Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.
In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum and TV critic Sonia Saraiya talk with the executive producers of NBC’s new comedy “Great News,” Tina Fey and Tracey Wigfield. Then, Nicole Richie chats with Birnbaum about her role as Portia, the co-anchor of the news show at the center of the sitcom.
“I knew I wanted to do a show about my mom and my relationship with my mom,” says Wigfield, who started her career as an assistant working with Fey and Robert Carlock on “30 Rock.” “I pitched them this idea about a mom who gets an internship working in her daughter’s newsroom. Another great thing about working with Tina and Robert was they knew my mom, whether they wanted to do or not.”
Adds Fey with a laugh, “I vacationed with her mom. I’m not sure how that happened!”
Fey says she was sold on the idea, given Wigfield’s passion for it. “When you hear a pitch like that, what you’re listening for, is it funny, is it believable, does it feel like it has… legs?” explains Fey. “The idea of dropping a mom into a workplace ensemble always struck me as very simple. It’s an easy premise to explain and very fertile.”
And according to Wigfield, working with Fey on “30 Rock” helped train her well for “Great News.”
“I learned so much just watching her and Robert run the show,” says Wigfield. “I had such a newfound respect having never run a show before and now doing it… You want to make sure everyone’s happy. They did such a beautiful job and made it look really easy… I just kind of ‘osmosed’ from them.”
Wigfield says one of the lessons she learned from Fey was the importance of hiring “nice” people: “You have to be able to be in a room with them at 3AM and not be like ‘Shut up, why do you keep saying annoying things!'”
But while Fey was busy across the country, she would still send notes to Wigfield. “Almost every note she gave we took, because her notes are genius,” says Wigfield. “There was one or two times I would be like, I don’t think we need to do this, and I’d be like going rogue. And every single time I was wrong.”
The ensemble cast has won raves from critics, especially Richie. “She’s so funny, she’s so at ease,” Fey says of Richie. “You can’t teach that. People either have it or they don’t. I’ve always found her to be a funny, likable person.”
In the second half of the podcast, Richie talks about her own decision to take on scripted comedy after getting her start in reality television.
“The second I read the script, I said to myself, ‘This is something I would love to do, this is really funny,'” says Richie, who auditioned three times for the role. “Television is something that I’ve always done. I like making people laugh.”
|Nicole Richie photographed exclusively for Variety’s Remote Controlled podcast.
Dan Doperalski for Variety
“Portia is nobody’s fool, she’s not dumb,” says Richie. “But she just cares about different things. Where Chuck (John Michael Higgins) cares about delivering news in a traditional way, she cares and knows the importance of social media, of aesthetics, and color and on-air banter. There are so many moments you can say, ‘Oh, she’s an airhead.’ But then you realize she’s more in-tune with the world today than the rest of the cast.”
In the coming episodes, Richie reveals that while things happen in the world, Portia remains focused on herself. “Her perspective of the world is just very different,” says Richie. “I think it’s kind of interesting and fun to see how she’s going to take something in compared to the rest of the people.”
You can listen to this week’s podcast here:
New episodes of Remote Controlled are available every Friday.