Imagine your boss is Tina Fey.
Now imagine what would happen when you tell her that your mum has the password to your email account.
“She looked at me like I was crazy,” Tracey Wigfield says. “Literally, she looked at me like I was diseased.”
When Wigfield made that confession, she was a writer’s assistant on NBC’s 30 Rock, Fey’s comedic riff on the behind-the-scenes chaos of a Saturday Night Live-type sketch show.
As Fey tells it, there was a lot of playful judgement in the writers room that day. But it was accompanied by an odd sense of comradeship.
“Other people started raising their hands to say, ‘Uh, yeah, my mum has my email password, too,’” Fey recalls with a laugh. “So maybe I’m the dope.”
Or maybe Wigfield had a feeling her exceptionally close relationship with her mother would come in handy one day. It turns out she was more than right.
Their bond is the inspiration for Great News, the new comedy premiering Tuesday on NBC that Wigfield created and co-wrote. The series follows a TV news producer, Katie (Briga Heelan), whose overbearing mother, Carol (Andrea Martin), comes to work as an intern at her station. Fey and Wigfield’s other 30 Rock boss, Robert Carlock, are executive producers along with Wigfield.
“I feel like a lot of girls are like me, where they’re very close with their mother — maybe too close,” says Wigfield, who also appears occasionally in the show as a meteorologist. “And I wanted to look at how that plays out when you’re trying to be your own person as an adult. How much is that voice in your head your mother’s voice, and how much is it yours?”
Wigfield is assessing that mother-daughter dynamic a few weeks before the show’s debut, vacillating between oh, mum-type embarrassment and heartfelt gratitude over muffled chatter at Katsu-ya in Studio City, one of her favourite spots.
She speaks of the time her mother, Kathy, who she is convinced would have been an agent or running a Hollywood studio if circumstances were different, once cornered 30 Rock actor James Marsden to tell him how much she loved him in ... well, she couldn’t quite remember the title of the movie, but she kept him captive as she tried to figure it out. It turned out she had him confused with James Van Der Beek.
But then there are the near-constant calls, texts, emails and FaceTime chats when Wigfield is seeking advice or just soothing “uh-huhs” when life gets a bit hectic.
“I love that woman,” Wigfield says. “And she loves that I’m doing a show about her. I’m interested to see if there are any things where it’s like, ‘How could you say that I would do something like that!’”
Carlock says there’s a difference between Great News and other sitcoms that pit adult children and their parents against one another.
“Usually on sitcoms, the muom comes into the room and it’s a wet blanket, and it’s just butting heads, and that’s really good for story conflict, sure,” Carlock says. “But this mother-daughter relationship felt different from what I think you usually see. It makes things more complicated. Her mom is coming to her work.”
People who know Wigfield, a former writer on The Mindy Project, are not surprised that the first sitcom she developed would be inspired by her mother.
Mindy Project creator Mindy Kaling writes in an email, “A running character in our writers room was Tracey’s mum. ... She was a fixture.”
But for Wigfield, it’s still surreal that she — the girl who used to put on Saturday Night Live-type sketches with her friends as a kid _ now has her own series, with her mum as a character.
Instead of making Great News completely autobiographical and setting it behind the scenes of a comedy show (“We’ve seen it,” she says), Wigfield placed the series in a newsroom, much like the CNN newsroom she worked at as an intern after graduating from Boston College.
In addition to Heelan and Martin, the cast includes John Michael Higgins (The Late Shift) and Nicole Richie (The Simple Life) as the national cable news show’s lead anchors with a generational gap, Chuck Pierce and Portia Scott-Griffith. Also appearing in the series are Adam Campbell (Epic Movie) as Greg, the young executive producer of the news team, and Horatio Sanz (Saturday Night Live) as Justin, a video editor and Katie’s workplace confidant.
Even though they’re separated geographically — Wigfield, who got married last year, lives in California while Kathy lives in New Jersey — their connection is strong.
“Her being out in California, her being married, and now running a show — she’s grown up now,” Kathy says by phone. Her daughter’s 2013 Emmy for writing on 30 Rock is on her mantel.
Says Kathy, “I stare at [her Emmy] every day. I’m just so proud.”
As for the show, Kathy had one stipulation: “I used to say to her, just write it like Frasier. Frasier made me laugh.”