Power moves: Oswego native now steering Hollywood production company

Oswego High School Class of 2000 graduate Mackenzie Gabriel-Vaught, above left, was recently announced as the head of production and development for Sad Clown Productions, the company founded by Gabriel-Vaught’s friend and colleague Mayim Bialik, pictured above right on the set of “The Big Bang Theory” with co-star Jim Parsons. Gabriel-Vaught says she and Bialik have a vision for female-oriented programming currently lacking from mainstream media.

Mackenzie Gabriel-Vaught departs working for ‘genius’ Lorre to run own LA shop

BURBANK, Calif. — It’s Tuesday afternoon in Hollywood and Oswego native Mackenzie Gabriel-Vaught is busy.

You’re likely already familiar with her work: for ten years, Gabriel-Vaught helped produce some of America’s most popular comedies including “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory.” As Vice President of Current Programming for Chuck Lorre productions, she built CBS’ “Young Sheldon” from concept to hit show, staffing the writer’s room and director stable from the ground up.

“Someone was willing to put the ball in my court,” said Gabriel-Vaught, reached by phone in her Burbank office.

After a decade learning the business, Gabriel Vaught is now taking her biggest shot yet.

The Oswego High School Class of 2000 grad was recently announced as head of development and production for Sad Clown Productions, the production company founded by her longtime friend and colleague, actress and author Mayim Bialik.

Sad Clown earlier this month inked an exclusive, multi-year deal with Warner Brothers and Gabriel-Vaught will be responsible for developing and producing for broadcast, cable, streaming and digital platforms, as reported by Los Angeles trade magazine Variety.

So yeah, she’s got a lot on her plate.

“We’re able to come up with our own ideas, have people come to us to pitch ideas and get together ideas for new programming,” she said. “Every day we have meetings and phone calls and pitches and we’ll see if we’ve got anything worth taking out to the world.”

Let’s back up for a moment though, because Gabriel-Vaught didn’t spring into existence as a high-powered television executive fully formed. After earning communication degrees from SUNY Plattsburgh and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, Gabriel Vaught took the plunge and moved from New York, where she had started a nascent broadcasting career, to California. She landed her first gig as a production assistant on “The Price is Right” (“writing lots of nametags,” she recalls) then as a P.A. on “Two and a Half Men.”

On the set of that hit show she developed her relationship with Lorre, whose television empire has pumped out some of the best-known American television programs of the last 25 years.

“I have been so fortunate to learn from someone like Chuck Lorre,” she said. “I was really able to slowly cultivate and learn what’s necessary to make a great television show — I was able to learn from the best and that’s how I got where I was.”

So when Bialik, best known for her roles as Amy on “The Big Bang Theory” and as the title character on the 1990s NBC sitcom “Blossom,” approached Gabriel-Vaught about striking out on their own, the two immediately found a common ground that would form the bedrock of their content development.

“She’s so smart and brilliant and funny,” Gabriel-Vaught said. “It was intriguing from the start and I wanted to know what kind of television she wanted to make.”

The answer to that is simple yet profound: “female-oriented programming.”

“Whether it’s a really funny comedy or a tough drama, she wants to run the gamut of female empowerment and focus on women in those roles and that’s what I was really attracted to,” Gabriel-Vaught said.

While Bialik may be best known for her acting roles, she’s also earned her doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA and authored several books including 2017’s “Girling Up: How to be Strong, Smart and Spectacular.”

“I was raised in a climate where if you didn’t learn things as fast as the boys, it meant that it wasn’t for you,” Bialik said at a media conference in June. It’s important “to have a mentor, to have someone that you can see is living the life of a scientist and also has a social life — all the things that the lone scientist in the laboratory stereotype doesn’t give us.”

“You’re seeing the full, complicated, amazing woman living life as a scientist,” Bialik said of characters like “The X-Files’” Dana Scully and her own character Amy on “The Big Bang Theory.” “That’s what I needed as a young girl that wasn’t there for me.”

Between conference calls and lunch meetings, Gabriel-Vaught has also begun an exciting new chapter in her personal life: she and husband Nicholas Vaught welcomed their first child late last year.  Maria and John Gabriel, Mackenzie’s parents, say they’re extraordinarily proud of their daughter and have been eagerly watching her career take off from the same East Fourth Street house where Mackenzie grew up.

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