In the optimistic world of Hollywood screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love; Danny Collins), most things happen for a reason.
A University of Pennsylvania graduate and the writer behind two of the fall's most anticipated TV dramas, NBC's This Is Us and Fox's Pitch, Fogelman is adept at telling stories about how the past influences the present and at drawing connections between seemingly unrelated characters and events.
But even he struggled for a moment when I asked him last month about the influence Penn might have had on his career.
"I was an English major. I was kind of focused on the Victorian novel," Fogelman said, sounding a little doubtful. "I was there for two years, then I went off [and] I studied at Oxford for a year, which is a very defining year in my life. I realized I wanted to write."
And then, as he does, he pulled out a story.
While at Penn: "I lived with a bunch of really interesting guys from all different walks of life. I didn't do a fraternity, and I kind of collected a really random group of people [of] all ethnicities and backgrounds. We lived . . . 12 of us, on Spruce Street, 4012 Spruce Street. Right next to Billy Bob's Cheesesteaks," he said.
"There was an Indian guy from New Jersey, a black guy from L.A., and a farm boy from Pennsylvania and myself. And a basketball star . . . a wide collection of guys," Fogelman said.
"I started writing a lot of stuff about the people in the house. And I would put up, like, newsletters around the house. Like funny [things] about who had done what the night before. And I started getting a reaction out of people for stuff I was writing."
He still is.
An NBC trailer for This Is Us, whose stars include Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, and Sterling K. Brown, has logged more than 72 million views on Facebook and YouTube since mid-May - an astonishing number for a not easily categorized drama with a plot twist the trailer manages not to reveal.
Pitch, the near-future baseball series Fogelman cowrote with Rick Singer, about the first woman (Kylie Bunbury, Under the Dome) to play in the major leagues, is also getting the kind of buzz Fogelman's previous TV efforts haven't.
His recently canceled Monty Pythonesque musical comedy, Galavant, got a better critical reception than his absurd but heartfelt aliens-in-New-Jersey sitcom, The Neighbors, did a few seasons ago, but neither was remotely a hit.
Yet NBC and Fox are betting that this fall, TV viewers will be ready for the slightly choked-up feeling Fogelman's so good at evoking.
And he's betting both that viewers will be as excited as he is by the idea of a woman in the major leagues and that critics won't give away the twists in his pilots.
"I'm of the school, 'Hit 'em where they aren't,' " Fogelman said.
"There's not a lot of this on television right now, a show just about people and a show that gives you this type of emotion," he said of This Is Us. "It happens to be that I have two [shows] this year that are living in that space, but I've always been of the belief that it's . . . a good time for this kind of stuff."
Wherever Fogelman's optimism comes from, it's not, he insisted, from some idyllic upbringing.
"I'm pretty tortured. I always describe it as I had the perfect amount of dysfunction in my childhood. So it was enough to make me . . . a writer, but it was never dysfunctional enough to put me in an institution," he said.
"My parents got divorced when I was 15. My mom [on whom he based Barbra Streisand's character in The Guilt Trip] passed away when I was 29, 30. I've had stuff, but it was always healthy."