Music supervisor Jen Ross has worked on a number of music-themed series in her career, including “Smash,” “Empire” and “Soundtrack,” but few compare to the amount of work necessary for “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.” The show is driven by Zoey’s ability to hear people’s “heart songs,” of which we hear at least four and as many as nine in a given episode. Ross is tasked with securing music rights to all of them under a tight network TV schedule, and it’s far from easy. “‘Zoey’s’ is a very specific beast unto itself,” says Ross in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. “It’s really a constant interesting game of how do you get everything done in the time and not compromise any of the creative storyline and any of the narrative.” Watch the full webchat above.
The show mostly features well-known pop songs of the past and present, with hits by artists like Halsey, Whitney Houston and NSYNC appearing within the same episode. “You never know when you’re going after really, really big songs” when it comes to clearance issues, explains Ross. One tough situation Ross went through in Season 2 was securing the rights to the INXS song “Need You Tonight,” which Skylar Astin and Katie Findlay perform in Episode 8. “They don’t like covers very often, respectfully so, so the fact that we were able to do that was actually a great big accomplishment,” the music supervisor reveals. “That was a nail-biter.”
Ross and creator Austin Winsberg felt more comfortable deviating from the pop world in Season 2, such as in the premiere with the “Hello, Dolly” performance and lesser-known songs in other episodes like “Black Man in a White World” by Michael Kiwanuka and “Overwhelmed” by Royal & the Serpent. Sometimes, like with the “Hello, Dolly” number, it was a challenge to figure out “how we stand far away enough from what is the iconic original in order to be able to do it our way,” in order to avoid clearance issues.
Assuming “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” comes back for a third season, which is still up in the air, Ross has pages and pages worth of songs she’s hoping to feature in future episodes. “It’s amazing to watch what we’ve done in two seasons,” she reflects. “I’m just excited at the thought that we could possibly keep growing and going in different directions and try new things.”
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