When Hollywood Offspring Land Industry Internships: "There's a Pay-It-Forward Expectation"

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Prized positions often go to powerful progeny as Tom Hanks' son scored a spot at Bad Robot while Katie Couric's daughter was a hard worker at HBO: "If I help your kid, maybe you'll help me or my kid down the road."

Hollywood felt pretty self-satisfied when Malia Obama famously interned on the set of HBO's Girls in summer 2015 and then later at The Weinstein Co. (pre-Harvey scandal, of course). But generally, when powerful kids leverage their family name to get a foot in the door, the company tries to keep it quiet, as when Vice President Mike Pence's daughter was welcomed in UTA's agent trainee program this fall (she since has been promoted to full-time assistant).

Meanwhile, Tom Hanks' youngest son, Truman Hanks, a student at Stanford, has secured a coveted internship at Bad Robot the past two summers, where he's served as a production assistant on various J.J. Abrams film shoots. The twin daughters of NBC Entertainment's Jennifer Salke and Fox 21 Television Studios' Bert Salke interned at WME this summer; Fox Television Group chairman and CEO Dana Walden's 17-year-old daughter spent the past two summers interning for Ryan Murphy and then 3 Arts manager Oly Obst; and former NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert's daughter worked on the desk of Lionsgate TV Group president Sandra Stern. And in some cases, the road to a job can be as short as the family breakfast table. David Kohan's daughter and Max Mutchnick's niece are production assistants on the new season of their show Will & Grace.

There's no law that prevents you (or your boss) from hiring a favorite son or niece. That's true for any private entity (unlike the public sector). So it's up to the company. "There are plenty of companies, Donald Trump's among them, that do not have any sort of nepotism policies," says employment attorney Ann Fromholz. "And some appear to make nepotism a practice."

Still, aware of the optics and pitfalls, many Hollywood entities engage someone like Fromholz to address nepotism in their corporate guidelines. "I don't necessarily recommend a total prohibition," she says. "Most companies are sizable enough that you can separate the people who are related to each other."

Still, those running Hollywood's most coveted internship programs insist the practice of industry veterans opening doors for powerful progeny is overstated. "Look, I'm not going to tell you that there's never a situation where there's somebody important that we do business with where we're not going to squint hard at the résumé to let their kid in," says an individual with one agency program, adding that an estimated 20 percent of applicants come from showbiz families. "But most of the time, these candidates are very well-qualified."

Take Ellie Monahan, the 26-year-old daughter of Katie Couric. She interned for HBO for four months during the summer of 2012 while still at Yale. Sources say she worked harder than everyone else at the cable network and is remembered as one of best interns the program has ever had. Monahan has since lined her résumé with more film and TV gigs: She went on to study screenwriting at AFI, then worked with Shawn Ryan on The Get Down before landing her current job as a writers' assistant on Amazon's new superhero drama The Boys. She's hardly anyone's idea of a favor hire.

"There's something of a pay-it-forward expectation," says a former staffer at Vanity Fair, where many Hollywood kids have spent a New York summer, including Carson Meyer (daughter of Ron), Jessica Springsteen (daughter of Bruce) and Angelica Zollo (daughter of Barbara Broccoli). "If I help your kid, maybe you'll help me or my kid down the road. If the person ends up being a good, smart, hard-working intern without attitude, that's just a total bonus."

A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.