The New Girl showrunners on wrangling season two’s first five episodes (Part 1 of 5)

The New Girl showrunners on wrangling season two’s first five episodes (Part 1 of 5)

In the 2012-13 TV season, no network comedy was as enjoyable week to week as Fox’s New Girl. During the show’s best episodes, creator Elizabeth Meriwether and her co-showrunners Brett Baer and Dave Finkel made guiding a single-camera sitcom look effortless: At times, it appeared as if they just wound up the core cast of Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris, and Hannah Simone and gave them a go at the major frustrations and minor victories of living through your early 30s. It’s part of Meriwether, Baer, and Finkel’s jobs to make it seem that easy—as they told The A.V. Club in a lengthy dissection of New Girl’s second season, assembling the show’s latest batch of 25 episodes actually involved plenty of last-minute rewrites, an unpredictably fluid network schedule, and at least one set of notes from Fox Broadcasting Standards and Practices about the acceptable amount of jiggling body parts. This initial installment of the story of New Girl, season two, covers the first five episodes of that season, from “Re-Launch” to “Models.”

“Re-Launch” (September 25, 2012)

Being fired from her teaching job prompts Jess (Deschanel) to seek employment in seedier places—like the watering hole where one roommate (Johnson) bartends while another (Greenfield) celebrates his recovery from an embarrassing injury, and a third (Morris) fiends for a sweet, sweet fix. 

The A.V. Club: You made it to the second season. What chances does that afford you?

Brett Baer: One of our goals was to actually get into a little bit more of the backstory of all the characters, which I think we’ve done, getting to meet the characters’ families—I think we’ve met three or four of the characters’ families. A goal going into the season was to get a chance to get to know these people from the ground up a little bit more. I think that was a big opportunity.

Elizabeth Meriwether: First season, it’s just so terrifying. You’re just trying to stay on the air, and you don’t have the time—you don’t even really know what the show is. You’re scrambling, and we felt like toward the end of the first season we got a better sense of the whole group working together and the show as an ensemble. Going into the second season, we were excited to kind of get to know everyone better. We all sat down, all the writers brought in stories, and we talked about all of them. And then—was it me? I had some bright idea that Jess was coming home—

Dave Finkel: From a long sabbatical.

EM: From Africa or something. Then we sat down and broke that entire story.

EM: For a week and it was very—

BB: Very close to going forward.

DF: It was a story that ended up being “Cooler.” The original first episode of the second season was the entire gang getting stuck behind the big blue door that locks them into the back part of the apartment. I think there was also a giant turtle at one point.

BB: Nick had purchased a turtle that he named Jess. You’ll see a lot of turtle themes throughout the season—I think it came from that with Nick.

EM: That made me laugh so hard. I remember we broke it as Jess came home from Africa and Nick had a turtle he’d named Jess, and Jess was a little weirded-out by that. He’d sent her an email about the turtle—

DF: That she’d misinterpreted as being about herself.

EM: Right, like, “I really love Jess,” or something.

BB: The Nick-Jess stuff—we all knew that we wanted to get into it. I think we felt like we were getting into it too quickly. And then some of that ended up playing tonally into “Fluffer,” our fourth episode of the season—which was supposed to be our sixth episode of the season. What was happening was we knew we wanted to get into the Nick-Jess dynamic. We were feeling ourselves out about it—”Is this too far too quickly?” We decided that we should really push it off. And then we ended up in episode 15, in “Cooler,” deciding now is the time to pull the trigger. So the whole season we were dancing with “At what point do we go forward with it?”

EM: We broke the whole Africa/turtle story. Also Nick had grown a really long beard. I’m worried I’m telling you all this and we’re going to end up using it for the première of season three if we don’t have any ideas. [Laughs.] I was supposed to write the première episode, and we knew we wanted Jess to get fired. That had been an idea that we had over the summer. And that was supposed to be the second episode—Kay Cannon took the second episode, and I was supposed to write the première. Then we threw out the Africa/turtle story right before I started actually writing the draft. So Jess getting fired became the première, which was “Re-Launch.” Then we had a weird—wonderful opportunity from the network: They decided they wanted us to première with two new episodes back to back. The crazy thing was, we were like, “Do you want it to be one big hour-long?” They were like, “No.”

DF: “It’s going to be at eight o’clock. Then take a half-hour off, then come back at nine o’clock.”

EM: They couldn’t be connected. They were like, “You shouldn’t be watching the one at nine and feel like you missed something from the one at eight.” So we were like—

DF: Riding this incredible needle on our reappearance onto network television.

EM: We didn’t know what to do, and then we landed on Jess getting fired as a way of making the night feel like something big had happened and the two episodes were connected—but not totally connected. You could see “Katie” without needing to see “Re-Launch.” It was a really hard conundrum right from the beginning of the season. And then it didn’t help that we threw out an entire story right from the beginning.

DF: We’re used to giant conundrums at the beginning of seasons. Last year it was the Winston/Coach situation we had to deal with.

AVC: So where does the Schmidt component of the episode come in?

EM: I have some friends in London, and my friend has this friend who he thinks is exactly like Schmidt. He’s like the British Schmidt. People starting saying that to me last year and I’m like [dismissively], “Yeah, yeah, okay.” But he started telling me these stories that were so funny and so dead-on for the character. He just recently sent me a photo of his friend wearing pants he’d bought in Senegal, like sitting in a hammock chair in his house. But anyway, he told me a story about how his friend, after a breakup, had thrown himself a party to “relaunch his own brand,” and that idea made me laugh. It came together that it was something he would do after the cast came off of his broken penis. I don’t think any of us, when we did the broken penis arc in season one, thought that we were going to carry it over. Nobody thought it was going to be a four-episode arc. But it felt like a good première storyline where someone gets a cast off of their penis. It felt like a strong place to start.

DF: At eight o’clock.

EM: And we went into season two wanting to develop Winston’s character, which is why we gave him a runner about liking fruity drinks. [Laughs.]

BB: What we realized about Lamorne Morris is that he was really funny with extreme behaviors in short pops. Cutting to him and having him be able to do something big—

DF: Lamorne is a really great actor, first of all. Second of all, having him have these insane stories allows you to have these really serious scenes, then have him enter with the big killer joke. I think we stumbled on that as we tried to find things for him this season. Especially in that episode, it allowed us to have these big swings at real meaningful moments, and then there he is with his coconut drunk.

BB: It put him in conflict with Nick, who only wanted to drink, like, dirty gasoline out of a tin cup.

EM: In our kick-off meeting for the season, [Fox chairman] Kevin Reilly said, “I really want you guys to delve into Nick this season,” and so we wanted to help define Nick a little bit with the fruity drinks. There were a lot of speeches about how much he hated fruity drinks that ended up getting cut from the episode. [Laughter.] It was like, “Oh wait, this episode is not about fruity drinks.”

DF: The thing that, either consciously or unconsciously, we ended up doing this season is dedicating time and energy into dimensional-izing Nick and understanding why he is the way he is and how he ticks. I think this season was an arc to do exactly that: understand Nick’s inner demons and where he comes from. Every episode has a touchstone of that, and I think it really kicked off here. 

AVC: Was Parker Posey brought in before or after her arc on Louie aired?

DF: I think not too long after that. We called the day before, I think, and she just showed up and was amazing.

EM: That was one of those things that I find with our show a lot: We think that the joke that we write in the writers’ room is going to be the one that’s killer. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it comes through and is funny. But for [Posey], I remember the thing that made me laugh the most, she did this thing where she was like, “Shut up, jerk,” to all the guys she was giving shots to. And it made me laugh so hard. I remember it was just one thing on the page where she says “shut up” to somebody, but the way she was saying it was so funny. 

DF: The way we wrote it was for her to be the meanest, most horrible, roughest—she had a bunch of health issues, she was diabetic, I think. And that’s not her move. Her move is much more reserved than that. So the version of her just undercutting the whole thing, calling everybody jerks, forcing everyone to drink, ended up being much funnier. 

“Katie” (September 25, 2012)

Identity crises abound when Jess takes an assumed name in order to date a handsome stranger and Nick confronts a man who might just be his future self.

AVC: The second half of the première also has some pivotal guest players, among them Raymond J. Berry as “Future Nick.” He does some fairly spooking foreshadowing. Was that intentional?

BB: Some of the weirdest stuff about the foreshadowing there is, in “Tinfinity” [season two, episode 18], there’s the balloon thing and then afterward somebody came to us and went, “Do you know Future Nick mentions a balloon?” And we were like, “What?” We shoot so much stuff and we have our actors improvise so much, we don’t remember half of what gets said and half of what ends up in because we do so much cutting. But that was a weird coincidence, and we were like, “That’s strange.” Then we actually start talking about that in relationship to the finale. There were some thematic overtones that we wanted to pick up.

EM: That story came from Josh Malmuth. We told people to go out and just write loglines, to go out and try to write one-line stories. And he came back and was like, “Guys, this one is really dumb. Nick runs into a guy that he thinks is himself in the future,” and then we were all just like, “We have to do that immediately.”

I think the reason that storyline wasn’t too broad is because there was some emotional resonance. It seemed like a good opportunity to have Nick face up to his own life, and also show that he really needs a father figure. I think that was also the beginning of that theme throughout the season, where he’s dealing with different father figures and losing his own father. I think that was the first episode where that really started. That is still my favorite story from the season.

DF: Without that particular story, as broad as it was, we may not have had the trajectory we had, because it put Nick in a mind frame to be able to take a deeper look at him and Jess. We didn’t mean it to—we’re not that smart—but I think it had that impact that, without it, we wouldn’t have been as far down the road.

BB: The Katie storyline was something that we had talked about at the end of last year. A writer’s assistant, Sophia Lear, had had an experience with a person nicknamed “Bearclaw.” We actually broke a version of it last year.    

EM: We broke a version of it where they all went to a cabin, and it split and became “Cabin” this season. That story we actually got two stories out of. As soon as I heard the name “Bearclaw” I was like, “We’re doing that story no matter what.” [Laughs.] And some of it came from personal parts of my life. Very vague. 

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We were looking at the firing as a way to kind of crack Jess open a little bit and have her do something she wouldn’t normally do which is what that episode was about. She tries to go off the grid, or she tries to juggle men and is terrible at it. Then it leads into this unhealthy sex-only relationship with Sam—we were excited to do something completely different than Justin Long or Dermot Mulroney.

BB: When we originally broke the story—because [Meriwether] didn’t hear it until after we came up with this—we thought that the “Bearclaw” character was going to become a recurring, semi-regular character that we would use in this episode to introduce [as] this friend character for Jess. But Liz—along the lines of what we were talking about doing more interesting, dynamic, adult-style stuff with Jess—said, “It should be this other guy, Sam. It should be the sex-only, benefits-only relationship that we should explore into the next few episodes.” So that was an interesting change in thought for us, which was to go, “Can we do that with this character? What would that look like?” There was a lot of discussion, the network had some questions about it, but they were very supportive. They just wanted to know if we knew what we were doing, to make sure we were coming out of it with a purpose, which ultimately was to have Jess’ heart broken, which we all thought would be interesting for her to have to do.

DF: We always know what we’re doing. [Laughs.] At every turn. 

BB: And we had Larry Charles directing that episode. 

EM: That was amazing. I wrote that episode, and I got to be on set for that episode and work with him on the script and it really felt special. He’s such a great writer and to have him read the script and write me notes—I felt like I learned a lot working with him on that one episode because he’s all about being as economical as possible—and that probably comes from doing Seinfeld and working on the multi-cam, where you don’t have as much freedom as you have with single-cam, where you can go anywhere and shoot anything. It was useful to have him look at it with that eye of, “Why do we need this scene, why do we need this moment in the story?” A lot of the times we get into trouble in the writing room, we try and do too much and shove too much story into 21 minutes. Then we have these heartbreaking moments in the editing room where we have to cut stories and stuff like that. So working with Larry on that was a good reminder of being as economical as possible.

AVC: Was it also good to have him around for “Katie” because this was the episode that started season two’s long line of pseudonyms and alter egos? 

BB: It’s funny because this season has felt like a Seinfeld season for us: We had Alec Berg join us later and he directed a couple of episodes, and we spent a lot of time with Larry and Alec talking about the Seinfeld process. Also, our line producer, Erin O’Malley, does Curb Your Enthusiasm, so she has a relationship with Larry. So we had a lot of discussion about the process of those two shows and how that could help us. It was very interesting, and I think there was a period in the middle where we thought about the scripts from a more Seinfeld-ian direction based on what Alec had talked about at episodes 12 through 14.

AVC: What would you say was the most valuable lesson that came out of those discussions?

BB: Economy of storytelling and making the stories move from scene-to-scene forward in a way that doesn’t get bogged down. 

EM: Alec was saying how much emphasis Seinfeld put on story. You think you can get the story up and make it funny with jokes, and it’s just so important that the show is funny on its own. I think he was saying that in his Seinfeld writing room, they had to describe the story to Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, and if it wasn’t funny when they were describing it, they had to go back and make it funny. It seems like such an obvious thing, but it was so good to be reminded of that because the schedule is so hectic, I think you think, “Oh this story works. We’ll make it funny in the writing.” It’s really important that it’s funny at its core—if that makes sense.

AVC: Is it a coincidence that David Walton’s character in this episode is named Sam?

DF: After Sam the bartender?  I think it is a coincidence, isn’t it?

EM: Yeah. 

DF: Having spent the year with Liz, I think the word Cheers gets tossed around three times a day. 

EM: Maybe once a week. 

DF: To me, it feels like three times a day. It definitely is a show that influenced what we are doing, and I think this season especially when we were making the decision on what to do about Nick and Jess moving forward together, it’s something we’ve talked about quite a bit.

EM: A word about Walton being attractive: The network was a little bit skeptical about the Jess character agreeing to go into this sex-only relationship, and I said, “Just trust me, just trust me. We’ll shoot it, and you’ll see.” Then Walton came in and we shot that scene, and after that there were no more questions. [Laughs.] Obviously, that would happen.

DF: One of the things we wanted to do this season—and we started it last season with Dermot—was to “adult” Jess up and make her make adult decisions, and one of those decisions was that women, sometimes when they’re 30, have sex. 

EM: Sometimes women make not-adult decisions. 

BB: One of the fun things about it was that last year was all about trying love and having her want to have fun was a good color on her—and that’s what Sam brought to the table. 

“Fluffer” (October 2, 2012)

Nick’s declaration that he doesn’t want to be the “emotional fluffer” in Jess and Sam’s relationship might mask deeper feelings. Elsewhere, Schmidt delivers a mighty, hilarious blow to the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney.

AVC: Is Nick the biggest obstacle to his own happiness?

BB: Absolutely. That and alcohol. 

DF: I don’t know if he’ll ever find a place where can be happy with himself, but that comes from a little bit of Brett, a little bit of Liz, a little bit of Dave. 

BB: And a little bit of the rest of the writing staff. That’s a character development that allows all of in our own individual ways to explore the parts of ourselves that are most broken. 

DF: Which is most of our parts. [Laughs.] When we’re all a little drunk. 

“Fluffer” was going to lead us to a moment similar to “Cooler”—but way earlier in the season. Nick and Jess weren’t going to kiss but he was going to express his feelings for her. And the network was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Where we going here, guys? How many seasons of the show do you want to do?”

BB: But 11 episodes later, they were like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah! We want you to do it!” Ultimately, it was a good decision for us to hold off on it at that moment. 

“Fluffer” was going to be a two-parter with “Halloween,” because “Halloween” was going to be the fallout of him actually telling her at the end the first episode. It was going to be five and six, which is a whole other story. 

EM: [Laughs.] I forgot about that! Our poor writing staff. There are a lot of moments this season where we’d walk in and be like, “Okay, we’re starting over. We’re not doing that.” We went back and forth, and we didn’t want to bail on it completely. We wanted an episode where they acknowledged something between them because we felt like not acknowledging it was not honest. We felt like it would have come up in some way because what was between them was so intense throughout season one, and we wanted to start season two with something that acknowledged that—and that ended up being “Fluffer.” I remember in the first draft, Jess says to Nick, “Yeah, I’ve thought about it,” and it pops to—which pop did we use?

BB: The one in the bar where he’s playing with the nuts.  

EM: [Laughs.] There’s a lot of really funny pops that we were deciding between, but we ended up using that one. Then he said it back to her and it popped to something—in a great note, the network said, “I don’t think he should say it.” I think that was smart because it felt like there was more shit that he had to overcome to be able to say that to Jess or be able to do anything, and I’m really glad we didn’t do that there. It felt like Jess was capable of saying she had thought about it, and it would have been too much if Nick had done that.

BB: Especially because this episode was slated to be our fifth episode, so in our minds we were thinking this would be like a month-and-a-half into the show being back on the air. We threw out a script, we moved all this stuff around, and when we finally got the air order, this aired in our second week back because our first two episodes aired on the same night. So in our second week, it’s hard for me to believe that we rang that bell so quickly. That wasn’t our original intention, but it definitely set the season up to move in that direction.

AVC: What inspired the “Tugg Romney” storyline? Was there any concern that the joke wouldn’t play a few years down the line?

EM: We wanted to do something about the election, but there was a lot of debate in the writers’ room about what to do about the election. We didn’t want it to be political, and there was some concern that anything we did would be dated.

BB: I think it might have been J.J. [Philbin]’s original pitch because she said Max Greenfield looks so much like the Romney brothers. But we could be wrong about that.

We had a lot of debate about that because that was the dumbest, silliest, craziest storyline we could come up with about the Romneys, and we wanted to deepen it and make it mean something—and most shows we’ve worked on, you would just do the joke version of it. But we fought to really land it on a different note for Schmidt’s character at the end when he gets into the stuff about his real father. There were moments where we were like, “This isn’t going to work, we’re trying too hard to make it deeper than it really is,” and I think we were like, “You know what? It’s a risk worth taking, let’s stick with it.” And ultimately, I feel like it did end up playing.

EM: We have a writer named Ryan Koh who is a “bullshit meter” a little bit. He doesn’t like anything cheesy or overly emotional. And at the end of it, we were like, “Yeah, this is going to be about his dad.” Once Ryan accepted it, I was like, “Okay, we can do it.” [Laughs.]

DF: Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the weirdest moments of the season was when the Romney brothers—the actual Romney brothers—appeared on Piers Morgan talking about this episode. There they were, and when you see Schmidt superimposed with those guys, it’s uncanny. 

EM: I think it’s implied over the course of the season that Schmidt is a little bit of a Republican. 

DF: He makes a joke somewhere along the line in the first part of the season—

EM and BB: “Obama!”

AVC: That’s his reaction to Jess getting fired.

DF: He’s definitely a Republican or a Libertarian. 

EM: Nick’s definitely a Libertarian.

AVC: Whose real-life music preference inspired that episode’s “Nick’s Sexy Mix”?

BB: What we could get to clear. [Laughs.] What we could afford. What did we end up using? “You Can Call Me Al”?

DF: We tried to get “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” 

EM: “Call Me Al” was so funny, but it was so expensive and our music supervisor was like, “Are you sure? It’s only at the end, and we don’t use any lyrics or any of the actual singing? Are you sure you want to spend this money on, like, five seconds?”

Can we, for a second, imagine Nick having sex to “Call Me Al”? [Laughs.] It’s a horrifying thought. 

BB: I’ve thought about it many times. It’s got good rhythm. 

“Neighbors” (October 9, 2012)

A younger, hipper quartet (more inclined toward hula-hooping and fast-food casseroles) forces the roommates to admit they’re growing up. Nick and Winston demonstrate that maturity through an escalating series of practical jokes.

AVC: You voiced some apprehension at the mention of this episode? Why?

DF: It was a challenge. 

EM: We originally slated it for the seventh episode, and our writer Berkley Johnson—who is a powerhouse and so funny—got the script and we were like, “Just kidding, we need you to turn it around immediately.” He had a week, and then we were shooting it. He thought he’d have time with it and we were like, “No, we’re shooting it.” I don’t want to say that it’s the worst. [Laughs.] But it’s the worst episode. [Laughs.] It’s so bad. [Editor] Steve Welch said it was his least favorite episode.

DF: Part of the problem was we built it to be a bottle episode, because we knew we were going over-budget on certain things. So we wanted to pull back on one or two to make sure we were being responsible. 

AVC: But you still had to build the set for the other apartment, right?

EM: You sound like our producer. [Laughs.] It’s not really a bottle if you have to build a new set.

BB: It’s the same set we used last year for the—

EM: The Thanksgiving episode, when the old lady died. It’s the same apartment; we just re-did it. But we had the best of intentions and Berkley’s first draft was really funny.

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BB: Part of the reason we moved it up was because when we read [that] first draft we were like, “This is great. This is in great shape, and it’s really funny. Let’s do it now”—we needed something because something else fell out.

EM: Then we realized we couldn’t build an entire episode on ’80s sitcom references. 

DF: The idea that you’re at 30 and you’re not as cool or hip as you were at 20 was an interesting idea for our gang.

BB: It did position the show in a weird place. We all knew going in the risk was you were going to have four younger, so-called “hipper” characters, questioning the coolness and hipness of our main cast. Which, in television, is probably a giant no-no.

EM: Whenever you find yourself using the word “hip,” you know you’re in trouble. I feel like hipsters are so funny, and we were trying to make fun of that—but their energy is so low, so that was the other problem. 

The problem with this episode—and the problem we have when we’re breaking stories a lot—is that if it doesn’t have an interesting and compelling emotional center, it just doesn’t work. That was one where we never really landed on what the center of the episode was. We did re-shoots and tried to go back and clarify it, and in the original episode before the reshoot, it was so much about Steve Urkel. Like this huge emotional turn resting on Steve Urkel and [jokingly] you would obviously never think that would potentially not work.

BB: Was it a question of Schmidt’s age, was it a question of him as being as cool as Jess or not?

DF: And “Was it a Schmidt story or a Jess story?”, because we kept flip-flopping on that. With Jess, her thing was it started off as she needs this thing because she’s not teaching anymore, and she’s like, “I found these people across the hall and they’re 20 and they accept me and they love me and that’s my thing and I’m going to go do that.” At the same time, we had Schmidt going across the hall, and they weren’t accepting him and he was working overtime to get into their good graces and they worked in cross purposes to no effect. There’s no outcome for either story so we had to fabricate an ending for some resonance.

BB: That being said, there is a really funny sequence of Max Greenfield that was supposed to be a pop: a sequence of him doing every single pop-culture reference from the ’80s trying to impress the neighbors.

EM: Shooting it was so funny because it was the end of the night, and we were all there. It was like me, Dave, Brett, and [executive producer] Jake Kasdan and we were yelling out, “Home Improvement!” and then, without hesitation—because Max is such an amazing actor—he was going into fully formed impersonations of the characters and the catchphrases. It was just so funny, and the actors who were playing the hipsters were laughing because, actually, people in their 20s know all that stuff. They think things are funny. 

I will say that out of that episode we got Winston’s season arc, which is that he’s bad at pranks. [Laughs.]

AVC: So what does that say about Winston? 

EM: That Winston and Nick B-/C-story held up, except trying to get Winston a better job at the end. [Laughs.] That was terrible. But the main part of it was Berkley, and he was so funny. He’s great at figuring out that funny B-/C-story. And the idea that Nick was really obsessed with pranks was fun and new to us because Jake Johnson—I don’t remember if it was after the table-read or whatever—but I think he initially was like, “Thanks a lot, guys. This is a total bullshit story!” [Laughs.] I could see it in his eyes, like, “I’m just going to fucking go for it!” He was so intense about the pranks. He made it work. 

AVC: And it comes back around, later in the season—this is the first time where Nick cares about something, which gives him drive.

EM: That’s very charitable of you. [Laughs.]

DF: [Jokingly.] It was all setting up “Quick Hardening Caulk.”  

AVC: It’s also the first episode of season two where the characters react to the clicking of their biological clocks.

BB: That’s the thing we always talked about with the show, because I think when Friends started, the characters were supposed to be in their early-to-mid-20s—so the idea that they’d still be living together 10 to 11 years later was okay. But with this show, we’ve always known that there is a built-in biological clock for the series—in a cool way—that will hopefully give us some growth and change the longer they let us do this. So they’re starting at 30, and by the time you get to 35, it’s like, “Are you still living with other people? Are you in relationships? Are you living with your partner?”

“Models” (October 23, 2012)

Two stories of friendship: In the first, Jess is nearly run over by a stationary automobile while proving her devotion to Cece (Simone). In the second, Nick and Schmidt put male bonding to a test of cookie reciprocity. (Schmidt gives Nick cookie, Nick gives Schmidt cookie. Schmidt gives Nick cookie, Nick gives Schmidt cookie, etc.)

BB: Here’s what happened with “Models”: It was supposed to be episode three, and it was a story about Cece and Jess and their friend Carla Ponzio. [Laughs.] Their friend Carla Ponzio was pregnant and wanted to go out.

EM: It was a good story, we might still use it.

DF: It had some really funny elements to it. 

EM: It was me, Kay—a bunch of women. 

BB: I was going to say a bunch of women and Finkel. 

EM: But we were all in there, and it was a fun story about a last hurrah before pregnancy and a crazy-night-out story. I don’t know why we threw it out. 

DF: It was really big. The story was massive. At one point, it’s this pregnant woman and she’s making them drink. And it was this other existential thing where she’s making a leap into this world where somebody else is going to be depending on her and, “Am I going to have the stones to be that person for somebody?”

BB: That’s exactly why we threw it out: Because it was all about Carla Ponzio’s big issue and nobody cares about Carla Ponzio. And we were like, “What are Jess and Cece doing during this whole Carla Ponzio-struggling-with-the-big-pregnancy issue?”

EM: Carla Ponzio ended up trespassing onto Henry Winkler’s lawn and getting caught.

DF: And her water broke while she was hanging by the back of her jacket on Henry Winkler’s fence. [Laughs.]  

BB: And from that, we got Max Winkler directing two episodes and we got the pregnancy storyline as part of “Eggs.” The B-story was always the cookie, though. 

DF: That story was broken in about a half an hour or so, and it never changed—that exact same story from beginning to end. 

EM: I came in and said we needed a love story between Nick and Schmidt or something. We wanted to tell it like a classic rom-com story about Nick and Schmidt and their love of each other. That was definitely one of my favorite stories this year.

BB: There’s something so simple and clear about it. It was all about character. You just put those three guys in a room together and watch them bounce off of each other. 

EM: That’s also where the turtle thing that came back—that was in the première we had to throw out. 

BB: Dave and I did a rewrite on that and threw in one turtle joke and you said, “If we’re going to do the turtle thing, we need to make something of it.” It was a metaphor and runner for the rest of the story, and Josh carried it from there. So we threw out the A-story, and since we knew the guys were going to be a part of the B-story, we knew we needed a Cece/Jess story. So we broke something very quickly that is basically what you see in the episode.

EM: We’d had a lot of fun in season one with Nadia, the model Cece lives with, so we were excited to bring her back. We needed a Cece/Jess story, and it felt thematically like we could make this episode about friendship—the guys’ friendship through the cookie. We were looking for something between the girls, and we ended up on Cece’s birthday and Jess’ feelings about her being a model. I think it ended up well. I feel like the A-story was never fully baked, and it was a little bit like us trying to find that core emotion.  It never really fully lined up. The big thing was that we also wanted her to have an I Love Lucy setpiece where she was pretending to be a model, and that turned into the Ford product placement. That turned into a bummer.

BB: The original idea was a boat show. 

DF: It was a boat show, and then it was a Salad Shooter thing. 

BB: We had this Ford thing hanging over our heads where we knew we had to deal with Ford. 

EM: And by “Ford thing” we mean wonderful opportunity. [Laughs.]

BB: A wonderful opportunity!

DF: A big, money-making opportunity for all of us!

EM: And we felt like if we were going to do product placement, we didn’t want to hide from it. We wanted to put it front and center, which I don’t know if that was the smart decision. But it’s the reality of making an expensive TV show: You have to do that stuff. We had built in this thing where Cece had to [work at] a trade show, and so it made sense in the story. So we decided to really go for it instead of trying to have a shot of a Ford car saying, “I really love my Ford.”

BB: Which we did later. [Laughs.] Having been whipped sufficiently by the audience the first time, we played the game the second time and hid the ball a little bit. 

EM: It’s a little hard. It’s a struggle of how to do it in a way that’s not bullshit-y. 

BB: And we couldn’t do the thing that 30 Rock did. 

EM: 30 Rock did that so beautifully, but it was very much in the world of their show. I thought that big setpiece turned out really well. We cut it so many different ways, and it was a lot of editorial work in figuring it out. We ultimately found over the course of the season that an episode like that is good sometimes, but our show lives in a more emotional place. I think we tried to do something big and physical and silly and I Love Lucy, and we felt like it’s better for our characters if it is an honest, emotional story. 

I think [20th Century Fox TV executive] Dana Walden said it best about “Models”: “Who can relate to not being able to hang out with a group of models?” I think that came later in a meeting.

AVC: How much were the sound effects exaggerated in Jess and Cece’s boob fight?

DF: I don’t think they were, honestly. That is the sound I remember hearing that night we were shooting it. 

EM: Which is surprising, because we love a good sound effect. 

DF: Yeah. We’re never afraid of sound effects, and I can’t get the sound out of my head. 

BB: Dave and I were on set that day. 

EM: [Laughs.] I didn’t go to set that day, and poor Zooey and Hannah had to take directions on the boob fight. There were some really funny Standards and Practices notes about jiggling. I can’t remember the exact wording.

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