New Girl on Fox was this close to making our list of feminist shows to watch this fall — and has garnered our affection more with time — so we were thrilled to have a chance to talk to Liz Meriwether, the creator, writer, and executive producer of the show. Meriwether told us about creating a female centric show, the emerging prominence of female comedy in Hollywood, and the polarizing presence of star Zooey Deschanel.
Was it hard to pitch a series that revolved around women to a network?
It wasn’t hard. I felt really encouraged by the way the network received the show the whole way through. I think the first time I met Kevin Reilly, who is the head of Fox, he said to me, I want to keep this female character really unique and I want you to protect her throughout this whole process, which was really rare and the first time I had heard that from a network exec. I actually found that there wasn’t resistance to an odd female character at the center of the show, which I found really gratifying. I really don’t think the show could work if the network hadn’t understood it and really supported it.
There are a few comedies that premiered this season with female leads and have done really well. Do you have any thoughts on why that is?
I don’t know. I feel so lucky to be a part of it, and it really surprised me. I really love how all of the different characters in the new comedies with female protagonists are all different. I think people have a tendency to lump female comedy into one box and I really love that the different shows that are doing well right now have really different styles and really different characters at the front of them. I personally think that they are all really funny, so I’m just really happy to be a part of this…whatever it is… new moment.
Have you noticed more opportunities for female showrunners and comedy writers in the past few years?
I think with [the success of] Bridesmaids, there is just sort-of a feeling of trust from the people in charge that women actually want to see shows and movies that are written and created by women, as opposed to shows created by men that women are just supposed to like. I feel like that trust, from a business sense, is really important for empowering more women creators of shows.
One of the things we love is how real and how rich the characters feel. How were you inspired to create your leads?
I feel like there is a part of me in all of them — well, maybe not the model character! I mean I think originally Jess was based on me and it was me writing about male friends that I had. I looked around and realized that I had a lot of guy friends and I was wondering why that was and what I went to them for that I didn’t go to my girl friends for. I think what was important for us was really making sure that all of the characters felt real and that the show felt real. We’ve made that our focus with all of the episodes and the stories.
Zooey Deschanel, the star of New Girl, is a polarizing figure among women. (Is she cute or too cute?) Were you worried about women’s reactions to her, or did you know she was right for the character?
I never really realized that before the show came out. I just loved her acting and I loved her music. I just loved Zooey and I never saw her as a polarizing figure. I still sort-of don’t; I think she’s just an amazing actress and I feel like the character is a complicated and she has a lot of different layers. I’ve definitely seen some of the criticism, but I haven’t really understood where it is coming from totally. I think I was really just writing about myself and my main goal was to give Zooey really fun, interesting things to do every week. I just wanted to be honest with myself about the character and present a really funny interesting female character on television.