Valentine's Day in Hollywood: Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone and 10 Other Top Power Couples Tell All
This story first appeared in the Feb. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
There isn't a line of dialogue in a script for Episodes that partners David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik haven't mutually approved. There isn't an episode of Mad Men that Andre Jacquemetton has written without collaborating with his wife, Maria. And while Parks and Recreation showrunner Mike Schur and his wife, New Girl writer J.J. Philbin, don't have plans to team on a series, there doesn't exist a project he has tackled on which she hasn't been asked to weigh in. Such are the perks (and duties) of being married to a fellow writer, producer or creative executive. But as revealed in the following conversations with Hollywood's top power couples -- agents, producers, writers, execs and talent -- not every relationship thrives on mixing business with pleasure. The Office showrunner Greg Daniels keeps his wife, MTV programming president Susanne Daniels, in the dark about plans to wrap up his long-running NBC comedy. "He said to me, 'It's not a good idea to tell you because you might tell somebody,' " she recalls. And after a brief and messy stint working together at 20th Century Fox TV, NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke and her Fox 21 studio-chief husband, Bert, refuse to have work-related conversations after they walk through their front door. "Honestly," she says, "people are shocked about the things that we haven't told each other."
Ben Falcone & Melissa McCarthy
Actors, Identity Thief/Bridesmaids
The cliche of "the couple who plays together, stays together" is proving true this January day as McCarthy and Falcone arrive, ready to make use of the costumes, wigs and plethora of props they requested for what otherwise would have been a traditional portrait shoot. "We were going to do a glamorous shot, and we just kept going back to, 'We should do some bad characters.' We spent so much time with Groundlings that this is our neutral," jokes McCarthy, 42, hot off a monster $34.6 million domestic opening for her latest film, Identity Thief, and news of three movies in development through the couple's newly launched production company, On the Day.
She and her husband met in a comedy writing class at the L.A.-based Groundlings improv company in 1998. To hear her tell it, she and Falcone, who married in 2005, have been making each other laugh since they first teamed to write a skit about a Bob Seger-themed holiday, fittingly titled All Seger's Eve. "We just howled," recalls Falcone, 39, who quickly is reminded of another early collaboration for a Groundlings show. "We were Christian singers bringing the religion back to songs," he chuckles, with the mother of their two young children adding, "We were putting the 'Christ' back in Christmas." Ask them who is the funnier one in the marriage, and -- as if on cue -- they point to each other. "He's funnier and smarter; I'm just loud," she declares, while Falcone retorts: "No way. I'm the boring structure guy. She's the fun one."
J.J. Philbin & Mike Schur
Writer-producer, New Girl, and co-creator, Parks and Recreation
Although Parks and Recreation showrunner Schur is convinced that working on the same series as his comedy-writer wife, Philbin, would be a "terrible idea," he insists they read nearly everything the other writes. "We usually start by saying, 'That is the worst idea that I've ever heard.' That's the baseline, just to keep the other person humble," jokes Schur, 37, of the feedback they often give, recalling how Philbin -- then his girlfriend -- was among the only people with whom he shared his Curb Your Enthusiasm spec script when he decided to leave Saturday Night Live for Los Angeles nearly a decade ago.
And though their relationship is not regular fodder, they'll appear in each other's scripts on occasion. In fact, a first-season episode of New Girl centered on the character Nick's fear of the barber, which was inspired by Schur's phobia. "Mike is terrified of the small talk he has to have with barbers," explains Philbin. The pair met in 1998, when he was an SNL writer and she was a writer's assistant on the show. A year or so later, they were dating. "We kept it a secret, even though there was nothing scandalous about it," she says. By 2005, the two were married and since have added two children and several series, including The Office (him) and Heroes (her), to their résumés. While their comedic styles are not too dissimilar, their approach is vastly different. "Mike is unflappable, and I'm a ball of anxiety," says Philbin, daughter of TV veteran Regis Philbin. Her husband explains, "My firm belief is that the worst thing you can do in any situation is panic." The comment has Philbin laughing: "And my firm belief is always panic."
Susanne & Greg Daniels (pictured)
MTV president of programming and co-creator, The Office
"This is my Pam," Greg Daniels, 49, says of his wife, Susanne, 47, to whom he turns for inspiration when writing for Jenna Fischer's character on The Office. "I'm always looking for little moments that might have happened between us," he says, adding that before Office, his wife of 21 years was his Peggy Hill (of King of the Hill). The Danielses, both Harvard grads, started at Saturday Night Live on the same day in 1988. "I remember wanting him to ask me out," confesses Susanne of a desire that quickly became reality.
They would cross professional paths again years later -- this time as a married couple -- when they landed on the Fox lot in Los Angeles (she was in comedy development; he was writing for The Simpsons). "I'd take the Simpsons golf cart and go pick her up," he recalls, seated beside his wife now at their frequent breakfast spot, John O'Groats. Today, the pair have four children, all of whom have appeared on his NBC comedy. "I put our youngest child in an episode, and Susanne gave me angry feedback as a stage mom," he jokes. Agrees Susanne: "She was in the episode for like one second, and I was horrified. I was like: 'What? Where's her screen time?'"
Maria & Andre Jacquemetton
Writers/executive producers, Mad Men
At the end of a narrow hall in Mad Men's downtown L.A. space is an office shared by the Emmy-winning drama's resident married couple. Inside the sparsely decorated room, Maria and Andre Jacquemetton's desks face each other, a fitting arrangement for a couple who not only run the writers room when show creator Matthew Weiner is away but also write every one of their episodes together. "If it's a female-driven story, then Maria will take it. If it's a 'guys night out' storyline, I'll take it," explains Andre, with his wife interjecting, "And if it's a fight between Don and whatever spouse he has at the time, we kind of do it together."
PHOTOS: At Work With the Jacquemettons and More Hollywood Power Couples
From there, the pair -- who met in 1987 as assistants at Paramount and, at their agents' suggestion, submitted a spec for Party of Five that ultimately landed them their first gig together on Baywatch -- combine the stories into what is appropriately titled a "married draft." Maria acknowledges that while such a close working relationship is ideal from a parenting perspective -- "One of us is usually free to take the kids [ages 10 and 15] to the doctor" -- it can lead to the occasional squabble. "We don't fight in our marriage much, but there are disagreements about how a scene is supposed to be or when one of us deviates from the outline without telling the other one," says Maria, turning her gaze to her husband. He shrugs then cracks a smile: "Guilty."
David Crane & Jeffrey Klarik
"It's our take on life, and it consumes our lives," says Klarik of Episodes, the Hollywood-centric Showtime comedy he created, writes and produces with his partner of 24 years, Crane. Without a writing staff, the duo spend nearly every minute of their day -- and beyond -- crafting stories. "In the middle of the night, one of us will go: 'Are you up? What if …?' " says Crane, who adds that the co-creators, who met via mutual friends, often work out dialogue speaking in British accents as the series' leads do.
With a schedule that has them commuting between their homes in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, there is little time to discuss much beyond the show. "We actually incorporated that into our first season, where [Episodes characters] Beverly says to Sean: 'Can we not talk about work? Just for a little bit?' He goes, 'Fine.' And then they just look at each other," notes Crane, who counts Friends among his other small-screen creations and is the Pollyanna Sean to Klarik's jaded Beverly. "We wrote into the script that Sean, or David, thinks the glass is half full; and Beverly, me, thinks the glass is a schmuck. And that's really how it is," jokes Klarik. Fortunately, it's a chemistry that works. "And if we ever are in conflict in our writing, Jeffrey will look at me and go, 'Just think about it.' " In such cases, deadpans Klarik: "David comes around."
Michael & Sonya Rosenfel
TV packaging agent, CAA, and co-head of TV department, CAA
Michael and Sonya Rosenfeld's DVR is a mix of their clients' shows, from Graham Yost's Justified to John Wells' Shameless. "We root for each other's work," says Michael, who spends many nights watching those and other series alongside his wife and longtime colleague.
The pair began dating as CAA assistants in 1986; not long after, they turned up at the company holiday party together. "We walked in, and everybody was like, 'Oh, my God, Mike and Sonya are together,' " recalls Sonya of their "coming out" party. "About a third of the people said: 'Yeah, they've been dating for two months. Where have you been?' And the other two-thirds were like, 'Oooh.' "
A quarter-century later, the Rosenfelds have two teenage sons, impressive talent rosters, which collectively include Melissa McCarthy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Felicity Huffman, and a collaborative -- if at times, differing -- approach to work. "She's more patient than I am. If there's a tornado going on, she knows how to let it pass," says Michael of his wife, who has sports paraphernalia, photos of the Rosenfeld family members and their framed fingerprint portraits hanging in her agency office. "I need to get right in the middle of it." The comment has both of them laughing, with Sonya pausing only to add: "That's definitely true."
Bill Lawrence & Christa Miller (pictured)
Co-creator and actress, Cougar Town
"At work, Bill is this really dynamic, talented guy. Whatever he says, he has my rapt attention," Cougar Town star and music supervisor Miller says of her husband and longtime producer, Lawrence. "But at home," she continues about the father of their three children, "I've never met anyone as dumb as Bill. I'll come in, and it'll be really hot, and I'm like, 'Bill, why don't you have the air conditioner on?' Then I realize he doesn't know how to work the air conditioner." Lawrence, 44, seated beside her at their Brentwood home, cracks a guilty smile before throwing it right back at her. "I'm literally the only husband who, for a couple hours a week, gets to tell their wife what to say, what to wear and where to stand," he laughs, pulling Miller, 48, closer. "And I say that wholeheartedly admitting that I'm not in charge of my family or my home life. Not only am I not currently wearing an item of clothing that I picked out myself, but I don't have any clothes that I picked out myself."
It's no surprise that the type of playful banter honed over 13 years of marriage finds its way into many of Lawrence's scripts -- be it on Scrubs, Cougar Town or perhaps one of the two pilots he has in contention this season -- to say nothing of his colorful Twitter feed. The East Coast-bred pair, who met at a network party in 1998 and began collaborating on MTV's animated Clone High a few years later, like to joke that there is little that happens in the Lawrence-Miller household that is off-limits. "I steal everything," admits Lawrence, with his wife nodding beside him.
Warren Zavala & Sarah Self
Partner and motion picture agent, WME
Zavala and Self were colleagues well before they were a couple. "She didn't like me," says Zavala of their early days at Gersh, with his now-wife confirming, "He was aloof and abrupt," she says, laughing. "But it turned out that's what I was looking for in a soulmate." They didn't begin dating for another three years, when they reconnected at a 2008 party. By that time, Zavala, 38, had left Gersh for CAA, where he remained until joining WME in 2012. The decision for Zavala to join his wife's agency had friends cautioning them of the "nightmare" that could result; but the couple -- who count Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tobey Maguire, Diablo Cody and Rebel Wilson as clients -- is thrilled. "It's nice to have her here because everybody loves her," he says, noting that while he and Self are competitive, there's "nobody I'd rather lose to than her." Asked if she feels the same way, Self, 37, flashes a smile his way: "I don't want to lose to him!"
Bert & Jennifer Salke
President, Fox 21 Studio, and entertainment president, NBC
"We're truly yin and yang," Fox 21 Studio president Bert Salke says of his wife of 15 years. "I'm bombastic, dramatic and excitable, and Jennifer is as peaceful a person as anyone I have ever met." The pair were introduced 23 years ago at a dinner party thrown by her then-boyfriend. "I was with another woman, but I was so taken by Jennifer," recalls Bert. Days or months later -- depending on whose version of the story you believe -- their dates were no longer in the picture, and Bert (then a Fox exec) and Jennifer (at Aaron Spelling Productions) ran into each other at a restaurant. "We were both with friends, and he sent me a note across the restaurant, which I still have," she says of the man she calls her "best friend." (Bert, 51, semi-embarrassed, insists she not reveal what the note said.)
The Salkes -- now parents of three -- went on their first date the following night and have been together ever since. And while they're both particularly passionate about their jobs, they are unwilling to bring that work home with them. (Weekends largely are work-free, too, as the family of five often heads to their second home in Utah.) Doing so proved problematic years earlier, when Jennifer, 48, was a 20th TV exec who was tasked with managing Bert's overall deal as a writer-producer at the studio. "It was one of the most stressful times in our marriage," she says of the era that often had her in between her bosses, 20th TV chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman, and her husband. Finally, Walden had to intervene. "I'll never forget," says Bert, "Dana called me into her office and said: 'I've seen what this has done. It's not OK for my top executive to have this stress. So from now on, you report to me.' "
Douglas Wick & Lucy Fisher
Co-heads, Red Wagon Entertainment, producers, The Great Gatsby
Although Wick first set eyes on a then-attached Fisher in a studio commissary years earlier, the duo didn't begin dating until 1981. "I finally heard that she had broken up with her boyfriend, so I had a friend set us up," recalls Wick of the studio executive he had been pining after from a distance. For much of their marriage, the pair -- who wed in 1986 -- were nervous about mixing business with pleasure, with Fisher leaving the room any time Wick's productions were discussed. But when she became vice chairman at Sony, his films (Stuart Little, Gladiator) were coming up too frequently to detach herself. By 2001, she left the studio world to join her husband full time.
More than a decade later, the producing partners -- whose joint credits include Lawless and Memoirs of a Geisha -- couldn't be happier. "It's fun to have your best friend be your partner," says Fisher, whose three grown daughters with Wick have been involved in their careers, too. (Two of them were extras in the upcoming adaptation of The Great Gatsby, but Fisher sheepishly reveals their scene was cut.) She adds that her husband is insistent that they employ a "no work talk" policy from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. to ensure their professional lives don't consume their personal ones. "Wait a minute," he interrupts. "My rule is 10:30 p.m. She's trying to, in this conversation, move it to 11."
Matt Rice & Marissa Devins
Head of TV department and TV agent, UTA
It's both hard and a privilege," says Devins of working alongside her husband of seven years, acknowledging that she and Rice, 41, are "very competitive people who try not to be with one another." The lit agents, who collectively count Mike Schur, Mindy Kaling, Happy Endings' Jonathan Groff and the upcoming Michael J. Fox comedy's writer-producer Sam Laybourne among their clients, strive to maintain separate lives at the office. (Given Rice's role as head of UTA's television department, there is a fair amount of professional crossover.)
"I would think if you asked anyone in this department if they remember that we are married, most of the time they would not," notes Devins, 36. That's not to say their work lives don't follow them home, where the duo -- who met when Rice joined the agency from Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann in late 2002 -- are raising two boys, 1 and 3. "We don't bring our sons to work too often. They think being in the office is 'boring,' " says Rice, who is as wryly funny as many of his clients. Of UTA's managing director, he quips: "And [the boys] scream in terror whenever they see Jay Sures."
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