The road to Hollywood: EL native Niko Mason is exec assistant to TV comedy guru Chuck Lorre
When “The Big Bang Theory” signed off after 12 years on May 16, it was a going-out-on-top conclusion to a long-running, eternally popular sitcom. One of the people at the taping of the series finale was Niko Mason, who grew up in East Lyme and for the past three years has been the executive assistant to Chuck Lorre, the legendary TV writer/producer who is the force behind “Big Bang.”
That’s just the latest success for Lorre, whose previous sitcoms include “Two and a Half Men” and “Mike & Molly” and whose other current shows are “Mom” and “Young Sheldon,” both on CBS, and “The Kominsky Method,” the latter a Netflix series starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin.
Mason, who aspires to become a writer/producer, spoke recently by phone about his current job and says, “There’s such an influx of work, and it’s like riding a tsunami wave, pretty much.”
Mason, now 30, has long been interested in TV and film production. Grant Place, who teaches that subject at East Lyme High School, says of Mason, “Great kid, great family.” He remembers that, when Mason was a student at ELHS, his work was always “exceptional, better than even the above-average students. He was good as directing other students, his peers, and getting a lot of out them in a very quiet, very calm way. You have this cliché of what a director is like, and he was almost the antithesis of that, but people listened to him.”
He says that Mason is even-keeled under stress. Discussing Mason’s job with Lorre, Place says Mason “has the work ethic, he has the temperament for that kind of work and that kind of lifestyle. Niko is not someone who gets a break or, just by chance, something positive happens. He makes his fortune, his good luck.”
Mason tries to come back to visit East Lyme during the summer, since much of his family — including his parents, Robert and Kami, and grandparents — still live here.
Here are excerpts from what Mason had to say.
What he does as an executive assistant:
“(Lorre) has so much going on, and I’m just there to try to, like, steer the ship in the right direction. … In general, I’m his personal assistant, and at the same time, I’m also, would you say, work assistant. I’m on call 24/7/365. I like to say 25/8. (He laughs.) So any time he’s in the office, any time we have something going on, I’m right there for him. I manage his calendar, I manage his schedule. A lot of it is coordination, especially with our other shows.
“It’s a five-day production week — we have our table read on one day, then a run-through the next day, another run-through, then we do pre-shoots, which is everything we need to shoot before we get in front of an audience, and then we actually have our scheduled show night. We’ve had three of those (shows) up and running at the same time, and there have been multiple times where I just need to coordinate with the other showrunners to makes sure Chuck gets eyes on every script. For someone with as much as him going on, he is very hands-on …
“Part of my job is just balancing the priorities of what is pressing and what is not pressing. I don’t give myself credit, I don’t like doing that, I never am that person, but I have come to realize, OK, I’m pretty good at prioritizing. ‘He needs to get eyes on this ‘Mom’ script that needs to be punched up,’ or, you know, ‘Big Bang’ is in good shape, so we can wait on that and come back.”
An example of the craziness of his work life:
“We were starting our second episode of shooting ‘Kominsky.’ Alan Arkin’s character’s wife’s dies, so at her funeral — he’s a big Hollywood agent — so on that day, we had Jay Leno emcee the funeral, we had Patti LaBelle singing a song for her, so my morning consisted of sitting on set while Jay Leno talked to Chuck and our other executive producer, Al Higgins, just pitching jokes. Then I get a concert from Patti LaBelle as we shoot that. Then we break for lunch at 2 o’clock, where Chuck and I jump in a van to go see our ‘Big Bang Theory’ run-through, where we have special guest Bill Gates. So we meet Bill Gates, then we jump back in the car after the hour run-through to finish up the day with Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin filming with Jay Leno. That was called Tuesday for me.”
His focus was a little different back in his East Lyme High School days:
“I was into post-production. I was very hands-on. I liked editing. My brother and I made these little stop-animation films. I got into a lot of graphic design. I think it was my senior year at high school, you could become an Apple certified editor. I went to a local training facility, and I got certified as an editor. … I interned at our local NBC news affiliate in their creative service (post-production) department, but, throughout that and going into college, I thought it was going to be more hands-on (in my career). But then I took a writing class. It was a very benign experience, where you describe a room. They just really loved the way I described the paint on the walls and the clock. I was like, ‘Wow, this comes really easy for me. I like doing this.’”
In addition to writing, he became interested in comedy and even did some improv and stand-up. He decided that this is what he wanted to achieve eventually:
“I just wanted to have a creative aspect in all realms of the production, from beginning to end.”
Mason graduated from Ithaca College in 2011 and started out in L.A. with an internship with fellow Ithaca alum Bill D’Elia, who is a director/producer who has worked on shows like “Boston Legal” and “How to Get Away with Murder” and who co-created “Judging Amy”:
“It was just that one connection, because, after a pilot (I worked on for him), the coordinator of that pilot got me connected with the coordinator over at ‘Mike & Molly.’ And ‘Mike & Molly’ was part of the Chuck (Lorre) family. That’s what I like to say when people say, ‘How long have you worked with Chuck?’ I’m like, ‘I’ve been in the family for almost six years.’ It’s very much like that. We’re all out of one building.
“I was with ‘Mike & Molly’ up until the last season (in 2016). I was working on a show during the summer called ‘The Carmichael Show.’ I finally stepped up from being a PA, a production assistant, and I was the post-production coordinator. I knew a lot about post. It was not something I wanted to get into especially, but I was like, hey, better pay. I got a call from Chuck’s second assistant, and they asked me if I wanted to be a PA just for him. A part of me was, like, why am I stepping back down to just get lunches again, you know what I mean? But I was, like, look who I’m working for, so I said yes.”
When Mason started, Lorre had a first assistant, second assistant, a personal assistant and Mason. Now, it’s just Mason:
“As much as the job is not creative at some points for me — which is why I got into this industry, I like the creative aspect — it’s interesting to be an observer and try to learn as much as I can. I consider myself a leech right now, to absorb as much knowledge as I can ... It’s like getting a doctorate right now in writing/producing. (Lorre) has so much to teach just by (me) watching him work.”
Being on set for “The Big Bang Theory” finale:
“It was extremely emotional, as you can expect, because it was more like a family. It had grown into that, and 12 years is exceptional — it’s record-breaking. I was talking to one of the actors about it, and it’s something that I don’t think has hit us yet, and I don’t think it will until August, when we would normally have the writers start back up. (Then), we’ll realize that’s not happening again …
“The people who have been on that show, from the cast members to craft service … have been there since the beginning. They’ve known each other for 12 years, so it’s kind of like a college in that respect. The production office, as a gift to the crew, we made yearbooks, like high school yearbooks, because it represents 12 years (in the same way) you go from elementary school through high school. So we all got yearbooks and we all got class rings for everyone. It was a lot of fun, to play off that.”
What Lorre is like:
“He is dedicated to his work and comes from Long Island, and he’s still very much a Long Island guy. When you think of the cliché Hollywood producer, either the one hidden behind the Ray-Bans and sports car or the overweight one smoking cigars all the time, he is far from either of those. He is just a common Joe kind of guy. I mean that in a good way. I am tried and true, would die for the man. It’s an honor to work for him, and it’s an honor to be a part of this.”
Did you know?
Niko Mason notes that he’s not the only East Lyme native who was involved with “The Big Bang Theory.” David Goetsch was a co-executive producer and writer for the show.
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