Tracey Wigfield on Showrunning Peacock's 'Saved by the Bell' Reboot and Rethinking Writers Rooms

Creative Space Tracey Wigfield
Photographed by Michele Thomas

Tracey Wigfield was photographed Nov. 10 at her Los Angeles home.

The Emmy-winning comedy scribe also talks about writing a news network show pre-Trump and problematic '30 Rock' episodes.

Even the smallest window into Tracey Wigfield’s life seems to validate her chosen career. Her Studio City home and now makeshift office, which she shares with her husband, fellow comedy scribe Adam Countee, their nearly-3-year-old daughter, their infant daughter and, since the start of the pandemic, her parents, could easily double as a set for one of the sitcoms she’s written — 30 Rock, The Mindy Project and Great News, to name a few. During an early November Zoom interview, the showrunner is twice interrupted by her polite but assertive toddler, for whom she wryly punts child-rearing duties to her own mom off-camera.

The New Jersey native returned to the Universal lot in July to complete production on Saved by the Bell — her tongue-in-cheek reboot-meets-remake of the ’90s teen comedy that’ll be something of a bellwether for future original programming at streamer Peacock when it premieres Nov. 25. As the series’ writer and executive producer, Wigfield, 37, seems aware of the pressure. But the woman who won an Emmy at just 30 for co-writing the finale of 30 Rock, where she got her start as a writers assistant, also is reveling in the wish-fulfillment of bringing back one of the shows that made her want to work in TV.

Based on the logline alone, a Saved  by the Bell reboot is not something I’d expect from you.

People think it’s going to be Fuller House. It’s actually closer in tone to any of the other shows I’ve worked on. It’s a comedy for adults — a high school show, but a Mean Girls kind of high school more than a Saved by the Bell one.

What was the appeal for you?

A couple of years ago, back when they did those Saved by the Max pop-up restaurants, I was trying to think of movie ideas. And I thought, “I wonder if you could do a 21 Jump Street kind of thing using the IP of Saved by the Bell?” It seems like there’s still such an interest in the show. And I always loved those Brady Bunch movies from the ’90s. They’re funny, and they really appeal to people who loved making fun of The Brady Bunch. It felt like there was a similar opportunity here.

How did you find writing dialogue for teenagers for the first time?

Well, I am very young and cool — so it was incredibly easy. (Laughs.) No, it’s different than anything I’d done. I’m friends with Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, and they were finishing up their first season of Never Have I Ever while I was getting this started. We all just kept joking that we’re three old pregnant ladies trying to be like, “Yeah, this party is gonna be lit!” But we had a very diverse room and some young people to tell us what was what.

I realize none of them were episodes you wrote, but what’s your take on the four 30 Rock episodes that got pulled from the library this summer for including blackface?

I thought Tina, when she put out a statement about [the decision], was right on. I don’t think intent gives a free pass for white people to use images like that anymore. Obviously, we’re comedy writers and always walking a line. You’ll write something that you think is pretty innocuous, and then someone will be like, “How dare you joke about that? My father died when he slipped on a banana peel and fell into a manhole!” But this isn’t that. This is horrible, and it’s hurtful to people who see it.

Do you think writers rooms are changing enough to avoid problems like that in the future?

Your room has to be diverse — and not just in a way where you’re like, “OK, we have one guy and he can be the arbiter on how all African Americans will feel about this joke.” No person should have to carry the weight of speaking for all women or all gay people. But I think what’s great is that people, myself included, are realizing we have more power than we think. On my first show [Great News], my room wasn’t diverse enough. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I hired a bunch of people I knew and a lot of women, but it wasn’t enough. That was a mistake I’ve learned from.

Did Great News’ cancellation turn you off of broadcast?

It’s not like I will never work with NBC again. But it’s hard when you work really hard and it can’t find an audience. My mother was furious because it was about her, and sometimes NBC would let her go to press junkets and get her hair done. She was so pissed. But yeah, it was a bummer. Since it’s gone on Netflix, so many more people have been like, “I just found this show. When is the next season?” When it was on NBC, my uncle would be like, “You have a show?”

You’ve had supporting roles on your shows in the past. How interested are you in acting?

I love doing things that I can write for myself, and I could see myself doing it again. But do I want to go out for pilot season? Like, no. I don’t think so. Not this year.

Did writing a show set at a news network color the way you consumed the election?

What’s funny about Great News is we shot the pilot before Trump was the Republican nominee. Setting a show at a cable news place —like a shitty CNN, I guess — seemed fun and not political then. This was back at the end of the Obama years, when Don Lemon interviewed that llama. In the second season, after Trump was in office, we did a joke about a bunch of pundits with the most extreme views screaming at each other. At the time, it felt like a new idea. Now it would be hacky. I would never pitch a show that takes place in the news now. It would give me heartburn.

How did you feel going back to work in July to finish Saved by the Bell during COVID-19?

It was a little more than three weeks of work, but because of the precautions, it ended up taking five. We were the first narrative show to go back at Universal, so I kept hearing from other people: “They keep bringing you guys up. You’re the canary in the coal mine.” Don’t say that to me! (Laughs.) Luckily, no one got sick.

That’s kind of wild, given how often projects are stopping and starting these days.

Statistically, it’s a little unavoidable. My husband just started as the producer on set for the show based on the Shrink Next Door podcast, so he’s getting tested every day. It’s nerve-wracking. All that has to happen is for one person to go see their friend, and it’s over for everyone.

How would you describe your sense of humor?

It’s not super-grounded. I don’t know if I should be offended — but on Netflix, where it gives three words to describe a show, one [for Great News] was “goofy.” Then I saw it in the same category as PAW Patrol. There is something absurd and cartoony about the kind of things I find funny, but PAW Patrol is … different.

Who do you turn to for punch-ups?

My husband. That was half the appeal of marrying him. I have a punch-up friend for life.

Were your wedding vows particularly funny?

We got married in a really serious church, at this weird, long mass that my mother demanded. All the groomsmen and bridesmaids had to stand in a long row, like in Midsommar or something, while the priest’s back was turned to the congregation. We could only have church music and no vows. So all of these cool comedy writers from L.A., who are used to going to laugh-riot weddings in Ojai, were like, “What is this? Has this been blessed by the pope?”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

This story first appeared in the Nov. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.