Liz Meriwether doesn’t appear interested in taking any time off now that New Girl is over.
Somewhere between wrapping production on the final eight episodes of her Fox sitcom and giving birth to her first child, the writer-producer committed to shooting three pilots this year. One reason for the full plate, the showrunner says, is to keep her mind off of the end of her longtime day job.
But New Girl viewers were prepared for this seventh season to never have happened at all. When renewal prospects dimmed during the 2016-17 season, Meriwether and company wrote sharp turn in the sitcom’s biggest storyline to offer some conclusion. An eleventh hour pitch exhumed the show for a proper sendoff, which kicks of April 10 — and, as those who turn in will see, these episodes are unlike any of the 138 that preceded them.
Meriwether spoke with The Hollywood Reporter a few weeks back about the new New Girl, its three-year time jump, a focus on parenting and what kind of legacy she hopes the comedy will leave behind.
How did you end up juggling so many projects this year?
I’m supposed to be leaning in, right? First, I said I’d supervise Erin Foster’s pilot [Fox’s Daddy Issues], and then Lake Bell and I started talking about her doing a network show [Fox’s Bless This Mess]. The third [ABC’s Single Parents] came from talking with J.J. Philbin, who worked on New Girl for all seven years. We had so much fun writing the parenting stories this last season, because there was a child. She was telling me all of her stories about being a mom in Los Angeles, and it dawned on us that we should make a show about slightly fucked up people who happen to have kids. So we ended up taking that on, and then all of a sudden I had three pilots. It honestly helped take my mind off of the New Girl ending. I think I got cocky because we only had eight episodes of New Girl this year.
Would you have been satisfied if New Girl hadn’t gotten this last season?
We were so lucky for so many seasons. We were never on the bubble, and that’s extremely rare. I know Mike Schur always felt like Parks and Rec could’ve ended any season. Six was the first time I just wasn’t sure. I just love these characters so much, and I think part of me was so worried that they were going to pull the plug, I felt like we had to end it in a way. The downside of that was that we did sort of end it. [Laughs]. That was the network’s question. “Where do you go from there?” I was just making stuff up, because I honestly didn’t know. I just felt down deep we needed one more season.
What was your pitch to the network?
This is a show that started as four single roommates, sharing an apartment. Now we’re going into a show about three couples. It felt so different — like the original ending was gone. But we just know these people so well, we’re kind of willing to go there. TV has changed in the years we’ve been doing the show. People are willing to take a leap. This show that was about one thing is now about another. Basically, I bullshitted my way through what could happen and was very pleasantly surprised with what we ended up doing. It’s refreshing to tell kinds of stories that we never did.
There’s a lot of parenting jokes in the first few episodes.
Our writers room has always been focused on our days being single, living with roommates. This is the first time on our show where the parents on staff really let loose about their experiences having children. There are just so many stories about how bad parents are — and how being a parent doesn’t necessarily mean anything for your development as a person.
With all of the changes, what discussions did you have to ensure the DNA of the show was intact?
One big decision we made was that all of these characters could still show up at each other’s houses for no reason. We wanted to keep that sense that they were still co-dependent in their friendships, because the show has always been about these people being too good of friends. It was actually really nice to have all three couples in it for life, so we weren’t going to tell stories about couple drama — or “Will they or won’t they?” drama. The only question about Nick [Jake Johnson] and Jess [Zooey Deschanel] is if they’re going to get married, not if they’re going to make it as a couple. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be to maintain the DNA of the show while totally changing the premise.
Casting children is notoriously difficult, especially in comedy. How much work went into finding the two girls who play Schmidt and Cece’s daughter Ruth?
We auditioned a bunch of twins before we landed on the Rockoffs, and both Hannah [Simone] and Max [Greenfield] were nice enough to come and read with the girls during callbacks. A couple of the girls we tried out looked so miserable, we asked them if they wanted to be there and do this. One of the girls said, “No.” [laughs]. I said, “Well, then you should leave and go play.” At that age, it’s so clear which kids want to do it and are having fun. It’s funny because we do a lot of alts on the show, so many that we’ve gotten pushback from the cast in the past — and I think it was two episodes before one of the twins was like, “I’m not doing any more jokes.” She learned so quickly.
Your Fox Lot stage wasn’t free for this last season, and you had to film across town. Was it weird to pick up and move after so much time in the same space?
It was so weird. With all the things that were changing, that changed too. It turns out you can take the girl out of the fox lot, but you can’t take the fox lot out of the girl.
How do you feel about the Fox-Disney deal?
I’m sort of pretending it’s not happening. I’ve been so busy on the pilots, I’m not sure what it even is yet. I think a lot of people are still trying to figure it out. I don’t really have a take yet, but I feel like I should.
This is probably a question better asked in May, but how would you like the show to be remembered?
Part of me just wants people to remember it. [Laughs] I feel bad when I hear about a show from the past and don’t remember it. I think the legacy will somewhat be tied up with what’s happened with women in the industry in the years since we came on the air. The fall we came out, all of the press was about women making shows. That’s not as weird now, which is great. At the time, the character of Jess was really different. And I was worried about a female character like that on television, and if we’d have to water her down. That’s almost laughable now. There’s so many complex women on television, odd women. It’s been heartening to watch how much the creators and the content have changed in these seven years — not that I’m taking any responsibility for those changes.