Thursday, July 24, 2014

Katherine Heigl is at it again

In a move that further cheapens what REAL executive producers do, Katherine Heigl’s mother Nancy is an executive producer on Katherine’s upcoming new series, STATE OF AFFAIRS.

I get the question all the time: What do executive producers do? In theory they set the creative direction of the series, oversee the writing, cast the show, hire the director and crew, supervise editing and post production, deal with the network, studio, media, and generally put out fires. It's a hundred hour a week job.  Maybe more. 

As an executive producer, what will Nancy Heigl do? When asked this at a TV critics panel recently, her daughter Katherine said, “She bakes us cookies.” When a critic suggested Nancy only got the position because she's Katherine's mother she answered: “I am her mother for sure, so, of course I care about her, but I am just learning about exec producing, and am learning from those who really know….I’m a newcomer to it.”

So in other words, she will do nothing. She will get a handsome salary. She will (hopefully) wrangle her daughter. She will get the network credit that many writers who have toiled for years working their way up the staff ladder never receive, and I’m sure she’ll have a nice office with a decorating budget.

Bottom line: she’ll be taking the job away from a qualified deserving professional.

But let the spin and the justification continue.

NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke said that Katherine and mom Nancy both pitched the pilot idea. She said she found Nancy: “incredibly smart through this process” and added: “She is someone who has strong opinions, but we found her to be nothing but additive.”

First of all, is “additive” really a word used in that context? It sounds like a joke from EPISODES. And secondly, what the fuck does all of that mean?

Let me just say in fairness that this is not an isolated incident. Stars’ managers will often attach themselves as executive producers while they too do nothing. Their big contribution was one time sending over the pilot script to their client. It’s a form of extortion, plain and simple. “If you want my client you have to pay for protection.” They’re the partner you don’t need.

But at least in Nancy Heigl's case she'll bake cookies. 


Charles H. Bryan said...

Ken, to be fair, they may be really good cookies.

Jonathan said...

I agree that the star's mom is a new low in credit-grabbing, but would you like to send each of your blog readers a dollar for every credited executive producer on most current shows? Stars are automatic executive producers after a couple of seasons and the writers all have producer credits, most with puzzling adjectives in front of them. "Executive producer" is no longer a unique credit on any show and there isn't one series where you can tell from the credits who is really the boss. The Heigls are abusing the system, but they are just continuing a trend that the industry embraced years ago.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

William Goldman wrote wonderfully about this sort of thing 20+ years ago; even then, every movie budget allowed a certain percentage for crap whose sole value was to make the star happy.


Graham Powell said...

Got a Friday question for you: how much do TV crews make? I'm guessing it's not millions but it must be a pretty decent living.

Oh, and it may be easier to take if you assume that the credit for Heigl's mom is just part of the cost of getting Heigl. I can't imagine that anyone else would have gotten that spot, so it shouldn't be throwing anyone out of work.

John said...

Assuming that KH + mom <= KH normal fee, then this shouldn't be any different for the studio, and is a tax savings for KH and her mom. If KH takes all the money and then gives her mom some then taxes will be paid both when KH gets it and when her mom gets it. Good business decision.
I agree that the fact that the title used to mean something sucks, but that isn't the only change in Hollywood or elsewhere that sucks.
I had also heard that advertisers get people they either couldn't afford or wouldn't do it by paying their mom/wife/sister/kid to be in the ad. I think the Campbell's soup ads with the athlete's moms did this. If it wan't them it was something similar - pay the star scale, and the family member lots.

Dan Ball said...

The word "bake" is being thrown around a lot here. Are we sure it's the cookies that are getting baked and not the Heigls?

Nancy will probably do great a showrunner. It's a great premise for a sitcom, after all.

I bet her favorite joke will be getting in front of a camera during each take, saying, "E.P. phone home. E.P. phone home!"

She'll have a baking accident that burns down the set because she couldn't understand why the prop oven didn't work.

She'll fire those who threaten her daughter's authority with Snickerdoodles.

She'll love "Mommie Dearest" as a pet name from her adoring cast and crew. So will Katherine.

She thinks State of Affairs is an actual state, somewhere down around Mississippi or up near Canada.

She'll punch up a script with Heidi Fleiss and Linda "Extra Boutros" Tripp jokes.

Each time she locks down an episode, she runs out to Lowe's and buys a lock.

Jason said...

This may be a Friday question, but I recently watched (all of) The Office, and noticed that there were about a dozen "producers" of various flavors, right from the first episode, and the list got longer and longer each season. Mindy was upgraded from "writer" after a little while, and I'm pretty sure B.J. Novak was some sort of producer right from the start.. Looked like an incredible number of cooks for the broth.

Richie Hext said...

I don't think your article is very fair as in this case it is more than a vanity title. There is some in the comments here that it was a part of the deal to get Heigl. The reality is Heigl and her mother formed a production company, a number of years ago. With State Of Affairs, they were both responsible for developing the premise which they took to NBC and a number of other networks. It was their pitch. My understanding also is that they both have been heavily involved in appointing cast and crew. Yes I am Mama Heigl's role will not be as fully functional as a true EP role, but it also is not some sort of sycophantic appointment either by NBC.

producer's mom said...

"stars are automatic executive producers" is absolutely the bottom line.

Dan Ball said...


It's not a smart appointment by NBC, either. Is Katherine Heigl really in demand these days? I thought most people were hip to all her offscreen drama.

At least this time if she talks back to the staff, she might get grounded.

"But MOM!"
"I said apologize to that nice writer!"
"Yes, ma'am..."
"And go have your maids make your bed."
"Yes, ma'am..."

Dan Ball said...


It's not a smart appointment by NBC, either. Is Katherine Heigl really in demand these days? I thought most people were hip to all her offscreen drama.

At least this time if she talks back to the staff, she might get grounded.

"But MOM!"
"I said apologize to that nice writer!"
"Yes, ma'am..."
"And go have your maids make your bed."
"Yes, ma'am..."

Matt said...

Isn't the point of having a cookie-baking mom around is that there are no additives? :)

Scooter Schechtman said...

Guess who got EP in "Mock Trial With J Reinhold"?

Matt said...

Didn't you take a job away from a deserving extra by casting your father as a maitre d on ALMOST PERFECT? Just kidding - realize not exactly same thing.

Bill Jones said...

I'm not getting the outrage. Everyone knows that at this point, the EP title is by and large a vanity title, at least for 90% of those who receive it. So the network gave one to her mom, as part of the package to get the star. It really isn't different than giving someone in a corporation the title of "Vice President" just to keep them on. Sounds impressive, but everyone who really knows anything knows that by and large it's an empty title.

It seems your real complaint is with the fact that EP has become a vanity title, diluting the value of the real EPs out there. But, again, everyone knows who the "real" EPs are; nobody's going to confuse Christopher Lloyd and Katherine Heigl's mom. And frankly, the "real" EPs are probably getting compensated more handsomely than the "vanity" EPs. So this is all sort of much ado about nothing.

Mike Barer said...

Good rant. The title suggests that Katherine is not one of your favorite Hollywood figures.

KayCee said...

For those who think an EP credit is just a vanity title - it usually comes with a nice chuck of money as well. Money which used to produce a better product, by spending it "on screen".

KayCee said...

Edit: Money which could be used to produce a better product.

MJ Crew said...

There is one notable exception to the rule of parents getting EP credit: Paula Hart (Sabrina, Melissa & Joey).

Paula is a true EP, covering casting, post production, crew hires, and handling most dealings with the network.

Sure, she is the stars mom, and she may have even baked cookies once or twice, but she also is instrumental to making the show run smoothly.

Barry Traylor said...

With any luck this show will sink like a stone and will be gone before Thanksgiving, or perhaps even sooner.

Dan Ball said...

Even if it is a vanity title, it's still lots of fun to consider the possibilities of a showrunner running a TV show by baking cookies and being the star's mom. That's one of the most spectacular fish-out-of-water scenarios known to man.

Move over Jack Handey, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer just got a run for his money.

Markus said...

"Additive" is the stuff you needlessly put in your gas tank hoping to make your motor run cleaner, your car run faster, and your exhaust puffs purple and smelling of roses. Harmless if not nonfunctional at best, damaging to your motor at worst, and generally relying on placebo effect.

Artie in Sin City said...

Hooray for HOLLYWOOD!

Frank said...

Maybe the additive that Nancy brings to the table is hash for the cookies.

Igor said...

Ken wrote: "Bottom line: she’ll be taking the job away from a qualified deserving professional."

Ken, I gotta put that comment down in the Just-a-RANT column.

If she does have no EP skills, and unless there is a limit on how many people can have the "EP" title, then won't this simply mean there will be the usual complement of EPs... plus one more, her mom?

Like, when Tony Soprano arranged no-show construction jobs for his guys, that didn't reduce the number of people who actually had to be hired to do the work...?

Jim said...

Paula Hart a notable exception? I thought she was pretty much the definition of the credit grabbing mom. The first series was absolutely brilliant, then after she got the EP gig it all turned into a bit of a meh thing.

Anonymous said...

Ah... Rich white people's problems.

Makes me want to cry.

Anonymous said...

Nancy is Jack Haley to Katherine's Dennis Rodman. And like those two, I am sure both are a**holes and not so bright.

Anonymous said...

Some just direct the pilot and get a producer credit for the life of the show (James Burrows).

Anonymous said...


Ken, regarding a CHEERS reunion, you previously wrote, "Reunion shows are always sad. Much better to remember the characters for who they were… and what they weighed."

Do you ever feel that way about your former co-workers? In other words, was it depressing when you went to the CHEERS 30 years reunion and saw the cast and crew all fat and old?

Andy said...

You know, earlier in her career K. Heigl might have auditioned her heart out for a few dozen rooms full of real executive producers--then gone home to await their inscrutable verdicts of "not quite right for us" or the equivalent.

If so, can you blame her for staking out such a nice piece of mountaintop property?

Kevin said...

Friday question--

Was recently rewatching the episode of Cheers where Woody was an extra on Spenser for Hire. If I remember correctly Spenser was an ABC show while Cheers was of course on NBC. How hard is it to get a show produced where you are basically promoting a show on another network?

Phil said...

Hey Ken,
Well, the full court press she was doing in the magazines recently about - her bad reputation - and how it was about her only 'caring too much' or whatever BS should have been a warning, that was the calm before the &*%$ storm. I'm sure all we've heard is true, and no doubt her stamping her foot and demanding her mother be on the show is part of this same process with 'hurricaine', she gets her way, or everyone goes home. Now mom's there to back her up. Oddly, mom may be the one to make her stop pouting and complaining. If the EP's are smart, they'll connect with the mother and really listen to her and make her an ally.

Cap'n Bob said...

You want and additive, get STP.

Pat Reeder said...

This reminds me of one of my favorite lines from "American Dad," where Roger the alien sells Fox a sitcom pilot starring Francine and gets himself a job on it, too. He excitedly declares, "I'm a non-writing producer, which means I get paid to do nothing. I might even be a hindrance!"

YEKIMI said...

Most shows on the air nowadays are pretty crappy. I guess that means I could call myself an executive producer every time I take a dump.

Wayne said...

Star's moms are automatic producers.

They produced the star.

Barry Traylor said...

I suppose Heigl's mother is as good an EP as her daughter is an actor.

Joe Austin said...

You're ranting about nepotism in the entertainment industry? And the idea that people in that industry get paid scads of money without actually having any real talent at the job they are supposed to be doing? How many pitch meetings have you been at where some no-talent network exec has said something along the lines of "yeah, but this show would be a lot funnier if you put a monkey in it. And it needs more boobs". Famed EP/hairdresser Jon Peters once demanded that the Superman movie that was then in pre-production must have a giant spider in it. No reason, he just wanted a giant spider. I'm sure the list of executive producers who are pals of the star (or the star himself) and totally unqualified for the job would fill an entire column. If you want to rage about something, it should be about the incredible amount of shit your industry has produced in the past 70 years, and the Croesus-like sums of money that is paid to people to produce that shit.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Look for the name "Natalie Kalmus" in the credits of vintage Technicolor movies. Reportedly she got that title through divorce proceedings and never consulted at all. The person named in small type under her, as "associate," really did the work.

I quickly learned when writing for TV (not that it didn't happen in other kinds of writing) that the credits don't always reflect who really did what.

I do wonder, though, if Katherine is going to trash her mom the way she trashed the work of the writers and others behind her biggest successes.

It's one thing to use influence to get favors for a friend, family member or someone you "owe." It's another to disparage the talents of others who helped you along the way.

A person with connections like her can take jobs away from people by attacking their skill at their profession -- people who make much less money than her or her mommy.

What we seem to be finding repulsive is the selfishness, lack of respect and appreciation for them that helped you.

I see it all the time. Not just in television. Some "professionals" develop amnesia almost immediately after you've busted your tush for them.

Greg Ehrbar said...

I meant "those," not "them." Hope no one trashes me!

Carson said...

Hi Ken,

Because I have a friend who's starring in that show with Katherine Heigl, I will refrain from any diatribe, only to say I agree. Being the "Momager" should not entitle someone to EP credit or pay. But I do think people in these comments are confused. Not all Executive Producers are showrunners, yet some people here seem to think so. The showrunner (or showrunners in the case of teams like Ken and David Levine) are the guiding force of the show in all realms. Some EP's are named as such because their participation facilitated the pitch in front of the right people, their name pedigree helped the show get picked up, and/or they have some hands-on work on the overall direction of the show, but tend to stay out of the day-to-day (see Spielberg with ER) and have almost no interaction with writers, staff, crew or actors. Does Katie Heigl's mother fall in this category somewhere? Maybe. She co-created the project, but for someone to go from no producing history at all to EP is not common - nor should it be - but does happen (see Chris Fedak with the show CHUCK. No credits - not even as a PA - , then became an EP because he took his show idea to for college roommate, TV Wunderkind Josh Schwartz, who molded the idea into a feasible show.) But Katie's mother is certainly is not the showrunner, nor the head writer. And yes it is still unfair as people actually working on the show could have gotten the title and bump in pay.

But here's the thing, if she does get in the way and becomes a problem, nothing says she can't be let go "for creative reasons." Show creators get the boot all the time if the showrunner is more aligned with the studio than the creator. Just food for thought.

VP81955 said...

Wasn't Paula Hart behind the dismissal of Nell Scovell as the "Sabrina" showrunner after its first season? "STTW" was a very charming series in its initial season; after Scovell left, it simply wasn't as interesting, succeeding more on the strength of its actors than its stories. By the time it left ABC for the WB, the show had declined substantially. (I can't speak for "Melissa & Joey," since I've seen only a few minutes of one episode.)

PD in Waterloo said...

And ironically, the she'll bake the cookies without additives.

Anonymous said...

So in other words, she will do nothing. She will get a handsome salary. She will (hopefully) wrangle her daughter. She will get the network credit that many writers who have toiled for years working their way up the staff ladder never receive, and I’m sure she’ll have a nice office with a decorating budget.

Bottom line: she’ll be taking the job away from a qualified deserving professional.

Substitute "mother" for "daughter" and that could have been written about Melissa Rivers.