Pajiba 10 For Your Consideration: Briga Heelan

Today we begin the most wonderful season of the year, a time when Pajiba’s feminist hug box gets randy, when we stop respecting our celebrities and we start objectifying them. But as it is the Pajiba way, so often our respect (boo!) for certain celebrities goes hand-in-hand with our objectification.

Briefly, for the unfamiliar: The Pajiba 10 — now entering its 11th year — is our annual «Hotties» list, although our criteria generally differs from what you might expect from most publications. There are no George Clooneys or Brad Pitts on our list (although, a Chris does surface from time to time); rather, our sexual predilections lean toward the geeky and brilliant. Tina Fey, for instance, is a Hall of Fame member. John Oliver placed atop our list a couple of years back. We often see the likes of Sam Bee, John Cho, Samira Wiley, Rahul Kohli, Lin-Manuel Miranda, David Tennant, or Jessica Williams.

Voting is done entirely by our readership. Voting will begin in less than two weeks. Leading up to the votes, however, the staff does enjoy putting together For Your Consideration posts, which you’ll be seeing a lot of over the next two weeks, as we attempt to influence your vote.

Today, we kick off things with an FYC for Briga Heelan, currently the star of an under-the-radar NBC sitcom, Great News, which comes from producers Tina Fey and Robert Carlock and creator Tracey Wigfield, a 30 Rock protege who also worked on The Mindy Project. Great News, loosely based the relationship between Wigfield and her own mom, takes place behind the scenes of a struggling cable news show, and has a lot in common with the comic sensibility of 30 Rock. Some of you may remember that 30 Rock didn’t have a great first season before it found its legs in the second season; Great News had a better first season, which speaks to the boundless possibilities of the sitcom in its second season and beyond. It’s very good, and it may very well help resurrect NBC’s sitcom fortunes.

Much of the appeal is in its lead, Briga Heelan. She is warm, acerbic, funny, and absolutely gorgeous. She first came to my attention several years ago on Cougar Town as Holly, the one-time lover of Grayson and the mother of their child together, Tampa.


Clearly, Cougar Town exec producer Bill Lawrence took a liking to Heelan, because he made her the co-lead in another under-the-radar sitcom called Ground Floor, a terrific little show that helped TBS launch a series of increasingly excellent original sitcoms.


She attended the Walnut School for the Arts (Hey! I have a friend who runs their music program!) and, briefly, the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, so she can sing, too, which she illustrated on Ground Floor with her co-star Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect) in a really sweet scene in the Anna Camp episode:

Lawrence liked her so much that Heelan also pulled double duty, playing a recurring role in Lawrence’s NBC sitcom, Undateable, which was mostly unwatchable except when Briga Heelan was around.


Heelan has also made appearances on Pajiba favorites Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Happy Endings, as well as an arc on the second season of Netflix’s Love (I didn’t care for the first season, but knowing that Heelan is in the second means that I will eventually force myself to watch).

Heelan is also married to her Ground Floor co-star Rene Gube. They’re adorable.

The name Briga, by the way, apparently comes from a pagan Celtic goddess, which sounds about right:


Review: The Tina Fey Produced ‘Great News,’ Starring Briga Heelan, Andrea Martin and … Nicole Richie

Great News comes from Tracey Wigfield, a writer/producer on 30 Rock and The Mindy Project, and exec producers Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, but it’s not a Tina Fey joint, exactly. There are flashes of 30 Rock in this workplace sitcom set behind the scenes of a cable news program, but the edges have been rounded down into something more like a cross between 30 Rock and Ground Floor, the TBS sitcom that also starred the lead in Great News, Briga Heelan. In other words, Great News is Tina Fey and Bill Lawrence lite, which is far from a bad thing (and far better than what we’ve come to expect from most network sitcoms).

Heelan is actually why I gave this show a shot in the first place, because she was terrific in Ground Floor, as well as in an arc of Undateable that I watched specifically because of her (the crush is that real). Here, Heeland plays Katie, a fledgling segment producer for the cable news program who is trying to advance her way up the ladder. Those plans are simultaneously derailed and re-railed by her mother, Carol (the fantastic SCTVer Andrea Martin), who decides late in life to become an intern for the news station. She’s both meddlesome and supportive, in the tradition of most sitcom moms.

Martin and Heeland have good chemistry together, but it’s the comedic repartee between Martin and John Michael Higgins — who plays the bullish, oblivious, and out-of-touch lead anchor — that really elevates Great News. Carol is the intern to Higgins’ grouchy anchor who never makes it more than a few weeks without firing an intern, and she manages to soften him, mother him, and stand up to him. These two veteran comics mesh together instantly.

Meanwhile, Nicole Richie plays the airhead co-anchor, who occasionally lets slip that she’s much, much smarter than she lets on (she is surprisingly good here) while Horatio Sanz plays the best friend who works in the booth. Adam Campbell, meanwhile, plays the obnoxious producer with whom Katie may or may not develop an interest (I really hope not).

Great News vacillates between witty and dumb, clever and silly, but it always remains pleasant and occasionally very funny (thanks, usually, to John Michael Higgins). It’s not a sitcom to go out of your way to watch, but for those who like to break up a steady diet of heavy dramas with an occasional dose of mindless but not dumb comedy, Great News fits the bill.