While Richie is best known as “The Simple Life” reality star, her role as a quirky TV anchor in “Great News” has revealed that she’s also a great sitcom actor. Her character, Portia, alternates between deluded celebrity (“Are you taking those diet pills I sell? Don’t, I’m re-branding them as rat poison.”) and woke millennial (“Oh yeah, let’s cater to the old white guy. This is why I quit my podcast with Bernie Sanders.”) Richie artfully delivers her many one-liners, especially during the show’s news segments: “Next up, a Chicago homicide victim refuses to talk. What is she hiding? Stay with us.”
Perhaps more importantly for Richie’s future acting prospects, this means she’s now officially a Tina Fey-Approved Funny Person, a powerful designation in Hollywood. Fey and Robert Carlock (“30 Rock,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) are executive producers on “Great News” — which wraps its first season on Tuesday night — along with creator Tracey Wigfield, a former “30 Rock” writer.
Richie’s comic chops even took producers by surprise. “[Nicole] was good, but everyone was kind of like, is she an actress?” Wigfield told the Daily Beast about the casting process; initially, Portia was “an older, ‘Real Housewives’-type figure,” until the network wanted someone younger paired with Higgins’s veteran news anchor. “But she was precise and had really good comic timing.”
Wigfireld added that Fey also thought Richie was funny on Fox’s “The Simple Life,” where she starred with fellow socialite Paris Hilton. The series ran from 2005 to 2007, and showcased Hilton and Richie out of their glitzy Hollywood element as they traveled “real” America, meeting everyday people and doing manual labor.
“I was intimidated on every level. First of all, these people had already shot a pilot, so they already knew each other,” Richie said in an interview with Refinery29. “So I was really walking in not only as the girl who just got her first acting role as a regular on a series, but also as just the new kid on the block.”
Richie’s character, who co-anchors “The Breakdown” with the always-cranky Chuck (Higgins), has been described as everything from “sometimes a shrewd social media genius, sometimes a clueless idiot” to “the dingbat co-host…a breezy, demanding, clueless woman whose inane story ideas are given the green light.” Indeed, in the first season, Portia is adept in the ways of digital reporting (“What if we did a segment called ‘Am I Snapchatting my vacation wrong?'”). But she has zero interest in traditional journalism, as she wonders about the definition of “a Walter Cronkite,” and embarks on an investigation where she goes “undercover as an ugly person.”
The audience also gets glimpses of Portia’s absurd life as a sort-of famous person, including the fact that she’s frenemies with Ivanka Trump after an incident at SoulCycle; she’s in a sexting relationship with all of the Pittsburgh Steelers; and her fiancé won an NFL honor for “lewdest touchdown dance.” In one episode, Portia suggests altering the anchor desk so viewers can see her legs: “My mentor Roger Ailes suggested it.”
As the first season concludes, Portia mostly serves as a sidekick to the other wacky characters, such as when she’s the target of an email hack that intrigues the entire staff. But NBC recently renewed the show for a second season, airing in the network’s coveted Thursday night “Must See TV” line-up this fall — so Portia might get even more screentime as new viewers tune in and learn that Richie is, actually, very funny.