This is the first in a series of interviews with real life noble savages.
Leaders in business and in life. Gena McCarthy is the Executive Vice President, Programming and Development at FYI.
Gena is late for lunch. Very late. It turns out she was so busy sharing stories with her Uber driver she didn’t realize he had mistakenly left the state. I guess I shouldn’t be totally surprised. As a child, Gena recalls living deep in a world of her own imagination. That curiosity and her creativity has put her in the center of some of the biggest hits on television over the past two decades. Hit shows that when broken down reveal universal themes, vulnerable characters and great stories. Common themes in Gena’s work and her life.
Her early years played out a little like a Johnny Cash song. It seems she’s lived everywhere man. Not more than a year or two would go by until it was time for her and her family to move again. That’s how it goes when your father works for the FBI.
I wondered what that life must have been like. Some of it follows a familiar script. Strict household. Self-reliance. And the crushing blow of a loving family that eventually fractured under the high demands of it all.
At 11 years old, Gena found herself living with her mom and two sisters in Pittsburgh. It’s not where she was born but it’s the only town she would ever really call home. Her dad stayed down south, close to the job and close to Gena’s brother who was in college. This was also when self-reliance started taking up even more pages in Gena’s story. If a tree had to be chopped down or a piano had to be moved, Gena knew she and her sisters just had to get the job done.
They knew they could always rely on each other and they had to rely on themselves.
The heroic calling to serve from within the family eventually drew all of Gena’s siblings to become FBI agents. And then for good measure all her siblings married FBI agents. While her family was off doing counter-intelligence and flying surveillance planes, Gena was charting a very different road. She didn’t want to wear the badge, she just wanted to write and tell stories. It’s all she ever really wanted to do. So rather than follow the well-traveled road her family had paved, Gena followed her own calling. My guess is she did it to give the little girl inside of her the gift that she had been groomed for her entire life.
Those stories would involve dirty jobs, arranged marriages, gifted children, grown-ups who act like children, teenagers coming of age, celebrities, incredible fashion designers, history, exploration, science, gripping investigative journalism and yes, TV shows about the FBI.
Gena now has a family of her own. Like her dad, her job often requires big family moves, bravery in the face of uncertainty and a lot of her attention. She’s quick to point out that her husband has been a steady hand supporting her in every leap no matter where it took them.
To blow off steam she swims, reads trashy mystery novels and laughs … a lot. Under that poker face of puritan reserve is a big kid with a wicked sense of humor. She can be surprisingly forthcoming. Thoughtful. Shy. Resolute. Warm. There’s a complexity to her character even though she seems particularly adept at streamlining her life down to a job well done and a family well loved.
When life gets scary and a bit dizzying, she holds onto the same thing she held onto when she was 11 years old facing the hardest transition of her life. The people she loves. I have to believe from the way she speaks of them, they are the characters that make up the greatest story Gena ever has or ever will tell.