Inspiring People

Nick Cates

Nick Cates
Emmy Award nominee Nick Cates is Executive Producer of Original Specials at E! Entertainment Television. As a graduate of USC, majoring in broadcast journalism Nick realized early on that his future was in television.

He is a member of the Producers Guild of America and the Televison Academy of America

Nick has a passion for business, particularly real estate. As such, he is an avid real estate investor.

Nick currently lives with his wife in Los Angeles.

DR: Tell me a little bit about your life and a little bit about your work.

NC: Well, one of the first things that gives my back story is that I am an LA native. I kind of grew up, for lack of a better term, in the shadow of Hollywood but never really realizing that I would be working in that industry one day. I like television like any kid - Kimba the White Lion and Speed Racer and all that stuff, but that was the extent of my relationship to it. I had a really good set of friends throughout college and high school and most of my friends ended up going into accounting or business - stuff like that. But I'll tell you one thing that propelled me toward creative pursuits was:

In the fourth grade…we went to see an assembly. The assembly was about whales. They had some people from some aquarium or some preservation society and they did a thing about what whales are all about, endangerment and stuff like that.

We go back to class and the teacher says "O.K. I want you guys to write an essay about what you saw." So I wrote an essay about the whales. For the life of me, I can't recall what it was about or what I wrote or how it impacted me. I don't even really remember what I saw that day, but I wrote whatever it was.

When we got our grades back the teacher said "Nick, one day you're going to be a writer." I had no concept about the future and about what I wanted to do but it was one of those moments when a teacher hits you with something and you're like "Yeah! I'll be a writer!" So that kind of pushed me forward and I always had that in the back of my mind. I started to gravitate toward doing that - poetry, prose and…so now it's kind of the backbone. Everything that I do is based on being able to communicate clearly and put a thought down on paper in a way that will hopefully inspire other people - make people laugh. So that's what got me going in the career that I have now.

DR: You mentioned that this teacher planted this seed in your head about being a writer, and you were in fourth grade. How important do you think that is for people to encounter someone who is willing to see a creative vision for their life?

NC: I don't know how teachers are now, but I think that I was blessed when I was a kid to have teachers who took an interest in me and other kids. They were doing it because that's what they do. And, I don't think that this particular teacher was taking me under her wing or trying to propel me forward. I think that she just in an off-handed, very natural way, in responding to whatever fourth grade thing she saw, she just said that little thing and probably forgot all about…She wasn't even always nice but when someone rose to the occasion, she was willing to give acknowledgment.

I think it is important. Kids at a certain age are looking for some kind of propulsion to get them going in a certain way. It could be the most minor thing, as it was for me. It wasn't as if I was being coached. She just said something and I was open…with negative comments or positive comments, you get enough of them and it impacts you.

DR: Do you believe in destiny?

NC: I have a dichotomy in my feeling about destiny. I think that we all have a purpose and we all have a God given assignment. I don't know if we all get there; if we all achieve it, but I think there is something out there for us if we choose to get with God on His program. The other thing about it is, there are people who have no connection with God, who are, in their own minds, living the life that they are supposed to live. Whether it's with family or in career or in the social world…no one can really know the nature of destiny except the person in their own heart…Even though I may be, in years to come, doing something that I was completely designed to do, I would hope that it would have to do with what's inside, coming out. However that manifests, I am not quite sure. You will never be quite sure other than how you feel; what God may tell you, your own inner compass - "I would not want to do anything else but this."

DR: What makes you feel alive?

NC: A friend of mine from college…is a big IT guy for AOL and his wife {Courtney} was an engineer…and we would share our war stories at work and Courtney would say to me

"The problem with what I do is the projects are so long. You start in 19XX, whenever, and it could be years before whatever it is that you are working on comes to fruition. And my contribution to that - no one can ever see, no one can ever touch, no one can ever be involved in it. What you do Nick… everyday you can turn on the TV and say 'I did that. That that you are watching, I did that.'

I had never even thought about it like that before but there is some kind of intrinsic satisfaction that comes with being able to say, particularly if it's a project that you enjoy, that you feel good about, "Yeah, I did that!" And sometimes it's like "What does that mean?" I think sometimes people's connection with television and movies is that you turn it on and its in there, it's just in there. It doesn't get created somehow…

Here's a good story. Just the other day, Thanksgiving Day, there was a marathon on the channel that I work for, E!, where they played nine episodes back to back of this series that I had overseen. And it was on Thanksgiving Day and the network is really hoping that running the series on that day is going to give the network good numbers for that day. It's all kind of tied into the advertising and all that stuff is very important. I had forgotten that was happening. I didn't say anything to anyone. As I am taking my parents to their hotel Thanksgiving night…they turn on the TV and there it is - the series that I had worked on. I said "Hey, I forgot to tell you guys that they are running a marathon of all these shows." And they kind of look at it and they acknowledge it for a minute and then they go back to unpacking…It's just like "Oh that's nice." And then they go back to unpacking. And it's done.

Long ago I embraced the idea that you have to enjoy what you do, regardless of the outcome - whether it gets great ratings, whether it doesn't get great ratings. For me the process of how I get it done, how I interact with the people who report to me, how I interact with the people I report to, how I physically make an environment that is reflective of my inner spiritual kind of place…because, quite honestly, the subject matter that I am dealing with often times, does not reflect me at all. So the process…of how I help people solve problems, whether it be their own personal problems or the problems with the production, those things make me feel really ALIVE.

In my business, we may work for eight weeks on a project and then everybody's gone. I have to let people go or whatever the case may be. And when someone comes back to me and says Nick, "If I ever have the opportunity to work with you again, please let me know. I would love to work with you because of the environment"…I recognize that that is not something that happens to every show runner, and it doesn't always happen to me… but when someone does come back with that it makes you feel like "O.K."

DR: And why do you think people would say that to you? What is it about you?

NC: I think that I don't take myself or the project terribly seriously. I don't live this. There is very much a life outside of work. So I always kind of keep that in perspective. I keep my spirit man in perspective in terms of how I deal with problems.

When I hit "go" in the morning it's a constant bombarding of, really just problems; of how to get to the goal and step over these issues and these things that keep coming at you…In every instance I really try to come at it from a place of calm, a place of humanity…I think God deals with everybody differently and the way that God deals with me is that there is an ever present kind of sense of "How would He have me react to this situation?" Rather than dealing with the situation on its face, there is a constant kind of running tape. The bible talks about "pray without ceasing". Well, my way of praying without ceasing is always kind of trying to be, in a very quiet, not demonstrative way, but just connected to the reality that these things aren't always just in the natural -- that you are dealing with. But it is really about how you take what is inside of you and apply it to the situation. Whether I am dealing with my wife, whether I am dealing with my work or whatever…and I fail sometimes just like the next guy.

But to your point "What is it about me?" Rather than getting caught up in the moment, in their frustration, in my own frustration, I really try and just zero in on what the core, core issue is and try and help my people help me. Essentially that's what my job is. My job is to have the biggest, broadest picture of what we are here to do and what we need to accomplish. They are the foot soldiers in the trenches who have to constantly get that message. They are the ones who have to deliver it. If they don't deliver, if they don't show up for work, if they go left when they should have gone right…then the vision is lost. So my job is to, whenever they come to me with a problem, or even when they don't come to me with a problem and I observe or I sense that there is some issue there, I need to try and provide them with what they need to give me what I want. I need to help them help me, which is what my relationship to my bosses is…They don't always have a clear vision of what they want, they just know what the end result needs to be and they leave the details to me.

I really want {people} to know that "I am here for you".

DR: What I am noticing about you is that you have an awareness, a consideration and an appreciation for people and how people not only fit into your life but contribute to your life working overall.

NC: People come to LA or New York…with a dream of being this or that. Sometimes the perspective gets shifted onto the fact that "I am a fill in the blank." That becomes the thing that makes you what you are….

There are people who look at me and say "You don't have a job. You don't really work. That's playtime. What I do, that's work"…Ignorance is bliss. If you only knew the levels and layers of mud I have to wade through everyday just to get to the end of the day but, that's not important. I think as we all mature, we realize that nothing is as you see it on the outside. What you see on the outside is just a piece of the pie…I have been in the trenches before. I didn't just land here from Mars without having any understanding about what it is like to be on that level. That helps me to see it from another perspective. I've got people who, all they can see is the creative side. You've got other people who have little creativity but they know how to keep the budget, keep things on budget. They know how to deliver on time. You've got this guy who doesn't necessarily know how to keep the train running on time but he can paint a beautiful train. He can make the train look nice. It's like dealing with all those types of things and trying to tap into what's going to give the person the acknowledgment like I got when I was four years old that said "One day you're going to be a writer" but at the same time, help them with their deficiencies that may prevent them from getting what they want out of it.

DR: And, what do you want?

NC: At the end of the day, my wants are simple. I really want a life that works. I want things to work. I want people to behave the way they should. I want to behave the way I should. I want to get out of life what I put into it - the work and the equity and the passion that I try and put into everything that I do -- I want to receive from that what is due from that amount of effort. I put in little effort, I should get little out of it. I put in a lot, I should get a lot out of it.

I feel like I have a lot to give and a lot to say. I feel like I am not one to just indiscriminately step on people to get what I want but I am growing to understand how different games are played. In the TV game, I know a lot more now than I did five years ago, ten years ago. In the other areas that I am playing in, I am consistently learning and absorbing from the environments that I am in, the people that I interact with, to understand how to be in those arenas.

I think that the key to life, one of the keys to life is really recognizing how the game is played…Everything has its rules. There are parameters. Like a football game. You can only move when the ball is snapped. You have to have so many men on the line of scrimmage. All those rules. Now, there are people who understand those rules and they can't figure out how to advance the ball, even though they understand the rules. Then there are other people who know the rules and they are constantly advancing the ball because they are thinking of novel ways to work within the rules and get their agenda across. Well, that's how I want my life to be. I want to advance the ball, within the rules that everyone agrees upon, and be happy and successful and be able to give something to other people. Ultimately…at the end of your life, you are not going to look back and say "I was a success because I spent 80 hours a week at the office or because I made X amount of dollars". It's going to be the value of your relationships, it's going to be the value of how you feel like you impacted those around you and those kinds of things. Getting the money, getting the prestige is good but it's only as good as what you are able to turn around and do with it.

DR: A hundred years from now, what do you want to be remembered for?

NC: Now that's a tough one. With having said all of that, I don't know if I have discovered what it is I want to be remembered for and I don't know who I want to remember me. Do I want the world to remember me? Do I want a lineage of family that says "Ya know your great great grand dad was…" I wish I had a great exciting answer to that. I think as life is unfolding and I figure out what my true purpose and calling is, if I ever figure it out because it's not what I am doing now. What I am doing now is great and it's fun but it's a means to an end. My mind continues to be opened up. Even talking to you and Auguste and other people you come across, you realize that your world, your perspective is only your perspective. Your circumstances your experience is only your experience.

One thing that I have really prided myself on and I continue to do is broaden my ability to see the world from more than my perspective. That's a hard thing to do because that's all you know. All you know is how you react to stimuli. All you know is how hard or easy you think a thing is, but from somebody else's perspective, it could be all together different.

But to get back to the question about "What do I want to be remembered for a hundred years from now" I would love to, in some way, have a life well lived that leaves behind something that's worthy of note. Do I want to be Michael Jordan or do I want to be a Supreme Court Justice? I want it to be positive and I want it to be something that at least meant something to the people who are around at this point and if it turns out to be a legacy, that's terrific. I don't think that Rosa Parks thought that she would be remembered when she just said

"I'm tired man. I'm already back here in the Black section. You want to take this from me too? I'm not getting' up."

And now she is memorialized for that one simple act that didn't necessarily connect with anything else. I wish I knew and hopefully one day I will.

DR: Anything else?

NC: I have been on that side of the mike before and I have asked that question I don't know how many times and I have always been surprised that the other person didn't have something.

"Nope. I'm pretty much done."

I kind of feel that way myself. I can talk all day. Talking is not a problem for me…sharing whatever my feelings are on a subject. But when just given free flow, like freestyle, I got nothin' to say so I'll just wrap it up there.

Thanks Nick!

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