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'Up All Night' Creator Talks Season Finale, Early Challenges and Ratings Pressure

As NBC’s Up All Night heads into its season finale on Thursday, its creator Emily Spivey is taking some “chill out time” on the East Coast, visiting family and giving herself a break to rest up. She definitely deserves it.

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After many years of writing for the network’s late night sketch show, Saturday Night Live, Up All Night was her first experience with creating and running a scripted series. Based on her own life as a mother returning to work after having a child, Spivey says that she experienced some déjà vu.

“In a way it was a lot like giving birth,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “There was a parallel between me having a baby in real life, and then sort of giving birth to this show and these characters. It’s a ball. It’s a ton of work, but it’s been really, really rewarding. And I’m so blessed to get to work with those great actors, and we just felt like a family. It’s been a lot of fun.”

THR spoke with Spivey about Thursday’s season finale, the show’s early reinvention and how she deals with the ratings pressure.

The Hollywood Reporter: What can fans expect from the season finale?
Emily Spivey: Well, I’m super, super proud of it. We all had so much fun working on that finale. I think they’re going to be laughing, but also with tears. I don’t want to reveal what it is, but it sort of sheds a light on Reagan [Christina Applegate] and Chris’ [Will Arnett] history a little bit in terms of their marriage and things like that. There’s singing… There’s going to be some flashbacks.

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THR: When planning the season finale, what notes do you want to hit?
Spivey: Well, I think for us we wanted to round out sort of seeds that we had planted even just in the pilot. So I think in watching the finale, hopefully you’ll see sort of how everything sort of wraps up in a way that’s similar to the pilot but also speaks to the progression of this couple throughout the season and making it a year with the baby and all that kind of stuff. We wanted to hit a note with the baby, but we also wanted to hit a note with them as a couple. So, hopefully we were able to wrap it up kind of nicely.

THR: NBC’s ratings are generally lower than the other networks. What kind of environment was that for creating a new series?
Spivey: Well, everyone at NBC, and I’m not just saying this, was so lovely and so helpful. It was, honest to God, like an amazing experience. Like, [programming executives] Rebecca McGill and Edwin Chung and Vernon [Sanders], they were helpful and funny and inspiring. And so honestly, yeah, I wish that more people were watching NBC right now, but I’m really proud of the work that I did with NBC, and I’m really proud of the show, and so I think that’s what’s important. I’m hoping that it gets to go on and we get to do another season, but yeah, it was such a great experience.

[pagebreak]

THR: Do you pay attention to ratings?
Spivey: Oh, my God, yes. I worry about it constantly. I used to love Fridays, and now Fridays are like a bummer. You wait until that morning e-mail’s up, but yeah, of course you think about it. And we’re really proud that on DVR we’re always way up, so people are watching. It’s just there’s not as many people watching live.

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THR: Early on, Up All Night had several challenges. There was some work to expand Maya Rudolph’s role, minor cast changes. What was that early period like for you?
Spivey: Oh, my God. It’s such a blur. For better or for worse it happened so quickly that you’re just sort of like putting your head down and just solving. OK, here’s this problem, try to solve it the best you can, move forward. Here’s the other fire, put that out, move forward, but you know I think it was helpful that Maya and I have worked together since the mid ‘90s.

So, getting to sit down with her, it was just like an easy conversation, and we were able, I think, to jump some hurdles that would’ve maybe been more difficult if we hadn’t known each other, because we’ve worked together for so long, and I think we’re finally getting it. Like most shows it takes a minute for everyone to get to know each other and to get to know the characters and see what the actors are going to bring to the characters, and then you just try to incorporate all of that. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s like a process, but I was happy with how we were able to gel things towards the end. So, I hope it appears to people that we found our legs a little bit.

THR: If the series gets picked up for a second season, what do you have planned?
Spivey: Well, I think where we sort of were headed towards the end of this season was focusing more on them as a couple, and then in turn like expanding the world a little bit. Like, Gene [Matt Braunger] and Terry [Jean Villepique], we created just these little side characters and then we just ended up loving those actors so much. So, I think we just want to expand the neighborhood world a little bit and just focus on them as being a sexy couple with a baby, just because the dynamic between Christina and Will is so good and sexy, I think we want to like mine that as much as we can.

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THR: 30 Rock is doing another live episode. With your SNL background, what are your thoughts on that?
Spivey: Oh, my God. It makes me so nervous. Well, what’s so scary about it is like at SNL you feel protected, because in that studio those people have been doing it for a long time, and there is truly nothing that rattles those folks. It’s exhausting and terrifying. I cannot imagine doing it live with people that aren’t used to doing it week after week. It seems so scary to me. That would bring me peace to know that [director Beth McCarthy-Miller] was there, because she’s the best. But God love them, man. Tina [Fey], she likes to work hard. Really, because to me it just seems like such hard work. So, yeah, it’s terrifying.

The Up All Night season finale airs Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.

Email: Jethro.Nededog@thr.com; Twitter: @TheRealJethro