Person of Interest: Rick Sebak, documentarian of Pittsburgh


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Most Pittsburghers recognize the voice of Rick Sebak, who will celebrate his 25th anniversary with WQED next month. Thanks to him, the history and heritage of Western Pennsylvania has been documented for the ages, and his syndicated films about everything from ice cream to breakfast can be watched all across America.

A 1971 Bethel Park High School graduate, he left to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and after graduating, worked in public television for 11 years in South Carolina. He returned to Pittsburgh in 1987 to work at WQED. Having produced 35 films, a dozen for national PBS audiences, he has won 10 regional Emmy awards and was nominated twice for his prime-time "Fred Rogers: America's Favorite Neighbor." He lives in Regent Square.

You're in a foreign country and someone asks you to describe Pittsburgh in 10 words or less? Go.

Don't you hate foreigners who ask questions like that? I think I'd say, "With history and natural beauty, it's an extraordinary middle-sized city." Is "middle-sized" one word or two? Maybe I'd say, "It's the right size. The people stupendous. Good sandwiches too."

Complete the sentence "If I could not do what I do now for a living, I'd be doing (what?)"

I think I'd be cooking or waiting tables somewhere. I've never worked in a restaurant (except for a couple stints as a celebrity waiter at the much-missed Cafe Allegro) but I think I would like it.

Accomplishment I'm most proud of?

The collection of TV programs I've made at WQED over the last 25 years. On July 6, I'll celebrate my silver anniversary at the station. Time flies.

But, if I could change anything about myself?

I'd try to not be so deadline-driven. I work hardest just before a project is due, but that's no secret. Everyone I work with knows it, and I appreciate their understanding and help. (I also wouldn't mind losing another 50 pounds.)

If you could bring back one Thing That Isn't There Anymore, what would it be?

The Civic Arena. How stupid can a city be to get rid of such a grand structure? The list is long!

People would be surprised to know about me?

I got my job at WQED by answering an ad in a trade journal. I didn't have contacts at WQED. When I lived in the Carolinas (from 1971 to 1987) I wasn't yearning to get back to Pittsburgh. Although I "boomeranged" back, it wasn't a goal of mine. Never regretted it, however.

Life is incomplete without?

The beach. And really good barbecue. The two things I miss the most from the Carolinas.

Which is better: a night out at a good restaurant, or a night in with a good book or film?

Make no mistake: I am one of those people who loves living alone, regulating my own schedule and chores, but a night out at a good restaurant with friends always beats staying home and reading or watching anything.

Kindle, iPad or Nook?

No question. My older brother Skip, an electrical engineer and computer nut, was passionate about Apple products early on, and I've followed his wise lead. My good friend and WQED editor Kevin Conrad is a Kindle man, but I prefer my iPad.

What's Western Pennsylvania's most underrated town or borough? And why?

Immediately I think of Vandergrift. I love the unusual design of the town, its curves, its G&G restaurant, its Reads, Ink Bookshop in an old funeral home, and its fine location on the Kiskiminetas. But I also think we take for granted the great towns and small cities that make a halo around Pittsburgh: Greensburg, Uniontown, Washington, Steubenville, Weirton, Aliquippa, New Castle, Butler, Kittanning and lots of others. They are endlessly fascinating and worth exploring. And then there's the whole Mon Valley full of treasures! Ever tried the frie d chicken from the Butcher Shop in Fredericktown? Let's go!

So what IS the most memorable breakfast item you've come across in your travels?

I think I'd have to say loco moco on the big island of Hawaii. A bowl of rice, a hamburger patty, gravy and eggs. Yes! And there are countless variations (sausage, spam, pork, chicken, veggies) and many of them show up in my new PBS show called "Breakfast Special 2: Revenge of the Omelets."

What's next?

I'm hoping for season 3 of "It's Pittsburgh & A Lot of Other Stuff," and PBS is talking to us about two programs on pies: one on sweet pies and another on pizza pies. I'm ready.

tvradio


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