Sometimes you’ve just got to take the leap and hope

by Lauren Perlowski

January 18, 2018

Mike Nunes G’02, vice president of current programming at NBC, discusses his path from Newhouse to prime time

Mike Nunes G'02 (right) with Mandy Moore, star of This is Us

When you attend Newhouse, and inevitably get lost in the labyrinth that is Newhouse 1, you stumble across the Wall of Fame. You might wonder if your face will appear there one day. The wall serves as evidence that not only were these alumni able to find their way out of the building, but they were also able to accomplish something when they did.

Few graduates exemplify that ideal more than Mike Nunes, who graduated from the television, radio and film graduate program in 2002 and went straight to Los Angeles to pursue “the dream,” eventually becoming vice president of current programming at NBC. He has worked on comedies like "Community" and now works on "Superstore" and the ratings juggernaut "This Is Us." Here, he shares his hard-won wisdom on what it takes not just to get the job, but to do the job.

What exactly do you do?

I’ve been working in current programming for the last  eight-plus years. Essentially, every scripted show that’s on the air has a creative executive, which is me. [We] interface with the show on a daily basis—the writers, the executive producers―[are] on set when they’re shooting. But the bulk of our work is guiding the show creatively to the pocket we at the network feel it should fit in. We’re really the hub for everything that goes on within that specific show.

Mike Nunes G'02 with wife Slivia Nunes at the 2017 Emmy Awards

What does your average day look like?

When I got into work [today] at about 8:20, 8:30, we had a cut that came in overnight of “This Is Us,” so I watched that this morning a time and a half through, [and] I’ll watch the other half after I get off of the phone with you. At noon I have a call with our sales department to talk about a possible brand integration into the show “Superstore.”  I have a lunch meeting to talk [more] about “Superstore.” At 3 p.m., we’re going to get on the phone and hear the pitch [about] where the last six or seven episodes of “This is Us” are going. We hear a pitch at the beginning of the year from the EPs [executive producers] on that show, but that stuff sort of changes as they’re writing, and so stuff isn’t going to happen that they thought would happen, new stuff is coming in, stuff shifted within episodes. Then, I have another script that I have to read at some point today, as well as looking at a potential brand integration opportunity for “This Is Us.” And if I have some time, I’ll probably walk over to the “Superstore” set.

What did you like best about the Newhouse graduate program?

The program was amazing in the fact that it was less about taking tests, and more about practical application of how you would really use things in the real world, and how things actually work. Whether it’s building a set and putting up a scene, [acting as] director, or assistant director, all the way through. If I hadn’t had that practical [experience], I wouldn’t have thought the world out here was possible. If you want to talk to someone, you can talk to someone who is actually working in that business and doing that, and people make themselves available to you in a way that a lot of [other schools’ alumni] don’t. [At NBC] our [Chief Operating Officer] Brad Melnick is a Syracuse grad. A VP in comedy development, David Sleven, is an SU grad. When you buy into the Syracuse education, you’re also buying into the network that comes with that.

Did you move out to LA right after graduation, or did you take some time off?

I had been out here in December [before graduation] and had made a contact with someone who went to Syracuse. She said, “If you’re thinking about coming out to LA, give me a call, you can stay on my couch for a couple of weeks.” I graduated on a Sunday, drove out to Erie, Pennsylvania, where I’m from, Sunday night, and left to move out to LA that Monday. And I stayed with her for a couple weeks. She was kind enough to get me an internship.

Any advice for soon-to-be graduates?

Take the leap, as scary as it is. I moved here and knew one person for 20 minutes. That was it. Sometimes you’ve just got to take the leap and hope, and think that everything is going to work out. Fortunately for me, it did. That’s not always the case, but I would’ve always regretted it had I not taken that leap. And utilize alumni. That’s what we’re here for.  And for every person who doesn’t respond to your email, one person will, and that person could be the person who changes your life.

Lauren Perlowski is a senior broadcast and digital journalism major in the Newhouse School.