'New Girl' Showrunners Discuss the Fun and Frustration of Holiday Episodes

New Girl Schmidt and The Gang - H 2014

New Girl Schmidt and The Gang - H 2014

New Girl's latest treatise on Turkey day, the aptly titled "Thanksgiving IV," premieres Tuesday night on Fox. And as the comedy veers away from the themes of holidays past (visiting parents or planning the meal as a couple), this Thanksgiving has the same focus as much of the fourth season: getting laid.

Schmidt (Max Greenfield) inspires each member of the loft gang to bring a dinner companion that one of their friends might find attractive — think a white elephant gift exchange with people —  and the resulting "Bangs-giving" boasts a guest list that runs the gamut from Nick's (Jake Johnson) silent guru to Jess' (Zooey Deschanel) latest coworker crush.

Showrunners Liz Meriwether, Brett Baer and David Finkel hopped on the phone with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about their fondness for holiday episodes, why they finally decided to change the series' opening titles and where they're heading as they approach the halfway point of the season.

New Girl seems more committed to holiday episodes than most comedies. 

Meriwether: It was so foreign to me when I started doing the show, and they've become my favorite thing. 

Finkel: They're inherently bottle episodes. As you do multiple versions of them, it becomes harder and harder to find a new tweak on Thanksgiving dinner. Thankfully, we keep finding something new each year.

Baer: But you know that you're subjecting your crew and cast to five straight days of turkey baking under the hot set lights.

You really have a cooked turkey? 

Baer: Oh, God, yeah. It just cooks all day.

Was there ever any consideration to just calling the episode "Bangs-giving?"

Finkel: We certainly referred to it as "Bangs-giving" for quite some time.

Meriwether: But the Standards and Practices told us that we couldn't call it that.

They've been lenient on a lot of other things lately. 

Meriwether: They have been. I shouldn't say that publicly; I'm inviting them to crack down. We couldn't call it "Bangs-giving," so we came up with the creative title of "Thanksgiving IV."

Baer: You can say "Bangs-giving," but I think the titles show up on DVRs — and kids can't read that.

What finally pushed you to change the opening titles?  

Finkel: We've been trying to change them since season two, and we really wanted to include Damon and Hannah in the main titles. We'd also been using shorter and shorter versions of the original because we have so much episodic content. We really just wanted something simple.

Any reservations getting rid of the song? 

Meriwether: We're usually up against it with the cut, to fit the 21:35, and this is the shortest we've had. We tried to put the section of the lyrics in, and it was just longer than we wanted it to be.

Finkel: We love that song, but it became more convenient to do something simpler.

Baer: Coming down from the original, long version, this gives us about 15 extra seconds. That's three or four more jokes an episode.

Finkel: It's not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, but looking at it from joke-to-joke and moment-to-moment, that time really comes in handy.

There seems to be a lot of good feedback about the reboot. What's been most satisfying aspect on your end?  

Baer: I think the freedom that we've felt from a comedy perspective has been the most refreshing. You can feel it in the writers room, people pitching openly. We're not carrying around the relationship dynamics or needing to protect characters. When Nick and Jess were together, we had to look out for them in a way that limited some of our options from a comedy perspective.

Did that give you any reservations about introducing another ongoing relationship with Julian Morris' character? 

Meriwether: The Ryan relationship is going to carry through for a while. Last year, we went into the season in a much more serialized way. We had to arc things out. And the problem with that was we were airing episodes, getting feedback and then changing the arc. ... It was hard to stick to what we decided at the beginning. And this year we just wanted to focus on comedy and simple stories from the start. We waited to get into the longer arc.

Baer: I think the season is broken into thirds. We wanted to have fun playing with Jess being single before we settled her and moved into the Ryan relationship. We've just started breaking the third part of the season.

Was it your original plan to keep Ryan around or did that evolve on its own?

Finkel: It wasn't until the teacher conference that we knew we could have a real thing there, so we're letting it play out as organically as we can.

Meriwether: We actually did chemistry reads between him and Zooey. I think he's a great addition to the show. What we like so much about that character is that he is so different from Nick. Who would be the person you would date after Nick? This sort of perfect, charming guy.

What can you say about Billy Eichner's appearance during the upcoming Christmas episode? 

Meriwether: I've been trying to get Billy on the show since the second season. He was actually in the first play that I wrote in New York. It was a Romeo and Juliet story between a Nicky Hilton and a goth guy [Nicky Goes Goth]. Billy played the narrator, who was, like, Nicky Hilton's makeup artist. And Nicky was played by Zoe Kazan. I've just been obsessed with him since then. The Christmas episode was a great way to include him because he's the perfect undercut to any holiday schmaltz. We try to limit our pop culture references on the show, and we broke that rule for that episode. There are a lot of pop culture jokes. Zooey and Billy actually were at Northwestern at the same time and appeared in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum together. Wait, that might be a dream that I had. Or it might be the truth.

When did you decide that Tran (Ralph Ahn) would be a recurring character?

Meriwether: He's really easy to write for. (Laughs.) It was Jake Johnson's idea, originally. He texted me about it. We all thought it was so funny. Going into this year, I think one of the writers in the retreat pitched his granddaughter being a love interest. But Jake also wanted to do something like that.

Baer: Johnson is so funny with that guy. And they get along so well off camera. Tran coming to Thanksgiving was actually something that was supposed to take place during the second season, but then we broke the story of Jamie Lee Curtis and Rob Reiner being Jess' parents — and it was too much to fulfill.

Meriwether: I loved seeing Tran drunk.

No new comedy has really broken through this season. Why do you think it's been so long since there was a new hit in the genre?

Finkel: Comedy used to be a communal experience. You'd talk about it the next day. For me, it was watching Robin Williams appear as Mork from Ork. The next day, on the playground, that's all anyone was talking about. Because everybody is watching things on their own time, it makes it a lot harder.

Meriwether: It's hard to make comedy seem like an event. You have to feel like you have to see it live.

Finkel: Will they or will they not get their parking spot? (Laughs.)

Meriwether: I think you see with The Big Bang Theory and the CBS comedies that people are watching those live. The other ones, especially with younger characters, are being watched online and in a slightly different way. That being sad, Big Bang disproves that immediately. Maybe we're just not as good? (Laughs.) But new shows breaking out help everybody. It's exciting, and I think it's a shame there hasn't been one in comedy. We've been lucky because Fox has stuck by us, but I think people are quick to pull the plug. As somebody who's been through the first season of a show, it's so difficult to find your footing on those first couple of episodes. You can really take crazy, huge missteps in the beginning. I can see how it's hard to launch in this environment.

Finkel: You have to nail a billion things perfectly just to get past the third episode. And people are way more fickle than they used to be.