Tracey Wigfield, BC ’05, a former writer on 30 Rock and The Mindy Project, launched her own sitcom last week: NBC’s Great News, which follows a news producer who has to deal with her mom as a new intern.
Wigfield was on campus on Thursday and Friday as part of Arts Fest. On Thursday, theatre professor Scott Cummings interviewed her for the annual “Inside the BC Studio” segment, and then on Friday she was presented with an alumni award from the Arts Council. Wigfield shared an Emmy with Tina Fey in 2013 for co-writing an episode of 30 Rock. She talked about her new show and how she worked her way up in the entertainment world.
Wigfield was featured on ads all over campus in the lead-up to her visit.
“It’s exciting to go back to BC and see all your old professors but it’s extra exciting when it’s like a Trump rally and your face is plastered everywhere,” she said.
The Emmy gave her a little bit of street cred, Wigfield said, and helped her when she was looking to pitch her show to network executives. Eventually people rise to a certain level in a show that they start to develop their own, which they try to convince networks to make during the annual “pilot season.”
“It’s such a waste of money, they’ll make a million episodes and then pick two to be on TV,” she said. “Some people can pitch a show as a staff writer and then get it made, but you want to make sure it won’t be taken away from you.”
Wigfield first pitched the show for about 20 minutes to Fey and her production company, and then to the studio, and then NBC. Then she wrote a script, had it greenlit, and made the pilot, which then also has to be greenlit for a full season. The network also signs off on each episode of the show. Wigfield serves as the head writer and the showrunner of Great News, and also plays a recurring character, a weird meteorologist. She has final approval of practically every detail.
“So few shows ever get made, and of the few that do so few become hits, so you have to manage your expectations,” she said.
In the writer’s room, with her staff of about 10, Wigfield lays out every scene on a notecard and then builds around it, gradually putting together an episode.
Great News follows about a decade of built-up experience for Wigfield, whose first job was as a page on The Late Show With David Letterman. Her mother’s cousin’s husband was an accountant with the show, and he passed along her application.
“In entertainment, that is a lot of how you get assistant jobs—just a person knows a person who can hand your resume in,” she said.
The joke on Letterman, which ended in 2015, was that the interns couldn’t talk to the show’s host. Wigfield told a story (unsubstantiated, she said) about an intern who once introduced himself and shook Letterman’s hand in an elevator and was promptly fired. The story formed the basis for the first episode of Great News, which features a hotheaded TV anchor who’s always firing interns.
The executive producer of Letterman, Rob Burnett, made a show that was cancelled after nine episodes that filmed in the same building as 30 Rock. After she was a page, Wigfield went to work for the show, The Knights of Prosperity, but started handing out her resume to the other shows in the building when she started to feel it would be ending early.
Burnett gave her a recommendation for 30 Rock, and she spent two years as a writer’s assistant, becoming a writer in her third year. Writer’s assistants, she said, just take notes in the corner. Sometimes in a joke pitch meeting, there’ll be a quiet moment when people are stumped, so she said ambitious assistants can jump in with their own jokes and potentially work their way up from there.
Boston College played a big role in Wigfield’s career—she chose between BC and the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and said BC provided a good safety for her creativity. Another famous TV comedienne, Amy Poehler, graduated in 1993 and is also close with Fey.
“Any good memories of the Mods?” Cummings asked her.
“No, I have no memories of the Mods,” she laughed.
Cummings also asked about Wigfield’s friendship with Fey and Mindy Project star Mindy Kaling, both of whom went to her wedding last summer.
“They both are the funniest person in any room that they’re in,” Wigfield said. “[Fey] is very calm and soft-spoken in a way I think people find surprising, and she’s very good about listening to quieter voices in the room. I know when I was a staff writer she was the one who’d often be like ‘Wait, what did you say?’ when I would whisper something under my breath.”
Kaling is a little different, with a strong vision for her show that she lays out in the writer’s room. Now that she’s in charge of the room, Wigfield is seeing it from the perspective of her mentors.
“I’d be in the writer’s room and I’d be like, ‘Why isn’t anyone talking?” she said. “And then I realized, ‘Oh, it’s me. I’m the one that’s supposed to be talking.’”
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Staff