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Media Maven

Dec/02/2023 / by abhijit-masih

From her early years in Mumbai to her unexpected path into the world of television, Emmy award-winning producer Falguni Lakhani Adams’ story is a testament to following one’s passion, even in the face of societal expectations.

Born in Mumbai, Adams had a unique start in life. “My parents took me back to India to be born. So that my Dadi (grandma) could see me,” she recalls. Her close bond with her grandmother meant that she spent the first two years of her life in Mumbai. Her parents, who were originally from Kenya, eventually had to return to New York, but those two years in Mumbai left an indelible mark on her. 

After moving to the United States, her memories of growing up in New York are colored by a vibrant and tight-knit Indian community. People frequently visited their house sharing chai and creating a sense of community. “We lived in Jackson Heights, it was Little India still, and I have a lot of fond memories. We would always have the community rolling in and out of my house,” she said. These early experiences helped her maintain a deep connection to her culture while growing up in the United States.

Breaking Expectations

Her family’s expectations had pushed her toward a traditional profession like law, medicine, or engineering. She opted for law, thinking it was the closest to a creative field within her choices. Passionate about making a positive impact on the world, she initially pursued a career in international law. “I thought if I’m going to be a lawyer, I want to be an international lawyer, because I wrote a lot of papers in college around international human rights, and especially in India. I was very passionate about it,’ she recalls. She worked for the United Nations and for SAKHI for South Asian Women during her summers and dedicated herself to causes such as women’s rights in South Asia. However, her time at law school and an opportunity to work as a prosecutor in Brooklyn made her realize that she wanted to create change in a different way. “One day, I thought, I don’t want to try first time marijuana cases. That’s not how I want to make a change in the world,” she explained her decision to quit law. 

A Career Shift Sparks the Rise in Media

Despite following a traditional path, Adams couldn’t shake her desire to make a difference. Her career took an unexpected turn when a friend recognized her interviewing skills and suggested she could be the next Barbara Walters. “I met this friend and he said, ‘I really feel like you are not in the right profession. You can get anyone to tell you anything in an interview.’ And I had never thought about that. I’m not one to love being in front of the camera, I get super shy,” she recollected. Adams decided to pivot away from a career in law. She reached out to media outlets, cold-calling MSNBC to gain experience in the field.

Her persistence paid off when she was hired as a production assistant at MSNBC, just as the network was rising in popularity. This opportunity marked the beginning of her journey into the world of television. 

From Courtroom to Newsroom

Adams’ path into the world of writing and directing was far from traditional. With a background in law, she started as a production assistant at MSNBC, transitioning from prosecuting cases to crafting scripts. Her entry into the industry was met with challenges, as it was predominantly white and often unforgiving to those without prior experience. “I think today, with social media you can definitely elevate yourself and elevate your career. Back then, it was me showing up to work in a business suit and being told your heels are too loud in the newsroom. But I didn’t know any better. I went from prosecuting cases in a courtroom to printing a script and handing it to the talent,” she recalled her initial days at MSNBC. Her unwavering belief in hard work and her upbringing’s strong work ethic drove her forward. She learned to navigate a new world.

From Disenchantment to Emmy Triumph

The former persecutor had to start from scratch as a production assistant which would have undoubtedly stirred feelings of disenchantment. The talented writer and director shared her remarkable journey from the disillusionment of her early career to becoming an Emmy-winning force in the television industry. “I think a big newsroom is a very complicated place. But part of the excitement for me being there was feeling the energy to around me. And there were a lot of really big stories going. That’s when I actually met Joe Biden. He was Senator Biden at the time and I got to meet Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, and it was really exciting to go to colleges. I just remember feeling wow, what I’m doing right now is educating college students on the importance of politics, and it was something that I had never learned,” she said.

From Chaos to Calm 

Adams’ career trajectory took a significant turn after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. With only three months into her role at MSNBC, she found herself in the midst of one of the most critical news events of our time. Her unique background in law and experience at the Department of Homeland Security allowed her to step up during the chaotic situation. “The morning 9/11 happened; I was starting to train in the control room. All I remember, when the plane hit, was everyone screaming.  Everyone got in the control room, the seniors, the executives, they were all looking at all the screens and the phones were ringing off the hook. It was chaos. And because I was calm, I was answering calls, and I was just able to help everybody navigate a very complicated and layered situation,’ she recalled the fateful day. This extraordinary moment catapulted her career to new heights, showcasing her ability to remain calm and effective under immense pressure.

Love and Law 

Over time, she became disillusioned with her job due to her concerns about how the network was covering the Iraq War. However, she found an unexpected connection in the very same control room. “A guy that liked me would come around my desk. He was not Indian, but he came to give me a sandwich. And I said, ‘I don’t eat meat.’ And he said, ‘Oh, are you Jain? And I just remember looking at him and thinking, how do you know about that religion? He may be good looking but he knew about my culture. I’m sold,” she reminisced the serendipitous moment that marked the beginning of a blossoming romance with Richard, who later became her husband.

Adams’ career journey took a more fulfilling turn when she began working with MSNBC’s legal correspondent at that time, Dan Abrams, who hired her to produce his show. This role allowed her to combine her knowledge of law and media, which resonated with her parents, who wanted her law degree to be put to good use. Her career further blossomed as she covered major trials and stories such as Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson, and Scott Peterson. “I would say the Michael Jackson trial, for me was the pinnacle of my career at MSNBC. I learned true investigative reporting, I had a lot of sources and I had gotten a lot of the first interviews for NBC with Michael Jackson’s attorney. So I really helped keep NBC afloat,” she recalls with pride.

Emmy-Winning Impact

The passion for storytelling led her to create impactful work that deserved recognition. One of her proudest achievements was an Emmy-winning episode for CNN’s “United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell.” The episode, titled “Six in America,” tackled important social issues and received critical acclaim. Adams’ commitment to shedding light on underrepresented stories and communities resonated with her audience and earned her two Emmy awards. Adams also highlighted her work on a documentary titled “The Neglected Pandemic,” which commemorated the 50th anniversary of HIV’s discovery in the United States. “We call it the neglected pandemic, because there’s so much that the communities have faced. For me, it’s always about the underdog. And those are the pieces that I feel warrant Emmys,” she explained the struggles faced by affected communities.

Shaping Compelling Narratives at VICE TV

Falguni Lakhani Adams current role as an executive producer at VICE TV is a dynamic one. Her responsibilities span two essential aspects: shaping and overseeing in-house developed shows and collaborating with production companies to bring these projects to life. “We hire production companies to make shows that we develop in-house and I oversee those shows. That means I go through the outlines, what shape we want the show or the series, from start to finish,” she gives a snapshot of her role at VICE TV. Currently, she manages five shows that are in various stages of production. One of her projects, “Dark Side of Comedy,” explores the complex lives of comedians like Joan Rivers, Robin Williams, and Norm Macdonald, who brought laughter to the world while concealing their own inner struggles. She admittedly is drawn to the dichotomy in life and relishes exploring the nuanced layers of society through her work.

Empowering Conversations

Besides doing award-winning work on television, Adams devotes a lot of time and effort in community focused ventures. Together with her friend Kruti, Adams founded “Getting Hotter Official,” a platform dedicated to discussing women’s health, menopause, and aging. The initiative emerged from their personal experiences of navigating menopause silently, despite their close friendship. “Kruti and I started it because while we both went through menopause at an early age, we were the best of friends and didn’t say a word to each other. Until one day, I was grumpy and depressed. I told her I was sorry that I was being a jerk of a friend, I’m going through menopause. And she said so am I,” Adams recalled the conversation and the reason to create a safe community place for South Asian women. She acknowledged that the conversation surrounding menopause, and health, in general, often excludes South Asian women and “Getting Hotter Official” aims to change that narrative and is committed to telling essential stories in the realm of women’s health.

Beyond the Screens

In her free time, Adams indulges in a variety of activities to unwind and continue personal growth. Yoga and meditation hold a prominent place in her daily routine, helping her find balance and inner peace. “I do a lot of yoga and meditation. I became a mindfulness coach, because, you know, we’re South Asian, we can’t just take a course, I have to become a teacher, right? That’s just how it goes,” she said. Her commitment to continuous learning extends beyond her career. Whether it’s learning to play a musical instrument, travel, or dance, she constantly challenges herself to explore new horizons.

Adams’ path may not have been straightforward, but it has been uniquely hers, leading her to a fulfilling career in television where she continues to make a positive impact on the world. In her 20-year career, Adams has transformed from a disillusioned newcomer into an Emmy-winning writer and director. Her story is a testament to the power of perseverance, passion, and a commitment to bringing underrepresented stories to the forefront of public consciousness. Her work continues to inspire and make a meaningful impact.

SIDE BAR – 1

Adams offers valuable advice to young women aspiring to succeed in the media industry. Her guidance centers on several key principles:

  1. Stay Informed and Adapt: you have to flow with what is going on, you have to really keep up like, keep an eye on what’s happening around you 
  2. Seek Mentorship: When I decided I wanted to make the transition from law to media, I knew nothing about media. But I had the gall to call people and tell them through vulnerability, that I don’t know anything about this, but I really do want to learn. Can you meet with me?
  3. Approach with Humility: When seeking advice or connections, approach individuals with humility and genuine curiosity. Instead of sending a resume, aim to engage in a meaningful conversation, expressing a desire to learn and grow.

SIDE BAR – 2

Falguni’s Favorites:

Meal that you can eat every day?

Fresh pasta with homemade tomato sauce and cheese. 

One vice that you won’t give up

I’m gonna say my phone. I just have to be truthful with you. 

What’s the next big thing for you?

I am working with a group on a very beautiful film. It’s actually South Asian based film. It’s about death and it’s about life. I just feel like that’s the season we’re all in right now. 

What’s your favorite movie of all times? 

Room with a View. I have the VHS tape. That’s how much I’ve loved that movie.

What’s your favorite Indian movie?

I would probably say either Qurbani, Naseeb or Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

What’s your favorite kind of music?

I like a lot of Latin music and power ballads. I will say because I’ve been spending a lot of time with my mom lately. I’ve been playing a lot of Lata Mangeshkar, Mukesh and Kishore Kumar songs with her. But listen, I’m a Pop music girl at the end of the day.

What your favorite TV show or Series?

I loved The Wire. I thought that was a brilliant show. I love Madmen. It was probably one of the most brilliant shows ever made, just in terms of its acting and aesthetics and cleverness.

What’s your favorite place to travel?

If I’m doing a beach vacation – Corsica, France. That was just so stunning and beautiful. If I’m having a cultural vacation, Italy always wins my heart over and over again. 

What’s the favorite aspect of your job?

I love the fact that I get to shape the shows and I get rewrite. I love writing so much. I also get to go on shoots whenever I want. So if it is a Cyndi Lauper, I get to show up on set or if it’s IndyCar, I get to go sit in the car and take a spin around the track. 

Any one television personality you admire the most?

I was very impressed working with W. Kamau Bell. He was able to disarm people in a way that he wasn’t even trying and he was genuine. 

What is your parenting style?

I’m involved to the extent that I need to get involved, but I try to be a little bit more hands off than my parents were.

Which famous personality would you like to dine with?

I have always been such a huge fan of Barack Obama. I’ve met him, that was probably my career highlight, to go cover his inauguration. He just seems like a good person. 

PQ Suggestions:

“We would always have the community rolling in and out of my house.”

“I thought, I don’t want to try first time marijuana cases. That’s not how I want to make a change in the world.”

“Back then, it was me showing up to work in a business suit and being told your heels are too loud in the newsroom.”

“I went from prosecuting cases in a courtroom to printing a script and handing it to the talent.”

“It was chaos. And because I was calm, I was answering calls, and I was just able to help everybody navigate a very complicated and layered situation.”

“He may be good looking but he knew about my culture. I’m sold.”

“I would say the Michael Jackson trial, for me was the pinnacle of my career at MSNBC.”

“Kruti and I started it because while we both went through menopause at an early age, we were the best of friends and didn’t say a word to each other.”

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