Not super religious, but I went to Catholic school from kindergarten to college…so, wait, I guess that’s religious, now that I think about it. And I also got very close to Mindy. I know on The Mindy Project, I wrote the episode that introduced the character of Danny Castellano’s mom, who’s played by Rhea Perlman. Did you ever meet him? And we shot the whole show before the election. My dad hasn’t seen all of the episodes, but I asked him a couple times, “You’re not offended, right? So I was thinking about, well, what do I know? It was so funny and I loved the dovetails of it and how everything connected and it was just so satisfying to watch. Like with Tina, I think it was just even subconsciously good for me to work for so long on shows where the boss was a woman who was really competent and good. Experiences inform writing — hardly a groundbreaking truth — but Wigfield is frank and fond in her recollections of the important moments that led to Great News, and while certain touchstones ring familiar — home movie hobbies, or distant admiration of Seinfeld and SNL — others are wholly unique to Wigfield and have helped amplify her voice as one of comedy’s most exciting new ones. What’s your message?” And the thing that’s a little interesting is, when I first pitched this idea to Robert and Tina, it was like two years ago. One of the first times, when I was first getting my bearings doing that…Tina was in the room, and I had some joke about brown M&Ms and I kept going back and forth in my head like, “Do you say it? I feel like there was a time I could have. It couldn’t have been a more different workplace to examine two years ago. We hit on it a little bit in the Chuck and Portia relationship and their points of view about where the news is headed. What was your VHS masterpiece? What are you being asked the most about this? That’s the truth. I just think there’s so much to say. When I pitched this show, that was the comedy I was planning on mining from it. I think he thinks it’s funny. My best friend from when I was little, my friend Renata and I, used to make comedy videos, and this was way before YouTube. She’s this very Catholic, Staten Island woman who’s easily offended and makes Mindy come over to have a guilt dinner where she just talks to her crucifix the whole time about how bad Mindy is. You’re in the NBC family. She has no filter, she has no sense of boundaries. As the boss now, do you have a soft spot for people rising up the way you did? I was obviously a huge fan of hers, and I was so scared of her when I first started. It was talking about how pre-Trump, CNN was floundering a little bit and running three weeks of reporting on the Malaysian plane crash and Don Lemon was interviewing a llama on primetime. A hardcore Tina Fey fan, on the other hand, recognizes the comic inheritance of Fey’s protégées — namely, writers like 33-year-old Tracey Wigfield, who steps into her own as creator of her first solo sitcom, NBC’s Great News. My dad would have to be in it, and my sister would have to be a boy in a wig. This might be an over-said answer, but Seinfeld. I knew people and I knew when they were doing auditions to be a cast member, and I feel like there were times when I was actually like, “Oh, maybe!” But I got in on 30 Rock so early, and… I don’t know, maybe I was just chicken and didn’t want to stay up all night. Obviously, she’s incredibly nice and I’m sure she forgot about it, but I remember it to this day and I’m still trying to make her proud. You don’t want a rotten apple. It’s that same comedic sensibility that Wigfield now brings to her first original series, an idiosyncratic sitcom about an aspiring news producer (Briga Heelan) disarmed by her mother’s decision to intern at the network. As an assistant, your job is to type notes of the jokes people are saying, but if you have a good joke, you can pitch it, and that was how I eventually got hired. Our most ambitious one was a parody of Sense & Sensibility called Stupid & Stupidity. I wanted a room of people who were real collaborators and really funny obviously but also really interested in building episodes together. With girls coming up, I think you just have an affinity for helping them, because there are still less women doing this than men. Had you ever written her into a sketch before, or was this the first time you put her on paper? So I think experiences like that are very helpful to get your eye on the prize. Yeah. [Laughs] To answer your question, everyone thinks their mom is funny and their family is funny, but I guess I just started noticing other people thought she was funny, too. In fact, a couple of years ago, Tina and her family were going on vacation to Disney World, and I don’t know how it came about — I’m sure my mom was like, “Ooh, you’re going to Disney World” and Tina was like, “Yeah, you should come, Kathy” — and then, like, we actually went with them. It was almost emotional sometimes, to watch this guy who’s a legend do a tour de force in comedy every single night. She was a different kind of character but I had a lot of fun writing that, so that was another thing where I was like, “Oh, if I had my own show, this would maybe be at the center.”
Were you raised religious? Especially in a writers’ room. And the fact that it’s about her, I think she thinks is flattering and she’s excited about it. I’m sure you feel the same way, but every job you take, you take something from it, even if it’s a bad experience. ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the shift for you between growing up enjoying your mother’s personality, and looking at her through the lens of writer and thinking, ‘Oh, she could actually be a TV character?’
TRACEY WIGFIELD: I’ve always thought she was really funny, and I’ve always felt funny when telling stories about her. You had done an internship at CNN prior to Letterman. What would she do in this situation?” I was a little worried about my dad because his real name is Dave [like the character in the show] and he is a wonderful man. Like, we loved doing that. I got more experience editing, being on set, going to production meetings, pitching episodes to the network. And my mom just seemed like kind of a perfect pre-made character. My mom’s Italian and I was raised Catholic. If you were the highest level page, you got to give a speech about telling people to turn off their cell phones. Her personality cracks me up. Or men. Did you read that New York Times Magazine article the other day? [Laughs] No, but I remember more times when I didn’t. In Los Angeles, she rose to co-executive producer on The Mindy Project, furthering the experience of writing the adventures of fearless, funny women and the eccentric ensembles that surround them. Leaping ahead a decade, what was your first formative career touchstone after college? On Mindy, I got that experience. [Laughs] That was always really hard. She rolls with things. ET on NBC. Even now, I’m working with the same people who gave me my first shot, and now they’re supporting me in this very different way on Great News. That was the thing you aspired to. As a kid, I remember there was something about Seinfeld that just felt like such pure comedy. Tina Fey brought my mother and sister and I with her on her family vacation. In joining and helping launch The Mindy Project, how different was your headspace as opposed to starting at 30 Rock? He’s supported my sister and me and my mom our whole lives, and he’s just the sweetest, smartest guy. That’s me living my truth. Literally, never. Show Full Article A Tina Fey fan is a fan of Tina Fey, and that’s perfectly fine. And I picked it because it’s why a lot of people pitch television shows at news stations — it’s high stakes and it’s exciting and the work they’re doing matters and I wanted an aspirational job for Carol to aspire to. Great News airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Especially women writers’ assistants. That show appealed to me in a specific way. But I was also excited to kind of talk about cable news and I felt like there was comedy to mine there. It seems like this was very much a big “nope” to ever going back there. Will Ferrell and Tina were like right in the sweet spot when I was like 13 and really getting into comedy. He does that run through the studio… one of my jobs as a page was to, like, guard a door and make sure no one came through it when he was doing his run. I have to ask about current events, the ‘fake news’ of it all. Don’t say it, it’s not funny. I got that job and it felt huge at the time, but it really has been, even to this moment, the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me. She’s someone that you could be like, “Wait, what’s that thing mom always said? What do you recall of your Letterman page days? When you told your mom the show was happening, was there anything off limits? My sister is a writer on the show, so that was really helpful having her there. She loves Hollywood and entertainment and would come visit 30 Rock sometimes, and everyone there got a kick out of her. I was about to turn 24 and I had given my résumé in at 30 Rock, because my boss called in a recommendation for me. It was really ambitious but I think that one came out really good. So there’s no Trump jokes or anything, and somewhat by design. And when the show ended, I was a producer but I wasn’t one of the people in charge. Whatever Twitter is to budding comedians right now, what tool did young Tracey use that helped you explore comedy? When we were like 11 or 12 years old, we had a little Sony camcorder and we would make sketches, basically, and be super dedicated to it. And since this is my first time developing a show, it’s not like I have a giant array of life experiences from which I could draw. We would write these scripts and act in them and make our parents watch them over and over again. You know I love you and think you’re a perfect father.” But he has a good sense of humor. Ten years later, I feel like I’m not at the end of that story but in a new chapter of it. I remember saving money to buy a wig. You should say it.” And then finally I said it and no one laughed and Tina said, “Oh yeah, I said that, two minutes ago.” So it was both a) not a funny joke, and b) I was clearly not paying attention and doing my job typing up what she was saying. I had just gotten out of college a year or so before, and I worked as a page at David Letterman and as a PA on another show that got canceled. God, I remember it so vividly. Was SNL ever an option for you? Yeah. It’s not going to be like John Oliver, skewering politics. Maybe it’s just being older but she just rolls with things in a way that I don’t know if a lot of people would. It was a less loaded workplace than it is where we’re standing now. And I also loved SNL, always. The show will always be about the characters and the dynamic between them. I was poor, taking the bus in from my parents’ house, and it wasn’t glamorous. At 30 Rock, I was starting knowing nothing. Not running a show, but maybe being a person or two under the person running the show. It would have been a disappointment if I hadn’t. I hope he does! Wigfield began her tenure on 30 Rock as a green assistant with no credit to her name, and ended the show’s run years later with an Emmy in hand, having co-written the series finale with Fey. And in a way, it’s really cool how that’s basically what my job turned out to be. I was mortified. Also, men do that kind of cronyism all the time, so I feel like I’m allowed a little bit of cronyism like that. It inspired me to be like, “Oh my gosh, this is what I want to do and it doesn’t matter how hard it is or how long it takes to get there.” I think it’s good to have experiences like that, because so much in the first years of your career being a comedy writer or an actor or a director is just like, demoralizing. And not that any of mine were, but I think the thing that was most impactful to me when I was working at Letterman was the aspirational dreaminess of working in entertainment. What do I like talking about? All these other skills that they didn’t trust me with on 30 Rock, I got to do on Mindy. She’s a good friend of mine. So I’ve seen him run by me, but we never interacted. ET), Wigfield revisits the benchmarks of her career, which seems to be reaching new heights and simultaneously just getting started. A huge game-changer in my life was getting hired as an assistant at 30 Rock. It was comedy done like math, in a way. Yeah. As Great News heads to air (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. But every day at 3:30, you get to stand in the back of this auditorium and watch David Letterman do a whole show. Do you remember the first time you made Tina laugh out loud? Not at UCB, necessarily, or even in college. Your job sucked and you made $10 an hour and I think you’re only allowed to work, like, 20 hours a week. [Laughs] Like, the special thing I have to give to the world is that I’m funny, and I like to write funny things, so I think Letterman sort of crystallized that. A lot of people are asking, “So, in 2017, you chose to set a television show at a cable news station. As a kid, what TV show spoke to you on your most creative level? I wasn’t in the military or, like, used to work on an oil rig. But it never felt like a better deal than what I had, just because I loved working at 30 Rock. What about your sister and dad? I’d love to do more stuff about that. When you’re a female showrunner, I think it’s a priority for you to make things as equal as possible in your own small, little way. And how he’s portrayed on the show is more just a joke about how he’s treated by Carol and his daughter, that he sort of just does all the housework and makes all the money and drives them everywhere, which I think is something that certainly my dad has felt throughout the years, and something I also think any dad in a house full of women just becomes resigned to. My job was so bad — I was paid $10 an hour. Nothing. Running errands and getting treated like garbage. But I do hope, if we got a second season, I think it’ll give even more opportunities to talk about missed jokes about the state of the news and current events and stuff. I had never written at all, but I was a big fan of Tina and I was learning everything about how to write jokes and craft episodes, like it was my graduate school in comedy writing. Nope. What kind of writers’ room did you want to assemble? In a weird way, she was like, weirdly not phased by it. What do I think is funny? That had a little bit of [my mom] but she’s a different character. It was very important that I not, and you can’t always guard against this, but that I not hire any assholes. I think for a lot of moms who deeply believe in their children more than they believe in themselves, it’s not surprising to her that I am making a TV show and she kind of always thought I would. That’s not how it’s built. It was a period piece, which was very hard because we didn’t have access to the costumes we felt like we needed. It’s really cool and gratifying that Tina and Robert [Carlock] took this chance on me when I never had a job before, and when do you ever get an opportunity to… not pay back, but sort of make them proud in this way? I was raised Catholic. It’s funny — a lot of the people I’ve talked to who have seen the show always say, “Oh my God, you wrote a show about my mom.” It seems to fall along, like, Jewish, Catholic, Italian lines. That feels loaded! While it’s no secret who serves as the inspiration for Andrea Martin’s overreaching maternal figure, it’s also no fluke of creative imagination that Wigfield drew heavily from her own life.