding Nonfiction Special.
Also in 2003, Rick celebrated some of the people and the places that have manufactured various goods in the Pittsburgh area in a program called THINGS WE'VE MADE. It included some steel (of course), Westinghouse air brakes, Del Monte soups and baby foods, Jensen Steam Engines and Iron City Beer among other things. PBS offered the show nationally in the summer of 2004.
Rick has also done an hour about hot dogs and hot dog shops across the United States. Another hour on flea markets. Ninety minutes about Pittsburgh's great commercial neighborhood called the Strip. You can catch can his "Sandwiches That You Will Like" on public television or on DVD. He's put together programs about pre-Disney amusement parks, really good ice cream places, "Stuff That's Gone" in western Pennsylvania, and, in a special called "Shore Things," he documented some of the non-environmental reasons why people like to go to the beach.
Many of Rick's programs may make you want to travel. David Bianculli in The New York Daily News has written, "Rick Sebak is not a filmmaker. He's a brainwasher. He's a brainwasher because you can't watch one of his effervescent films without having a very strong urge to follow in his footsteps and experience firsthand the places he presents so compellingly."
He has put together eighteen individual special programs that make up what is called the Pittsburgh History Series, including a very popular 1988 program titled "Kennywood Memories" about the wonderful old amusement park near Pittsburgh, a show called "Pittsburgh A To Z," one titled "North Side Story," and a much imitated documentary titled "Things That Aren't There Anymore."
After his statewide special on "Pennsylvania Diners And Other Roadside Restaurants" aired on PBS stations across the country in 1994, earning good ratings without any significant promotional campaign, Rick began making national documentaries for PBS including "An Ice Cream Show," "Great Old Amusement Parks," and "A Flea Market Documentary."
He has a way of quickly capturing the essence of a place and its people. His documentary "Sandwiches That You Will Like" delighted viewers, tempted their taste buds and, in the process, convinced them to contribute to public television.
PBS stations around the country often rebroadcast Rick's programs because audiences respond so favorably to the quirky blend of Americana, places and personalities.
Before coming to WQED in Pittsburgh, Rick worked for 11 years at the South Carolina Educational Television Network in Columbia, South Carolina. His work there included the award-winning documentaries "Shag," about the official state dance of South Carolina, and "The Slightly Wacky Aussie Doco," a travelogue about Australia.
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