Monique Chenault: Behind The Interviews

"The Insider" Executive Producer Monique Chenault
“The Insider” Executive Producer Monique Chenault

With the expected Christmas Day opening of Columbia Pictures’ The Interview suspended, would like to highlight the trailblazing entertainment news Showrunner and executive producer, and brains behind many of our favorite celebrity interviews, Monique Chenault. Chenault is living out her dream by currently overseeing the day to day for The Insider. In The Interview, Seth Rogan’s character is the producer for the “Dave Skylark” show of which the on-air talent is played by James Franco.

As The Insider’s executive producer, Chenault expressed, “I have always wanted to be a storyteller,” and an exemplary storyteller she is indeed always staying ahead of the curve. Her path to being a top mainstream entertainment news executive led Chenault through a traditional route by completing her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and on to graduate school at Columbia University.

While growing up, her father would listen to news radio in the car when taking her to school which fed her thirst and passion as a “news junkie”—however, Chenault never thought she would journey to become the Executive Producer of an entertainment/pop culture news magazine in her hometown of Los Angeles, which she deeply loves.

Chenault’s fast-track rise to become an influential storyteller had been destined for her to achieve incredible success. Despite being an African-American woman pursuing a career in a professional field that is heavily white-male dominated, Chenault has never been afraid to keep her integrity intact and to speak up for those news subjects that may represent an underserved and/or disenfranchised demographic or community.

One truth she stands on is to always be fair—meaning, always give the audience and viewers the content they seek from the show but to remain being fair in how the news is presented. For example, if The Insider had never covered Chris Brown prior to being arrested, then she would never approve to cover his story by “jumping on the bandwagon” simply because it’s a hot topic.

Chenault believes that the only fair way to share a story is if that celebrity or person of interest has been of interest the entire time especially when it relates to people of color. It is no secret when one learns that there are few people of color in decision-making positions of influence when telling stories to the public on persons of interest such as celebrities.

The-Interview-OneSheetThus, Chenault ensures that her show(s) never only highlight African-Americans or any person of color simply when they are getting into trouble, but also when they are doing right as a law abiding citizen, perhaps through charity work or winning a Golden Globe.

Much of Chenault’s success can be attributed to her vast understanding of broadcast journalism and knowledge pertaining to the content viewers are hungry for; and more importantly, because of her commitment to always tell the truth. Because news magazines are opinion shapers, she believes the stories they share require balance when it comes to introducing the storylines to the public.

Currently, she maintains long-term relationships with celebrities, managers, and publicists who know that if a specific story is going to break regardless, they would rather share the entire truth with someone they trust [leading to Chenault] versus a third party who has been tipped off in some manner.

Furthermore, Chenault is grateful to have undergone astounding mentorship from a professional “father figure,” Gary Considine. Dating back to her humble beginning years in late night television on a talk show called Later, Considine took Chenault under his wing as he saw in her a young storyteller who simply had the je ne sais quoi. Under his leadership and guidance, Chenault quickly grew into a position of management in the ripe years of being in her mid-twenties.

“He [Considine] taught me everything about budgeting, which is how I can run shows that are always under budget…I think he saw in me somebody who really wanted to make a difference,” said Chenault.

To pay it forward, Chenault shared resonating advice for those aspiring to be effective game changers behind the scenes in producing a hit show: Know your facts and get them straight especially if you are one of the few African-American/person of color people in a newsroom; and also choose wisely and be very selective in which stories you decide to share. Afterall, for a 30 minute show you are only allotted 20 minutes.

Lastly, being a talented producer may get you in the door she says, but it’s more about leadership. Chenault feels that too often the descriptive quality “leadership skills” is used haphazardly when people truly don’t know what it is. Chenault’s definition of leadership first requires a substantial level of confidence and maturity to get people on board with wanting to work with you and she expressed that “your passion has to be very contagious.”

In The Interview, Rogan and Franco’s characters are best friends. Chenault’s leadership skills led her to a job at Access Hollywood where she became the best of friends with her on-air talent and anchoring correspondent, Shaun Robinson as well. Their relationship started at Access Hollywood and then blossomed into both a beautiful professional and personal relationship.

Together, Chenault and Robinson launched the urban show for Access Hollywood called TV One Access highlighting the “who’s who” in Black Hollywood lasting for eight years. After the run of TV One Access, they completed many specials together from 12 Years A Slave, Being Mary Jane, and launching BET’s first after-special show called BET Takes Hollywood, which had a four year stint.

To accurately express her endearing relationship with Robinson, Chenault stated that, “She’s [Robinson] a one-take wonder and extraordinary talent. She’s so smart on her feet and really understands the responsibility of really trying to represent well and I think she does an amazing job at it!”

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