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The Hit Maker: Liz Meriwether, creator and writer, New Girl
It’s a cerulean-sky February afternoon in Los Angeles, just days after a particularly revelatory episode of Fox’s New Girl left fans of the show fumbling for the Ativan, and Liz Meriwether is giving a master class in smooching.
To be clear, no lips were locked in the making of this profile; rather, the 31-year-old Meriwether is fastidiously deconstructing what we will refer to from here on in as simply “The Kiss.” Like a cloudburst ringing down the curtain on a long, hot day, the on-screen clinch between Zooey Deschanel’s Jess and Jake Johnson’s Nick offered succor to viewers pining for these two kids to get together, while spattering more jaded observers with unwelcome memories of Sam and Diane, of Ross and Rachel.
But the long and short of it is, The Kiss had to happen. “It took me by surprise, and it took [Jess and Nick] by surprise, too,” Meriwether says. “We spent the season watching them get closer as friends and it was just kind of organically the right moment for them.” Given that so much of New Girl’s humor is mined from the characters’ artless fumbling through their lives—the cheerfully stunted loft mates are the kind of thirtysomethings who still play elaborate drinking games (True American!) and get intoxicated at the zoo in order to gather inspiration for their stalled zombie novel—The Kiss can only compound the fun. “Kissing people who you’re maybe not supposed to kiss or who you weren’t expecting to kiss just adds even more awkwardness to the mix,” Meriwether says. “One of the things that’s great about Fox is there’s never any pressure for these people to get their act together. They can all remain as gloriously messed up as they are—so if anything, The Kiss will only create further problems in their relationships and the loft dynamic.”
As delightful as New Girl is (Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris and Hannah Simone round out the best ensemble on broadcast TV), we wouldn’t be talking about it here were it not such a success. The show makes short work of its Tuesday night comedy competition and, with an average unit cost of around $325,000 per :30, it stands with ABC’s Modern Family as the most valuable scripted series on TV. For all that, Meriwether won’t know for certain whether the show has been picked up for a third season until spring. “I haven’t heard anything, but I am optimistically planning into next year,” she says. “I’m not working on anything else. I mean, it’s such an overwhelming job getting the show on the air every week that I’m rarely showering as it is.”
Of course, there’s no way Fox won’t bring Jess and the boys back. Despite laboring under a lead-in that only delivered a 1.3 in the dollar demo, New Girl’s deliveries are roughly twice that. It also reaches one of broadcast’s dewiest audiences, drawing a median viewership that is a dozen years younger than its direct competition.
For her part, Meriwether claims to not agonize over ratings. “As a showrunner, you just have to keep your head down and let the creative part of your brain do all the work,” she says. “Besides, it’s hard to really know what the numbers mean at this point.”
Meanwhile, she excels at meeting fans’ expectations. When informed that “sad, drunk Nick” essentially functions as this writer’s spirit animal, she laughs and promises that the next several episodes of New Girl will not disappoint.
As she assures us, “You’re going to get all the sad, drunk Nick you want.” —Anthony Crupi
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