Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (NBC) pilot preview: Music Friended Me

SERIES TITLE: Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist
GENRE: Musical Dramedy

LOGLINE: a whip-smart but socially awkward girl in her late 20s is having a hard time connecting to friends, coworkers, family, etc. She just doesn’t have the ability to read people or understand what’s really going in their heads. But, thanks to a freak accident, Zoey is given an extraordinary ability. Suddenly she has the power to hear what’s going on in people’s minds. Only she hears their deepest desires and innermost thoughts as songs and big musical numbers that they perform (passionately) just for her. With this new power at her disposal, Zoey is able to use her “gift” to not only help her self but also to help others in some state of crisis or need…

Pilot Cast: Jane Levy (Suburgatory, Castle Rock, Evil Dead), Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Alex Newell (Glee), Mary Steenburgen (Joan of Arcadia, Orange is the New Black, Back to the Future 3), Peter Gallagher (The OC, Covert Affairs, Grace and Frankie), John Clarence Stewart (Luke Cage)…
Series Creator: Austin Winsberg (Jake in Progress, 9JKL, Gossip Girl). 
Pilot Director: Richard Shepard (Girls, Ringer, Ugly Betty, Rosewood). 
Producers: Austin Winsberg, Paul Feig (Freaks & Geeks, Spy, Ghosbusters, Bridesmaids), Jessie Henderson, Eric & Kim Tannenbaum (Two and a half-men, The Last OG, The Odd Couple).

Studios: Universal Music Group, Lionsgate Television, Polygram Entertainment, Feigco Entertainment & The Tannenbaum Company.

Ever wonder how TV executives wade through the dozens of pilot scripts they’re pitched each year? They have staff script readers, who provide what’s called “Script Coverage,” an executive summary and a recommendation for each script. Now you too can preview some of the season’s most buzzed about pilots and find out whether we’d recommend them for pickup. Note that all opinions are our own, and all plot, casting and other creative details described here are subject to change.



You’ll Like It If You Already Like: God Friended Me, Kevin (Probably) Saves The World, Joan of Arcadia, Eli Stone… 

Likely Timeslot: After The Voice on monday seems the only way to go… but in the spring!


WRITTEN BY: Austin Winsberg

PAGECOUNT: 59 pages

DRAFT: Third Draft 1/8/19


BACKGROUND: Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is the first project to come out of a mega deal between Universal Music Group (which is part of NBCUniversal, corporate parent to NBC) and Lionsgate Television, signed back in 2018. Under this multiyear first-look deal, the two companies are developing original scripted and unscripted television series drawn from UMG’s portfolio of labels, artists and music, with plans to release accompanying soundtrack albums for each project. It’s vertical integration in full force, and for that reason alone, it will be very surprising if this project doesn’t get ordered by NBC in May.

The show’s creator, Austin Winsberg certainly has a musical theater pedigree: he penned the TV adaptation for NBC’s The Sound of Music Live! starring Carrie Underwood, as well as the Broadway musical First Date. Director Paul Feig (BridesmaidsGhostbusters) was also attached to helm the pilot for a period of time, but as is often the case with movie directors attached to network projects, Feig is now said to be too busy with his feature schedule. Instead, Richard Shephard will direct, with Feig remaining on board as executive producer.


SCRIPT SYNOPSIS:  ZOEY (late 20s) is a high strung, stressed-out programmer who’s aiming for a promotion at work. She isn’t much “fun”, as illustrated by her total apathy towards music. After getting stuck in an MRI machine during an earthquake, she begins to hallucinate people around her singing aloud. Zoey confides in her music fanatic neighbor MO (late 20s), who helps Zoey realize that these impromptu musical numbers are expressions of a person’s innermost thoughts. This manifests as a kind of mind reading power for Zoey, which she quickly comes to resent. She learns unpleasant private information, such as that many of her coworkers are rooting for her failure. However, this power also becomes an advantage later when she is able to “hear” encouragement from her father MITCH, who’s almost vegetative with a brain disease. After a conversation with her crush SIMON (early 30s), Zoey figures out a bug in a heal the app at work that earns her the promotion. Meanwhile her close friend MAX (late 20s) is revealed to be secretly in love with her, which leaves Zoey feeling conflicted…


COMMENTS:NBC has described Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist as What Women Wantmeets La La Land — a “big, bold, fun, hopeful, emotional and innovative musical series that will be unlike anything that’s ever been on television before.” While I won’t argue that the show isn’t fun, hopeful or emotional, I personally didn’t find the pilot script terribly bold or innovative. Yes, it’s probably the first time that a whole show has been based on the idea of a character hearing other people’s thoughts through music, but many shows have had characters suddenly burst into songs, from Glee to Eli Stone, to the upcoming Mixtape on Netflix (developed at FOX). Many other shows have done the same for special episodes, including Grey’s Anatomy and the Buffy musical, “Once More With Feeling.” Yes, there’s a difference here in that the whole concept is based on this fantasy, but that’s its weakness, too.

First, you have to accept that the reason why this happened to the heroine is because she was listening to music during a MRI which happened at the same time as an earthquake. And for some reason, a million different songs from a music streaming platform uploaded in her brain. Just like that. And they’re all from Universal Music, of course. It’s a lot to swallow but if they find a way to hit the right note, it could work. For this, leading lady Jane Levy should be a real asset. She’s good and radiant. She has what they need to make her super cringy character on paper a smart and charming woman we would follow anywhere. That’s a lot of work, though. Zoey’s nervous energy and impressive ability to talk a lot is something not everybody can override, I guess. Maybe music will calm her down eventually. Isnn’t music supposed to southe the soul? In the pilot, she hears The Beattles’ Help, Avicii’s Wake Me Up and Celine Dion’s All By Myself, among other songs.

Second, how many times can one enjoy watching Zoey hearing someone’s inner thoughts? Sure, it’s interesting and fun at first, but as with CBS’s God Friended Me, even the most novel of concepts grow old. And after Zoey comes to learn in the pilot that her special ability is her chance to help others, all I could think about is the procedural type of show that’s destined to follow. I hope my concerns prove to be unfounded, but based on the pilot script, it’s hard to see a truly compelling path forward for the show’s narrative.

Zoey’s co-worker and best friend Max is funny and the pairing of Jane Levy and Skylar Astin is exciting. The two actors should have great chemistry. Meanwhile, Mo, Zoey’s neighbor, is an easygoing, open-minded and cool character who assumes the role of a kind of guardian angel — Zoey’s Yvette for those who watched ABC’s Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. This dynamic doesn’t seem to be reinvented here as much as it is rehashed. Again, I’d love to be proven wrong. At least, by casting gender nonconforming actor Alex Newell in Mo’s role, they’re adding a new flavor to the duet.


FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is not exactly the bold and innovative musical show NBC wants to sell us, but it’s an uplifting and light-hearted fare, sometimes cheesy, sometimes weird, that has an undeniable charm. It could find a devoted and loyal fanbase but it doesn’t sound like a #1 hit song, especially if its biggest ambition is to become a “case of the week” show…



[  ] PASS

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