‘Vax Live’ Producer Casey Patterson on Why She’s Pivoting Her Attention to Important Causes

“Producer” is perhaps Hollywood’s most amorphous job title. For Casey Patterson, a veteran producer and mastermind behind two decades of splashy franchises at Viacom, that has meant everything from revolutionizing the MTV Movie Awards by removing gendered categories to suiting up Spider-Man Tom Holland as Rihanna for “Lip Sync Battle.”

What pulled her toward the space, she says, was being part of the “I Want My MTV” generation. “Watching as a teenager I felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself. They harnessed the power of pop culture to do maximum good with Rock the Vote, Choose or Lose, Live Aid, the Concert for New York after 9/11,” she says. “Spectacle without a soul can feel hollow. I live for the emotional connection, the shared experience that live can provide.”

The past five years have represented a career-best run for Patterson, who garnered Emmy attention for specials on Netflix, Disney, Fox and HBO Max, but the journey left her wanting. She credits producing partner and friend John Krasinski for inspiring a recalibration. “When I thought I was at my most successful, he asked what I wanted to do ‘next.’ He was so sincere, I could feel that the other half of that sentence was ‘because you’re capable of more.’”

Leading into the election in 2020, Patterson decided to take a yearlong sabbatical to work on behalf of women, herself being the rare female in the live production field (to date, a woman has never produced the Olympic Games or a presidential inauguration). She lobbied successfully in D.C. for a national celebration in honor of the women’s suffrage centennial and was holding a permit for the National Mall when the pandemic hit.

“We came back to New York and immediately offered our full-time services to support relief efforts beginning with Robin Hood and Tina Fey’s ‘Rise Up New York!,’ which raised $115 million to support NYC when it was the epicenter. Tina cried on air when she read the final tally,  as did the production team,” Patterson says.

In quick succession, she devoted all the resources of her eponymous production company to urgent causes — like partnering with Aaron Sorkin to produce the buzzy HBO Max “West Wing” reunion, which supported Michelle Obama’s organization When We All Vote at the height of confusion and misinformation around the 2020 election process.

“Casey was the star of the ‘West Wing’ benefit. I wrote it and Tommy [Schlamme] directed it, but Casey made it happen. She’s a phenomenally skilled producer who happens to be on the side of the angels,” says Sorkin. Patterson’s year culminated in last month’s “Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World,” a special she developed and produced with Global Citizen, headlined by Jennifer Lopez and co-chaired by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

“With the support of the pope, President Biden, VP Harris, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the entertainment community, we were able raise $302 million, in addition to 30 million doses of the vaccine for the most vulnerable parts of the world,” Patterson says. In total, her slate for the year has raised nearly half a billion dollars for charity.

Her longtime friend and mentor, venerable former MTV president Judy McGrath, says Patterson has emerged from the past year with new professional and personal purpose.   “The people who interest me most are both a mirror and a window. They reflect where we are and show us where we’re going,” McGrath says. “Casey is both, and I feel like the amazing things we’ve seen from her so far is all prologue to what she’ll do next.”

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