Liza Katzer ’08 is part of the team behind one of the most beloved shows in recent memory. As executive producer of Ted Lasso, Katzer is involved in nearly every aspect of making the hit AppleTV+ series. (The third season debuts later this year.)
Growing up in Los Angeles, Katzer was involved in plays and musical theater. “I loved entertainment,” she says. After graduating from Northwestern, where Katzer majored in radio/TV/film, she started her career at a talent agency and then spent time at Walt Disney Studios. Katzer joined Doozer Productions as an assistant in 2011 and is now senior vice president of the company.
Katzer’s team has earned countless honors for their work on Ted Lasso, including two Emmy Awards for outstanding comedy series, a Peabody Award for excellence in storytelling and multiple Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild awards.
In addition to Ted Lasso, Katzer served as co-executive producer of Head of the Class (2021) for HBO Max and producer of Whiskey Cavalier (2019) and Life Sentence (2018) for ABC and The CW, respectively. Last year, she was named to The Hollywood Reporter’s 35 Rising Executives 35 and Under.
With new projects in production and “a lot of things in development,” Katzer remains keenly aware of the challenges she faced in her early-career years and the lessons she’s learned along the way. Katzer, who lives in Los Angeles, sat down (virtually) with Northwestern Magazine’s Clare Milliken to discuss all this and more.
What does a typical day look like for you?
The success of Ted Lasso has led to a lot of other opportunities. We have three shows in production: Ted Lasso is in London, Bad Monkey [starring Vince Vaughn] is in Miami and Shrinking [starring Harrison Ford, Jessica Williams and Jason Segel] is in LA. On a given day, wherever we’re shooting, I might go to our production office to meet with our costume designer to go over photos from a fitting. Then I might spend a few hours looking at casting videos and identifying my top selects for 15 roles that we have to cast. I might drive over to set, meet with our showrunner and talk to the director and actors. I might be talking about the script with the writers or hopping on a Zoom to meet with another writer who we really want to work with.
As a producer, you are hands-on from the start of a project to the finish. You’re with it every step of the way, through post-production, editing and then the marketing push and getting it to the screen.
You’re very open about your struggles after graduation and early in your career. How did you push through and stay optimistic that things would get better?
I really struggled with the ambivalence I felt about what I was going to do with my life. It was very hard to graduate alongside all these type-A overachievers who are like, “I’m going to law school,” “I’m going to business school.” Entertainment is so different because after you graduate you just have to get to LA and see what’s out there. I felt so directionless and so stressed.
I found a job at a talent agency — because people said you had to have a year of that. And actually now I’m one of the people who say that. It was really important to work at an agency to get a global picture of the entertainment industry and understand the different players and pieces. But it was really intense. It was a pre-#MeToo, pre–Time’s Up environment. There was a lot that was swept under the rug and a lot of behavior that was not appropriate, just in terms of how you treat people.
I was in survival mode. I hadn’t yet started therapy. I was not in touch with any of the underlying issues that were probably making the job harder, like intense perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Knowing that there was an end to that job kept me going. I told myself, “I only have to do one year, and then I can get another job. Let me just make it through this year and see what’s on the other side.” I had a feeling that the industry wasn’t all going to be like that.
Do you feel more settled now?
I’ve had to learn to let go of control and find peace within the chaos and uncertainty. That’s been a really good lesson, and I think I’ve finally come to a place where I can get through those uncertain periods with different tools — breathing, meditation, etc.
The pandemic was really helpful for me, which I hate to say because it was such a stressful time of pain and anxiety. I feel guilty that it was a really healing time for me. Everything slowed down. I felt like I got to step off the hamster wheel because I had been going a million miles an hour. Especially in this business, work can be never ending, and as someone with an intense fear of missing out, I would say yes to everything. I felt very out of touch with myself and I was looking for a lot of external stimulation. And then in the pandemic, I had a chance to develop a relationship with myself. Instead of reaching for all these external things that I thought would bring me a sense of happiness or peace, I was finding that it’s all within me.
Trusting my own creative voice and instincts in the workplace, seeing the fruits of that labor, and being a part of a group that is making something that is meaningful to other people — that brought another level of internal fulfillment.
Why do you think ‘Ted Lasso’ is so beloved?
The show’s success was a slow build out of the gate. I think it came by word of mouth, where a lot of people said, “Oh, that soccer show?” and then someone responded, “No, trust me, it’s about way more than soccer. The characters are great. You don’t have to know or like soccer to enjoy it,” and then more people started watching.
Timing was a factor too — the show came out before the election and during a pandemic. For a while it was hard to find true, laugh-out-loud comedy, something that was genuinely optimistic and light and funny. Ted Lasso felt like a breath of fresh air.
I’m really still shocked at how people gathered around it.
Each season, there are always shows that the networks or studios or streamers will point to: “We’re looking for our New Girl, our Silicon Valley, our Veep.” Everyone is always looking for whatever the last hit was, and to hear people say, “We’re looking for our Ted Lasso,” I think, “Oh, my God. We've made it.”
Was there a Northwestern professor who really had an impact on you?
I love [theater professor] Cindy Gold. She’s so powerful. She had a whole section in her class that focused on the business of entertainment: moving to New York or LA, doing commercial auditions, how to actually navigate the industry. It’s so important to include that in the curriculum. “You think acting is fun and you want to pursue it? This is probably the reality of your first years.” Let’s take a class on what it’s like live off of no money and have your whole life be Zoom auditions. How do you navigate that? How do you use your time? How do you feel like you have some sense of control?
Are you still in touch with many Wildcats?
I had such a great experience [in college], and it’s the gift that keeps on giving because there’s such an enormous community of Northwestern alumni in LA. My two best friends, who I see multiple times a week, are Northwestern grads. I was in a sorority, and I’m still really close friends with a lot of the girls.
Especially in the early days, moving out to LA right after graduation, I think everyone from Northwestern just huddled together. Wild Onion Theatre Company, which we founded in 2011, was our attempt as struggling 20-something assistants to feel like we had some control over what we were doing. We were all struggling in entry-level jobs, and I think it was an attempt to get back to why we’re doing this work and what we like about it: collaborating with our friends, putting up a show, even if it was very low budget and not that great. It was a fun way to feel like we had some sense of artistic inspiration during those bleak early years.
Clare Milliken is senior writer and producer in Northwestern’s Office of Global Marketing and Communications.