#LifeLessons: Molly McNearney on What It Takes to Make It as a TV Writer

Our Second Life podcast (released on Mondays) is growing! On Wednesdays, we’ll be releasing a limited series in partnership with Cartier called Life Lessons, in which Who What Wear co-founder and Chief Content Officer Hillary Kerr will chat with women who’ve had incredible careers within a single field or industry. Subscribe to Second Life on iTunes, and stay tuned. This week, she’s talking to television’s Molly McNearney, co–head writer at Jimmy Kimmel Live.

When Molly McNearney heard through an acquaintance about a job opening as an assistant executive producer on The Jimmy Kimmel Show, she had never watched an episode… and she had no idea who Jimmy Kimmel was. All she knew was that she wanted to work in television, so after she landed an interview, she had to stay up late and catch an episode (this was before TiVo was a thing).

Obviously it all worked out, because over a decade later, she’s the show’s co–head writer and the creator of the ever-popular Mean Tweets segment—oh, and she and Kimmel are now married and have two kids together. (“I would never, ever advise anyone to date their boss ever, just so you know,” she says, when she and Hillary get to the subject. We will add that she had been head writer for a few years by the time their romance began.)

But back to those early days on the show, which were decidedly unglamorous (and when Kimmel was, well, just her boss)… “I remember having those moments coming home [thinking], Why did I go to college? I’m getting coffee. What am I doing with my life?” she says, noting that her duties involved things like getting coffee, scheduling a 3-year-old’s birthday party, and making sure her boss had the right organic yogurt in his mini-fridge.

Still, she did the work and did it well, impressing her bosses with her dedication—even with those not-so-fun tasks. “You have to be flexible,” she says. “Things are always changing, and positions are changing. And if you can just be a person people look to—like, this person’s reliable and positive and invested, and I think I was. And then they kept me on and made me a writer’s assistant within about a year of getting my first job there.” (Yes, you absolutely should be writing this all down.)

Also important in making our way through the ranks in the entertainment industry? Being willing to take a risk and speak up when you see an opportunity. McNearney says that there came a point during her time at the show where she mustered up the courage to knock on Kimmel’s door and ask whether he saw a place for her there in the writer’s room. “If you’re not going to make me a writer here, I’d like to know soon, because I’d like to go write for someone else,” she remembers telling him at the time…

For more on Molly McNearney’s career journey, listen to this week’s Life Lessons episode (embedded above, and also available on Art19), and don’t forget to subscribe to Second Life on iTunes.

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