When New Girl premiered in 2011, it was a sensation. Starring Zooey Deschanel as Jess, a quirky young woman who moves into an apartment with three guys after a bad breakup, the series presented a unique and hilarious vision of young adulthood. Jess found Nick, Schmidt, and Coach — who was quickly replaced by new roommate Winston — after finding their ad on Craigslist. Jess questions the wisdom of living with three men she doesn’t know but does it anyway. And it’s a good thing she did. The group quickly bonded over their hopes and dreams — and their confusion about how to make them come true.
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New Girl focused on a set of characters who weren’t quite ready to let go of their juvenile antics and take on grown-up responsibilities. Although Jess initially seemed like the odd one, it quickly became clear that the men she’d moved in with had foibles of their own. And each of them was encountering their own difficulties as they attempted to figure out their lives. Throughout its seven seasons, fans became attached to the characters of New Girl as they watched them make questionable decisions, personal and professional ups and downs, and finally start to take on adult roles, often in spite of themselves. Fans were with them through it all, laughing and often cringing at their plights. There are many things that made New Girl what it was. And it was all those little details coming together that made the series so endearing.
Updated on July 29th, 2022 by George Chrysostomou: New Girl continues to be one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. As new audiences discover the delightful and charming run, there are so many more details that fans might not have actually known during the production of the series.
The Show Wasn’t Originally Called New Girl
The title New Girl reminds viewers of the show’s central conceit: a pretty girl moves into an apartment with three guys who she doesn’t know. The title works perfectly with the show’s silly theme song, which repeatedly asks, “Who’s that girl?” (“It’s Jess!”)
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However, the working title for the show brought something a bit different to mind. That title was Chicks and D*cks and in its way, it was certainly more inclusive of both the female and male characters that populate the show. However, it was also much racier, so it probably isn’t too surprising that the show’s network, Fox, decided to go with something less provocative.
Jess Was Partially Inspired By Diane Keaton
According to Liz Meriwether, the creator of New Girl, the character Jess was inspired in part by actor Diane Keaton. Keaton starred in a number of Woody Allen films including Annie Hall and Manhattan and has spent her career jumping between comedic and dramatic roles. Meriwether said that she thinks of Keaton whenever she’s confronted with criticism about Jess.
The other inspiration behind Jess was Tamsin Greig from the British show Green Wing (and better known to American audiences for her role in the Showtime series Episodes). Meriwether admired the tonal shifts of Green Wing, from physical comedy to real emotions, and the way Greig handled them. Ultimately, Meriwether said these actors taught her that “Funny women aren’t feminist symbols. Funny women are honest women.”
Fox’s Marketing Focused On Deschanel But The Show Is An Ensemble
The ads for New Girl, especially in its first season, were heavily focused on Zooey Deschanel’s Jess. This amounted to savvy marketing on Fox’s part given that when the show initially premiered, Deschanel had a successful movie career and her decision to star in a TV show would be of interest to her fans.
Yet, it quickly became clear that the show was an ensemble piece — and creator Meriwether says she always viewed it that way. The show is a story about a “group of friends” and the people who made it always talked about that group. In fact, Meriwether noted that a great ensemble is a key to any show because there are so many episodes that must be churned out for a series that it doesn’t make sense to focus on only one character. As the first season of New Girl progressed, that ability to tell stories about every character became essential to fleshing out each member of the group and to make the show’s required episode count.
Jake Johnson Agreed To Lose 15 Pounds To Play Nick
Jake Johnson’s Nick was frequently mocked for being pudgy and unhealthy on New Girl, but it turns out Johnson actually lost weight for the role. Johnson confessed that after he was cast in the show’s pilot, he got a call from his manager who told him the network wanted him to lose 15 pounds before the start of production. As Johnson explains, he “was too fat for Fox.”
The weight loss wasn’t something Johnson was planning to take on. He describes the Mexican meal he was hoping to indulge in to celebrate his casting and how, after learning he had to lose weight, he instead had a far less celebratory salad without dressing. Yet, Johnson did as he was asked, even though his weight still served as comedic fodder even after he lost some of it.
The Actors Were Encouraged To Improvise
The New Girl actors weren’t required to adhere to each line written in the script for each episode of the show. Instead, they were encouraged to improvise and experiment with their characters. As a result, Deschanel has been given credit for helping to build the character of Jess partially through her line improvisations.
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Fortunately, all the actors are talented improvisers who were able to provide alternative jokes for their scenes and to riff on their characters’ reactions to the scenarios in which they found themselves. Ultimately, the set of New Girl was kept loose and collaborative so the show could stay upbeat and energetic — and so the best ideas could end up on screen.
Jerrod Carmichael Almost Played Winston
Before Lamorne Morris was cast as Winston, the role was offered to Jerrod Carmichael. Carmichael turned it down, though, because he wanted to focus on his stand-up career. The move may have worked out best for everyone. Morris was a fantastic addition to New Girl when he first appeared in its second episode, adding his own unique spin to the character of Winston. And over time Winston’s various quirks became more hilarious and his chemistry with the rest of the cast helped deepen the character.
Meanwhile, Carmichael went on to create and star in his critically acclaimed namesake series, The Carmichael Show. He also appeared in numerous movies, including Neighbors, Transformers: The Last Knight, and The Disaster Artist.
Nick Changed A Lot Over The Course Of The First Season
Jake Johnson observed that his character changed a lot over the 24 episodes that made up New Girl’s first season. Nick was a smart guy who dropped out of law school to… not be a lawyer, and he hadn’t really figured things out since. Yet, according to Johnson, while the Nick fans know and love is a bit of a walking disaster — his goals in life mostly seem to revolve around slacking off as much as possible — initially he was a more together guy.
In an interview, Johnson explained, “I feel like Nick, at the beginning, was very solid and grumpy and kept everybody together. And now when I watch episodes, I’m thinking, ‘This guy is an idiot, he’s not keeping anyone together.’ But I think it’s more fun this way.” Admittedly, Nick could get pretty zany, but in a charming and funny way.
Winston Was Created When Damon Wayans, Jr. Left
Damon Wayans, Jr. joined the cast of New Girl based on the assumption that the series he had starred on the previous season, Happy Endings, wasn’t going to get a second season. So when — surprise! — Happy Endings was granted a last-minute renewal, Wayans had to go back to that show.
However, he’d already shot the pilot for New Girl, which left the show’s producers with a choice to make. They could either reshoot the pilot to cut Wayans’ character Coach, out or focus on what to do to make up for his absence in the second episode. The show opted to keep the pilot they shot with Wayans. His subsequent absence and the appearance of Winston in episode 2 was then explained as a simple matter of Coach’s sublet in the apartment ending and Winston returning to the place he’d leased. This fits well with the show’s exploration of the unsettled nature of young adulthood and enabled Coach to return in subsequent seasons.
The Show’s Final Season Almost Didn’t Happen
After six seasons New Girl was still Fox’s highest-rated comedy, so it seemed inevitable that it would be renewed for a seventh season. Yet, as the network started announcing renewals, rumors swirled that between Zooey Deschanel’s maternity leave, a packed midseason schedule, and a sixth season finale that successfully wrapped up many of the show’s storylines, Fox was seriously considering a cancellation.
To prevent this from happening, creator Liz Meriwether pitched a final season that included a three-year time jump. Fortunately, the network got excited about the new angle for season seven and agreed to give the show eight more episodes — even re-arranging the midseason schedule to make the necessary broadcast time available. So, New Girl managed to do a proper final send-off at the last minute.
Max Greenfield Was Concerned About How Schmidt Would Come Across
When New Girl first aired, Max Greenfield’s Schmidt was the show’s breakout character. Schmidt was endearingly obnoxious — he would say all the wrong things and fans loved him anyway.
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At first, however, Greenfield was so worried about how viewers would react to the character that he went to executive producer Jake Kasdan and asked that Schmidt be made “as not-douchey as possible.” Kasdan’s response: “Well, just don’t play him douchey.” It was advice that Greenfield took to heart, and it enabled Schmidt to grow in ways that couldn’t initially be imagined. While Schmidt tried to be a better person, he kept slipping back into his old ways. Yet, he was so popular with audiences, that he was able to get away with even more terrible behavior because of it.
Meriwether Cold-Emailed Exec Producer Jake Kasdan
Jake Kasdan eventually became an executive producer on New Girl but his involvement wasn’t guaranteed. When creator Meriwether got the green light for her series, she revealed that she “more or less cold-emailed” him to ask him to direct the series’ pilot. Meriwether admired his work on the gone-too-soon comedy Freaks and Geeks and wanted him to bring a similar look and feel to her show.
Fortunately, not only did Kasdan agree to make the pilot, he ultimately went on to direct six more episodes of the series. He also became more deeply involved as an executive producer and helped to develop the show’s look and feel, which was more cinematic than a typical TV comedy as a result.
Prior To New Girl, Meriwether Wrote The Movie No Strings Attached
Meriwether got the idea for the movie that would eventually become No Strings Attached from comedy directing legend Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Twins). At the time, Meriwether’s first crack at a network sitcom — a Girls-like series focused on the dating lives of twentysomething women — was considered unmarketable. However, it brought her to the attention of the Hollywood elite. So when she got the idea from Reitman, she ran with it.
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While the studio ended up watering down some of the more pointed observations about modern romance in Meriwether’s script, the 2011 movie was directed by Reitman and made it to the big screen with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. After that, she took another swing at a TV comedy and ended up scoring with New Girl.
Jake Johnson Came Up With The Character Tran
Throughout New Girl’s seven seasons, Nick developed a friendship with Tran, a Vietnamese man. In their scenes together, Tran was silent as Nick monologued to him. Sometimes Tran would smile enigmatically or point somewhere in response. What did it mean? Fans weren’t quite sure, but Nick found every interaction with Tran packed with meaning.
It turns out that it was Jake Johnson who pitched the character of Tran to producers. He texted Meriwether with the idea: Nick befriends a Vietnamese man in a park who doesn’t speak English and his family gets angry at Nick for taking up his time. Tran’s first appearance ended up being a product of necessity, however. The writers were having a hard time finishing a script and needed another story to fill out the episode, so they decided to turn to Tran.
Prince Had Lots Of Ideas For His Guest-Starring Stint
Before Prince guest-starred on New Girl, he was a fan. Originally, he was approached about appearing in a season 2 episode but decided against it. Then in season 3, his manager asked if producers were still interested in having him on the show and they jumped at the opportunity. Prince agreed to appear in an episode where he was the catalyst for Jess confessing her feelings to Nick.
Showrunner Meriwether wrote about the experience of working with Prince on set, describing his vision for the episode as “all-encompassing.” The singer wanted to be involved in every decision, from the actor who played a non-speaking chef to the characters’ wardrobes to the set design. He even had a piece of art flown in from Minnesota to hang on the wall of the house where the episode was filmed. Meriwether said that she never felt like Prince overpowered her though, just that he was passionate and put his all into every creative endeavor he took on.
Creator Liz Meriwether Had Never Worked In TV Before
Prior to New Girl, Liz Meriwether had pitched another TV comedy to Fox without success. At the time, she had spent most of her career in the New York theater world writing for the stage and had written the screenplay for No Strings Attached. Yet, when Meriwether successfully pitched the idea for New Girl to Fox she suddenly found herself working in TV for the very first time as the showrunner and visionary behind a series.
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In an interview following the series’ first season, Meriwether confessed she still wasn’t sure she knew what she was doing running the show, but she was doing her best to fake it. She said that her familiarity with New Girl’s characters and their world helped her make decisions as they came up. However, she also admitted that it was a learning curve to determine how best to work with the gaggle of writers that work on network shows after she got used to writing solo for the plays and movies she’d penned. Ultimately, though, Meriwether believed the writers helped enhance the show beyond what a single writer could have brought to it alone.
Jess Has Been Criticized For Being Antifeminist
Although Jess’ “adorkableness” was lauded for showcasing a different kind of woman than audiences were used to seeing on TV, some found the character’s twee ways less than enchanting. Certain people, like the comedian Julie Klausner, accused Jess of being anti-feminist for her sincere, girly ways.
Instead of ignoring the criticism, the show leaned into it, using episodes to examine Jess’ self-presentation. Jess was called out repeatedly for her cutesy behavior, and at one point in a season 2 episode even Nick accused her of being inauthentic. Yet, Meriwether also pointed out that the negative response to Jess represented what she saw as a double standard in comedy. After all, men in comedy are immature all the time. Why aren’t women in comedy allowed to be immature as well?
The Game True American Deliberately Doesn’t Make Sense
Throughout the series, the apartment crew repeatedly played the same game: True American. True American is a game that involves standing on chairs, dressing up, and running around. Why? Honestly, it’s hard to tell. The only thing fans could be sure of was that it looked like a lot of fun. And that was enough for many, as numerous people tried to play the game despite having no clue about the rules.
According to Meriwether, the game was deliberately difficult to understand. And it was questionable whether New Girl’s writers even had a good grasp on the rules, which seemed to be constantly evolving. Ultimately, the game was funny because it didn’t make a lot of sense — a quality the writers maintained by never revealing the secrets to the game.
Deschanel’s Maternity Leave Led To A Unique Solution
When Zooey Deschanel had her first child during New Girl’s fifth season, the writers had to get creative. How could someone explain the absence of their title character for multiple episodes? They have her sequestered while on jury duty, of course.
It was a plot line that explained Jess’ absence from the show and also left her room in the apartment empty just long enough to introduce a new character as a subletter. That character was Megan Fox’s pharmaceutical sales rep Reagan, who appeared in multiple episodes both during and after Deschanel’s maternity leave. Reagan was meant to goose the dynamic in the apartment and introduce new energy into the show’s by-then well-worn formula. The character was very different from Jess, enabling the writers to experiment with different stories than they’d been able to tackle before, while also ensuring Deschanel’s return would be organic and anticipated.
Nick And Schmidt Kissed More Than Nick And Jess
From New Girl’s first season, the chemistry between Nick and Jess made them the will-they/won’t-they couple fans rooted for. However, the show featured many important relationships between the different characters, including the long-time friendship between Nick and Schmidt. A relationship that Jake Johnson characterized as a “bromance.”
In fact, Nick and Schmidt were so close that Johnson noted, “With all their Godfather ‘Fredo kisses,’ Nick and Schmidt have already kissed way more than Nick and Jess.” Of course, that changed as the seasons progressed and Nick and Jess gave it a shot, broke up, and then got back together. Yet, in the first season when all those “Fredo kisses” were happening between Nick and Schmidt, Deschanel and Johnson were told to have minimal physical contact because their chemistry was considered distracting.
The Role Of Jess Almost Went To Amanda Bynes
It’s hard to imagine anyone in the role of Jess other than Zooey Deschanel. At this point, it’s impossible to separate where Jess ends and Deschanel begins. It seems like the character was created just for her. However, before Deschanel landed the part, Amanda Bynes was considered for the role.
At the time, Bynes, a former child star, was a promising young talent who had gained critical acclaim for her starring role in the sitcom What I Like About You and had appeared in several movies including Easy A and Hairspray. Bynes seemed like she’d have a long, successful acting career ahead of her until she entered a drug-fueled downward spiral around the time New Girl was casting. She hasn’t acted since. Fortunately, Bynes is sober and doing much better today.
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About The Author
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Freelance writer and pop culture enthusiast living in Los Angeles. Co-author of the books Mad Men Unzipped and the forthcoming Finding Truth in Fiction, about audience’s positive responses to fictional stories.
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