Austin Winsberg interview: ‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’ showrunner
While every show had to figure out ways to safely film during a pandemic, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” was more affected than most, seeing that it’s, you know, a musical with grand, elaborate dance numbers. “There were a lot of questions in the beginning about how can we do these big dance numbers, how can we do all these things where people are so intimate and close to each other? So much of dance is about partnership and touching and holding,” creator Austin Winsberg tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Showrunners panel (watch above). “But once we got that system in place and the dancers adjusted to rehearsing with their surgical masks on and everybody got accustomed to this being the new normal, it just became a way we go about doing things. And it didn’t limit us that much in terms of what we were able to do musically.”
The first big musical number “Zoey” filmed for Season 2 was “Hello, Dolly!”, which both Winsberg and producer/choreographer Mandy Moore, were worried about. “Once we had gone through the systems and we shot it on the day, there was so much joy,” Winsberg recalls. “It was like 30, 40 people doing this big Broadway number at SPRQ Point together and we actually accomplished it, I think everybody hugged — or elbow-bumped or fake-hugged — and Mandy and I looked at each other and we both started crying.”
Season 2, which concluded on Sunday and featured a Taylor Swift tune for the first time, explored grief, postpartum depression and racism in the workplace. It also made Winsberg acutely of the passion behind love triangles and will-they-won’t-they couples. Zoey (Jane Levy) and Max (Skylar Astin) briefly dated at the beginning of the season before hitting “pause” for her to grieve her dad’s death. She later started dating Simon (John Clarence Stewart).
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“I don’t think I realized love triangles were such a dicey proposition!” Winsberg exclaims. “I thought the teams keep people invested, but I have read online and stuff that people have had a lot of strong feelings about this love triangle this season, which I guess I just wasn’t aware of. I just thought it was a way of keeping the romantic entanglements alive. I thought the thing that bumped people about it was kind of the indecision of it. So what we tried to very early in the season was, ‘OK, she’s doing to make a decision. She’s gonna try to go for Max and then realize because it’s so early on in her grieving that she’s not ready for that yet.’ … I really felt like it was important because of the chemistry and the dynamic that we had set up between Zoe and Simon that she should explore that in some way. So even though we had set up this love triangle, I did feel like it was important for her to make concrete choices rather just vacillating back and forth.”
It was also important for Winsberg to not turn Max and Simon, who had started bonding this season, into enemies fighting over a girl. They’re still friends and everyone’s an adult about it. “They really wanted to make it respectful, and this was Zoe’s decision, this is up to Zoe, to not villainize these two guys and put them in competition with each other in a real way,” Winsberg says. “I really liked that because I felt like it deepened their relationship.”
NBC has not yet renewed “Zoey,” but the Season 2 closer was not intended to be a series finale — what with the reveal that Max can hear Zoey’s heart song that “could potentially change everything going into Season 3.”