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How Did New Girl Become a Netflix Lifeboat?

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By Savannah Walsh

Netflix apparently has New Girl on the brain. On Monday, Business Insider reported that the flailing streaming service has pinned Elizabeth Meriwether ’s sitcom to a vision board, writing in internal documents that its programmers would love to greenlight another New Girl –esque comedy series.

According to multiple documents from the industry’s top agencies shared with Insider, Netflix is actively seeking out “big, broad stories that can be told on a budget” that also contain a “hook” and distinct perspective—series that emulate Netflix originals Emily in Paris and Never Have I Ever. But perhaps more tellingly, the documents also cite New Girl —a broadcast show whose seven seasons all now stream exclusively on Netflix.

Many of the popular sitcoms that once drew subscribers to Netflix’s library have since left for other platforms: Friends for HBO Max, The Office for Peacock, and—this fall— Schitt’s Creek for Hulu. But New Girl, the quintessential hangout show with a quirky edge, has been a tried-and-true title for the streamer since 2013 . The series stars Zooey Deschanel as Jess, who rebounds from a breakup by moving into a loft with a group of male roommates she met on Craigslist. What sounds like the start of a true-crime plot is made charming by the charisma of said roommates—fumbling Nick ( Jake Johnson ), nerdy Winston ( Lamorne Morris ), and womanizing Schmidt ( Max Greenfield ), who will eventually fall for Jess’s elusive friend, Cece ( Hannah Simone ). Damon Wayans Jr. ’s Coach, who left after the show’s first episode for the short-lived but adored ABC sitcom Happy Endings before returning to the loft in season three, rounds out the cast.

After wrapping its 146-episode run in 2018, New Girl ’s legacy was established as a comfort show for younger millennials and members of Gen-Z . But what was once a well-regarded sitcom morphed into an essential rewatch in March 2020. At the pandemic’s onset, a flurry of essays about New Girl ’s bingeability circulated online. Viewers celebrated Jess and Nick’s well-executed will they, won’t they romance, the gang’s rowdy drinking game True American, and the nontoxic male friendships at the show’s center. In a time when many classic shows are being reconsidered for their problematic themes, it seems New Girl has aged remarkably well . (Although like its most obvious forebear, Friends, the show can’t resist putting one of its actors in a fat suit for some adolescent flashbacks.)

New Girl ’s resurgence has led to a robust presence for the show on TikTok, where the series’ hashtag has more than 2.5 billion views —and spurred iHeartRadio to launch a rewatch podcast, Welcome to Our Show, hosted by Deschanel, Morris, and Simone. In 2020, the series became one of the year’s most streamed titles, according to Nielsen . All of this data is likely sweet music to Netflix, who has pivoted away from half-hour dramedies such as Master of None, as noted in Insider’s reporting, and toward the sorts of shows streamers call “elevated broadcast.”

As New Girl was ending in 2018, some argued that it represented a dying breed of network-TV comedy. Vulture’s Jesse David Fox called the show “easier” than the workplace comedies it once shared airwaves with, including 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation. It was “low stakes, low concept, fairly episodic—while maintaining a level of comedy that still appealed to urbane, nerdy, pop-culture-savvy types,” he wrote. In the same piece, Fox compared the series to skinny jeans—a once hot trend that the zeitgeist had shirked in favor of cable and streaming.

Nearly five years later, though, network television and streaming seem to be less differentiated than they once were. Broadcast networks like ABC utilize next-day streams to boost the visibility of new shows like Abbott Elementary . Meanwhile, streamers like Netflix are hoping to hold onto subscribers by greenlighting content that hits the same sweet spot as shows like New Girl.

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Except, of course, when they aren’t. According to Insider, the same call to agents and producers that held up New Girl as an example noted that Netflix is also searching for a “high-concept replacement” for Grace and Frankie, a cozy series that wrapped its run on Netflix last month. As recently as a few weeks ago, though, that show’s cocreator Marta Kauffman appeared to be under the impression that Netflix didn’t want more shows like hers for the foreseeable future—at least, not shows that lasted multiple seasons. “Netflix is no longer doing long-running shows, as you know, and I think they were feeling it’s time [for the series to end],” she told Vanity Fair . As an agency source told Insider, what the streamer wants “changes literally every single day.”

Netflix might also be ill-equipped to make a new New Girl simply because broadcast practices and standards—22-episode seasons, writers rooms that run as episodes are being filmed , an apparent aversion to overly challenging material or story lines—are what form shows like New Girl in the first place. In a 2018 Glamour interview, Meriwether spoke about the format’s logistical storytelling challenges: “It’s a journey. Part of doing 22 episodes is that a couple of them are going to be God awful,” she admitted. “There’s a couple that I’m genuinely embarrassed by.” It’s worth noting that Meriwether’s post– New Girl sitcoms for ABC— Bless This Mess and Single Parents —lasted just two seasons each. Meanwhile, her work on Hulu’s The Dropout has earned critical raves and Emmys buzz.

Just as New Girl ’s Nick Miller learns he can’t “panic moonwalk” away from his problems and shouldn’t keep his life savings in a Ziploc bag, Netflix is going through its own coming of age. Will the company’s efforts to recapture a bygone era be enough to combat the growing pains along the way?

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Savannah Walsh

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