Certainly one of the most unusual shows currently on network television, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is at times a buoyant musical full of dance and song and romance and all sorts of complex life experiences for the title character, who hears other people’s thoughts – musically – in her head. But initially it came from family sadness for creator Austin Winsberg, who joined executive producer Paul Feig and star Jane Levy on NBC’s panel for the show at Deadline’s Contenders Television award-season event to talk about how it came about and how it is progressing through Season 2 after nabbing an Emmy for Mandy Moore’s choreography in Season 1.
“It came from a place of my father passed away from this rare neurological disease called progressive supranuclear palsy. For the last six months that he was alive he couldn’t speak, he couldn’t move very much. He could kind of just move one finger and blink his eyes,” Winsberg said. “For those last few months that he was alive we were always wondering what’s going on in his brain? Could he communicate with us? What was he thinking? And it was a very painful, hard time in my family’s life. I’m very close with my family. And I always knew that I wanted to write something about that time in my life. I was also becoming a dad while losing my dad, and one day I just had this idea, what if the way that my dad saw the world while he was dying was through musical numbers.”
“For the first time, it took a notion that was very painful and made me see it with a little bit of joy and hope. Then I thought what if the way that our main character could communicate with the dad was that she was actually the one who was able to see these big musical numbers. That she was able to get an insight into him during this time through that. Then it extended out from that and it was all about what if this character who doesn’t really see the world with a lot of emotion could suddenly hear what’s going on in people’s heads and hear their inner most thoughts through big musical numbers. That was really the genesis of the whole thing.”
Feig was with it right from the first time he heard about it.
“I just loved this pitch when Austin brought it in because I love musicals and I’ve always been trying to figure out how to do an original one, but the problem is how do you make it for a modern audience where people don’t just burst into song. So, the idea that a musical ability could be a super power was just brilliant to me,” he said. “The great thing was NBC I think really saw it right out of the gate. Other places didn’t, but NBC has just been amazing because of that. They’ve really given us a lot of free reign and have been extremely supportive of everything we wanted to do, so we’re very grateful to them.”
For Levy the show has been a godsend. “It’s a dream role for me. I get to do comedy, slapstick comedy, drama, musical numbers. I feel like it’s very kismet that I got this part.”
Check out the conversation in the video above.