American Auto creator discusses how it's similar to (and different from) Superstore
The creator of Superstore is back with another workplace comedy.
NBC's American Auto takes viewers inside a major Detroit automobile company as employees deal with changes brought on by a new CEO (and the many curveballs that life in corporate America throws at them).
EW spoke with creator Justin Spitzer (Superstore, The Office) about what to expect from his latest comedy.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did this idea come from for you?
JUSTIN SPITZER: I pitched this to NBC in 2013. I had recently come off The Office. I was just thinking I wanted to do another workplace show, but in the corporate world. That just felt like a very different aspect of it. It didn't go back then, and then the following year, I used actually certain characters from American Auto, a dead pilot, and put them in Superstore, and that one went. Then Superstore had some success, and a few years in, my agent kept mentioning it. It was interesting going back in, looking at some of the characters and making some changes so it didn't feel too much like I was copying Superstore. When in fact, Superstore was copying American Auto.
In Superstore, you're writing a show from those characters' point of view. So, those are people that are getting effed over by corporate and corporate is the antagonist. Now this is a show about these characters' points of view. They're not worse people. I think they're people that struggle sometimes more to be relatable and likable because they are in a much more privileged class. But that was fun. The unions are the good guys in Superstore. In American Auto, the unions are the people that are making their lives kind of difficult.
You knew you wanted to do a workplace show, but what was it about the auto industry that interested you?
I wanted to do a corporate workplace show. It wasn't the auto aspect that brought me in. I felt like I just wanted a little more specificity, and I wanted to change up the industries and I wanted it to just be a very big, American, relatable kind of company. Pharmaceuticals is another one I considered. It was supposed to be: What is the sort of prototypical, American industry?
The thing that kicks the series off is a new boss coming in. Why was that the right way into this story?
Anytime you do a pilot, it's a good tool to have the introduction of a new character. It doesn't have to be the boss. You have so much exposition to get out about a new show. So, when you have a new character, characters can explain things about that world to the new character, so that's sort of a useful device. And, I think, it's a way to teach the audience about the world and, at the same time, throw the characters within that world sort of off balance a little bit and create conflict and drama, is the introduction of a new boss.
Timing-wise, were you casting this show via Zoom?
No. We cast the show as it was all sort of happening. In fact, I remember we had a screen test for the last two actors that we were thinking about playing Jack [Tye White], and I remember going and seeing them in person and shaking their hands. As we shook hands, we were like, "Oh wait, I guess we're not supposed to do that anymore." The last hand I shook before the shutdown was Tye's. We were maybe 10 days away from actually shooting when the shutdown happened.
Were you writing with any of this cast in mind?
I love Jon Barinholtz. I would want to work with him in anything. He was somebody I thought of early on for this character. Probably not while I was writing it, but certainly early on. And then, I was thinking, "Oh God, I don't want to take him from Superstore." And then Superstore ended and it wasn't an issue. But yeah, the rest of the cast ended up fitting pretty well.
I know if I like a workplace comedy when I watch the group scenes. Is that a big chemistry test for you?
Yeah. That's one thing I was thinking too. I really loved writing Superstore, and I think people love watching our break room scenes. I wanted something where I could live in those scenes for even longer. And if anything, we have episodes where half the episode is just people talking about things. I think it's a less-active physical show than Superstore. There's not crazy customers. It's a bit more of a talky show.
What can viewers expect on a week-to-week basis?
We tried in a number of episodes to create a situation where, from the outside, it's a situation where you might assume the characters had negative intents. Now, we get a peak behind the scenes and we see why they're doing what they're doing. So that, and then talking about issues. Just like Superstore, when issues present themselves and they're topical to our characters, we pursue them. At the same time, we never tried to do an issue show. We certainly never wanted to ever try to teach a lesson. It's not a PSA. It's a show.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
American Auto launches a special preview on Monday, Dec. 13 on NBC. The series will then premiere on Jan. 4.