One year ago, the team behind NBC’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” was devastated when the broadcast network pulled the plug on the musical series after two seasons. At the time, the show’s cast, as well as creator Austin Winsberg, were vocal about how sad they were about the untimely end; after pitching it around and hoping for a pickup, it seemed to be dead in the water.
And then the Roku Channel came around and offered a chance to wrap it up in the shape of a movie; the two-hour holiday pic focused on the Clarke family’s first Christmas without patriarch Mitch (Peter Gallagher), who died at the end of the first season.
“We had ended Season 2 on a massive cliffhanger, but we had many new stories we still wanted to tell,” says Winsberg. “To be able to create a resolution, give the fans clarity and live with these characters one more time meant everything to me.”
Little did he know, his characters would not only get to wrap up their story, but they’d also be elevated by their Roku movie in the shape of two Emmy noms — one for TV movie and the other for choreography. But it took a lot of work to get there.
“It was certainly a challenging assignment,” he says. “It was important to make the movie feel accessible so that audiences that may not have seen the original show could also enjoy it. At the same time, we knew there were several loose threads that needed to be addressed through a structure that felt authentic for a movie and not just like two big episodes of the show.”
With an extremely tight turnaround — the movie aired within six months of the show’s cancelation — “it was a thin needle to thread very, very quickly,” Winsberg says.
In the TV movie category, “Zoey’s” isn’t the only nominee that features a show wrapping up its story on the small screen, with Showtime’s “Ray Donovan: The Movie” also on the list. The category includes Disney+’s “Chip ’n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers” and Paramount+’s “Reno 911!: The Hunt for QAnon.” In the last slot is Barry Levinson’s “The Survivor,” which premiered at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival and was bought by HBO. All five of these projects are based on stories that have pre-existing IP — whether previously introduced characters or, in the case of “The Survivor,” is based on a true story.
“I think with IP or characters that we already know, there’s a certain built-in comfort level. If people are familiar with and like a character or a program already, then chances are they already respond to that tone and want to live in that world a little more and want to see how the narrative continues to play out,” Winsberg says. “There is so much content available right now that anything that already has some built-in fans or audience awareness is probably a slightly safer creative bet to stand out amidst the clutter. Plus, time is precious. Rather than investing in something new, people might gravitate toward material that has already — to quote Marie Kondo — ‘sparked joy’ for them in the past.”
Although the movie was a chance to wrap up the story, Winsberg has “a million stories left to tell in the ‘Zoey’s’ universe” if the opportunity presents itself — and could even continue telling those around the holidays.
“There’s an endless amount of love songs that could work for ‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Valentine’s Day,’ a bunch of spooky songs we could use for ‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Halloween,’” he says. “If someone wants to make a film about Arbor Day, I’m happy to think of songs about trees and nature!”
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