2013 Honorees

A successful singing career snuffed out by the Beatles put Vin Di Bona on the road to changing the way America watches television -- by watching themselves. A pioneer in comedic reality programming and a 45-year entertainment industry veteran, Peabody and Emmy Award-winning Executive Producer, Vin Di Bona captivated television audiences when he introduced America's Funniest Home Videos in 1989. The longest-running, primetime entertainment show in the history of the ABC network, America’s Funniest Home Videos is now in its 23rd year on the air

A native of Cranston, Rhode Island, Di Bona changed his name to Johnny Lindy before heading to Nashville to record “My Arms.” The song was a regional success in New England and gave Di Bona his first number one hit, a hint of things to come in his future television career. Two more songs recorded for Frank Sinatra’s manager, Hank Senicola, looked promising until that fateful night on the Ed Sullivan show when the Beatles stormed America and solo singers were pretty much passé. Di Bona, always the gentleman, holds no grudge.

An Emerson College education gave Di Bona the chance to work in radio as station manager of the campus AM station, for which he received the President’s Prize for outstanding achievement in broadcasting upon graduation in 1966. As president of his junior and senior classes, Di Bona was ever-involved with Emerson, something he’s continued through to the present. He now holds the esteemed position of Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

Di Bona followed the Emerson experience with an MFA degree from the UCLA film school and upon graduation in 1968 he left sunny California for those wonderful winters in Boston as a producer/director at WBZ-TV. During his nine years at the station, Di Bona produced and directed major documentary specials, breakthrough public affairs programs, and the first commercially sponsored African American magazine show in the nation.

In 1977 Di Bona returned to Los Angeles. Working at KNXT, which later became KCBS, he produced and directed public affairs specials. An eight-time Emmy Award nominee, Di Bona won four Emmys while at KNXT. One each for the documentaries Down at the Dunbar, for which he also received the prestigious Peabody Award; Zoot Suit: The Play and the Promise; and Streets of Anger, Streets of Hope. He garnered another Emmy for the series Project Parenting.

In 1981 Di Bona became the producer of a new fledgling show called Entertainment Tonight which, like Videos, is still on the air. During the 480 daily and weekly shows produced by Di Bona, he created several breakthrough series which included “25 Years of Television in 25 Days,” “The Ed Sullivan Days,” “25 Years of the Best Movies,” and “The Top Ten News Events That Shook the World.”

Breaking new ground once again, Di Bona was senior producer for Metromedia’s On Stage America in 1983; it was considered the first variety/reality show to air on television. A change of pace came in 1984-85 when Di Bona teamed up with his Emerson fraternity brother, Henry Winkler, to work on the pilot and subsequent first year of MacGyver. Winkler executive produced and Di Bona was supervising producer and second unit director. Changing gears again, Di Bona was honored when asked to produce Papal Spacebridge ’87. It documented Pope John Paul II’s visit to the U.S. and his two-way satellite discussions with young adults across the country.

A special year for Di Bona was 1986, when he put out his own shingle, Vin Di Bona Productions. The first show under his banner was Animal Crack-Ups for ABC Saturday mornings which ran for three years.

Then in 1989, Di Bona made television history when America sat down to watch themselves, their family, neighbors, friends, children and pets on Sunday nights at 7 p.m. on America’s Funniest Home Videos. The series, which hit the coveted number one spot many times, has always garnered high ratings at ABC, consistently finishing first or second in the highly sought-after 18-39 demographic. Originally hosted by Bob Saget and presently by Tom Bergeron, America’s Funniest Home Videos is enjoying immense popularity on the network, in syndication, and on cable. Another landmark for Di Bona was realized in 2003 when the show reached an impressive 300th episode, followed in 2008, with a remarkable 400th episode. In November of 2012, AFV reached a milestone 500th episode, an accomplishment previously achieved by only three other primetime entertainment shows: Lassie, Gunsmoke and The Simpsons. America’s Funniest Home Videos airs nightly on ABC Family Network and is seen on TBS Superstation, TV Land, and Nickelodean. Moreover, the show is seen in 35 countries worldwide.

Di Bona is once again “back in the saddle,” producing and directing this year’s record-breaking twenty-third season of America’s Funniest Home Videos for ABC. Taking Videos one step further, Di Bona executive produced The Long Weekend, a feature film that uses outrageous videos “too spicy” for television.

Adding the element of performance to his concept of spontaneous "grass-roots" humor, Di Bona created a sister show, America's Funniest People, in 1990. Hosted by Dave Coulier, the series was the only bona-fide hit of the season and ran for four years on ABC.

Still looking to make people laugh, Di Bona executive produced 155 episodes of Show Me the Funny, which premiered in the launch of the Fox Family network in 1998. This was followed in 2002 by Meet the Marks, a highly innovative, reality sitcom for the Fox network, currently airing on the Fox Reality Channel. Also in 2002 Di Bona was executive producer on four one-hour episodes of The Dating Experiment for ABC. In 2004 Di Bona executive produced 80 episodes of That’s Funny, a comedy clip and hidden camera show, for syndication.

After achieving unprecedented success in the reality arena, Di Bona branched into other areas of programming. In 2005 he served as an executive producer on the controversial TV movie Trump Unauthorized for ABC. He also produced three highly acclaimed movies-of-the-week; For the Love of Nancy, which was the second highest-rated movie-of-the-week the year it aired, Touched By Evil, which also garnered extremely high ratings for ABC, and Voices From Within for NBC.

Di Bona ventured into cable programming with a bawdy entry, a sitcom, Sherman Oaks, for Showtime. It aired for two seasons and has since become a cult classic among cable devotees. He was also executive producer on Chicken Soup For The Soul in 1999/2000, a series based on the best-selling book for PAX TV, as well as on Maximum Drive, a children’s competition show for The Family Channel. Maximum Drive was nominated for an ACE Award, the industry's top honor in the Children's Programming Series category.

Di Bona has also produced many reality-based specials for ABC including four I Survived A Disaster specials. Other series include The Big Moment, a primetime family show for ABC, Disney Channel’s game show Off the Wall, Fox Family’s Extraordinary World of Animals and Richard Simmons’ Dream Maker for daytime syndication.

In 2010, as chairman, Di Bona launched his second shingle, FishBowl Worldwide Media. This next generation studio is a transmedia storyteller developing properties for television, digital platforms and brands. FishBowl is in production on several reality television series including the high-profile Upload with Shaquille O’Neal on TruTV, Tone It Up for Bravo, I’m Married To A… for VH1 and Offbeat for Fuse. Scripted projects are currently in various stages of development with NBC, Fox, ABC, The CW, MTV and Cartoon Network.

FishBowl’s Digital division develops and produces original series for the web including Ultimate Proposal, Ultimate Surprises and Stunt Nation for Yahoo! and the animated series The Potts. The company also creates innovative YouTube channels, among them Petsami, a channel for pets by pets, and CuteWinFail, which is ranked in the YouTube Comedy Channel Top 20. Additionally, FishBowl manages the world's largest curated library of cleared user-generated content and offers a white-label clearance management service used by advertisers and major brands.

Aside from his many accomplishments in the entertainment industry, including a local New England Emmy for Lifetime Achievement in television, Di Bona is also highly recognized for his four-year stint as Chairman for The Caucus for Television Producers, Writers & Directors and recently received the organization’s prestigious Chair’s Award. The Caucus is a prominent voice in the Hollywood community that recognizes and responds to issues facing the independent artist in today’s conglomerate climate.

As mentioned earlier, Di Bona is Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Emerson College, which bestowed upon him an Honorary Doctorate Degree, Doctor of Humane Letters. Di Bona also serves as Chairman, Paulist Productions Board of Directors in Los Angeles, is a member of the Board of Trustees for the St. James Inn and is on the board of The Center Theatre Group. As one who has many charitable interests, Di Bona is currently active in Bread for the Poor, Teach for America, the Newport Historical Society and the Preservation Society of Newport.

On August 23rd, 2007, Di Bona celebrated his 35+ year career in Los Angeles by receiving a star on the legendary Hollywood Walk of Fame. Di Bona was further honored in April 6, 2009 when objects from America’s Funniest Home Videos were accepted into the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Selected for inclusion into the Museum’s permanent Entertainment Collection was a camcorder that taped the first winning video of the series in 1989, a cassette of home videos Di Bona used to sell the show to ABC, a ticket to the pilot and a script from the first episode. At the ceremony, Di Bona accepted a Certificate of Donation and America’s Funniest Home Videos became a part of history. In 2010 the camcorder was put on display in the lobby of the Museum.

Di Bona’s achievements were recognized by his home state in 2011 when he was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. Most recently, Di Bona has become a member of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Board.

Vin Di Bona

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Susan Campbell Cross was born in Washington DC, and grew up in Alexandria, VA and Pittsburgh, PA until she matriculated at UCSD where she majored in writing and minored in sociology and met her husband of 20 years, Kevin.

They married shortly after graduation and had three amazing kids in less than five years and spent the next decade home raising them before waking up one day to realize she was closer to forty than thirty and still hadn’t achieved many of her childhood dreams. She made a list of forty of them, and the last one, number forty, was “write a book." The FabYOUList: List It, Live It, Love Your Life is all about how Susan crossed numbers one through thirty-nine off of that list, and what she learned along the way. In the process of “living her list” She re-styled her life, incorporating many of her adventures into her regular day-to-day.

She went from "soccer mom" to "lifestyle expert", author, and on-air personality, with articles appearing on websites like The Daily Muse, Huff Post Women, and Forbes Woman as well as in magazines including OK!, Star, and SHAPE—where she is currently lifestyle editor. Susan is also a commercial actor and has performed in television, radio, print, and Internet campaigns for Mr. Coffee, DirecTV, and NuBrilliance, among others. She is the mom for Jewel Osco’s Nutrition IQ, and has appeared in cooking segments with chefs Bobby Flay and Curtis Stone. She is lifestyle correspondent for Modern Media, the Radio Show and Let’s Talk Autism with Shannon and Nancy. She's honored to be an autism advocate and volunteer for ACT Today! (Autism Care and Treatment Today)--a passion that developed from yet another goal on her list, “get involved with a cause I believe in.”

Susan currently lives in Hidden Hills, California with her husband Kevin, their three kids Kayla, Rory, and Aidan, and their four dogs. The FabYOUList: List It, Live It, Love Your Life is available at booksellers everywhere. You can check out Susan's “Cross Talk” column in SHAPE magazine’s Live Healthy section each month, and her weekly “Cross Talk” blog on SHAPE’s website.

Susan Campbell Cross

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ACT Today! is proud to honor Vin Di Bona as the 2013 ACTivist and

Susan Campbell Cross as the 2013 Golden Cowgirl for their tireless efforts to increase autism awareness and funds for autism care and treatment.

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