Looking to reintroduce romantic comedy back into the television landscape, NBC’s new series A TO Z explores the adorable story of how Andrew met Zelda and their hilarious attempts at dating in the digital era, where simple communications can come across as mixed signals with the everyday use of texting and social media. As viewers will see, Andrew works at an online dating company and Zelda is an attorney, and it would initially seem that they could not be farther apart — but destiny had other plans.
At a special press screening of the pilot episode “A is for Acquaintance,” the stars and producers of A TO Z talked about their unabashed love for rom-coms and how they all fell in love with the idea of bringing such a humorous love story to television. Stars Cristin Milioti, Ben Feldman, Lenora Crichlow, Henry Zebrowski and creator Ben Queen also all candidly shared whether they have ever signed up for online dating, their unique strategy for competing in their timeslot, and what kind of feedback they have gotten since the pilot episode was made available online.
What is the significance of the “8 months, 3 weeks, 5 days and 1 hour” reference in the beginning and ending of the pilot episode?
BEN QUEEN: When the narrator says Andrew and Zelda have been dating for that long, that really organizes the first season of the show. By the end of the first season, those months will have gone by and at the end there will be a big change in their relationship, one way or another. I like that when people watch it that they will be wondering: “Will they break up or will they get married?” I can promise something very cool. But I like the idea of putting a fun ticking-clock on it. For example, when you get into a relationship early on, you are very aware of every day and every month that goes by as you think about how long it’s going to last. To me, eight months seems like the tipping point.
Since the pilot episode is now available online, what kind of reaction have you seen from those who have seen it so far?
CRISTIN: I’m not on any social media, so I am blissfully ignorant. I stay far away from Google. But my dad has a Google alert. I haven’t heard from him yet and I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. He knows not to talk to me about that stuff. But my mom also has a Google alert and I feel like I’ll be getting a voicemail from her.
HENRY: My mother texted me and said to tell [Cristin], “Hello.” That was the feedback I got.
BEN FELDMAN: My parents liked it. They saw it and liked it. But it’s not like they’re going to tell me if they didn’t.
CRISTIN: I didn’t tell my parents. So I let the Google alert tell them for me.
BEN FELDMAN: We were just talking this morning about how terrifying it is to know that it is out there and anybody in the world can write something and comment.
BEN QUEEN: Thankfully, there is no comment section. Here’s what I’m getting: tweets.
CRISTIN: What is Twitter?
BEN QUEEN: (Laughs) It is a little bird that lands on your shoulder — you need to get with the times! Facebook and all that stuff — everybody that has seen it has really liked it, which is great because all my friends are theoretically employed and should not have been able to watch it yet since they are at work.
What is the hardest thing about writing a rom-com today?
BEN QUEEN: Actually, it’s not that hard to me because they don’t make them for movies anymore. My wife and I, we like going to action movies and romantic comedies, and they are just not making them. I talked to a well-known romantic comedy producer who told me that it was because they couldn’t get movie-star males to star in those types of movies anymore. It’s like this weird trend. So just to be able to put something like that on television — the fact that we’re allowed to do this on television now and dig into those stories in an interesting way — it’s like you can draw on all that experience. I love THE MINDY PROJECT too. They lean really heavily into the romantic comedy tropes. But we’re just trying to do a pure rom-com. It’s not self-referential in any way. It’s just about these two people. [Cue the “awwws” as he indicated Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti.]
Did any of you sign up for an online dating site, like as practice for the show?
CRISTIN: (Laughs) I ran it around my head for a little bit.
HENRY: I’ve been playing with my roommates Tinder, and it was illuminating. You find out a lot about somebody in three pictures, like are they willing to be naked in a shower for you or have them been hiking.
BEN QUEEN: One of our writers is on Tinder for us and a couple other sites too. She’s really young and she’s like, “You’d be surprised how many Hollywood executives come up on Tinder.”
LENORA: Two of my friends actually wrote me a profile. I’m not on it, but they were saying I should try it and I was like, “No, no, no.”
BEN QUEEN: Which website?
LENORA: Something about fish.
BEN QUEEN: That’s Plenty of Fish (POF).
LENORA: That’s right. So they wrote me a profile. It was really nice. It’s a horrible thing to do if you’re doing it yourself — write a profile. I don’t know how you’d do that. So they wrote it for me and I was really touched. They wrote some lovely things. I liked me.
BEN FELDMAN: Did you meet anybody? Did you get any hits?
LENORA: No, they put it up and the next day I took it down. It just made me feel strange. I’m just not there yet.
HENRY: Plenty of Fish is like everyone is ready to get married.
LENORA: (Laughs) Yeah, that kind of feeling.
So far it looks like each episode title is based on one letter of the alphabet, but there are 26 letters and the show has less episodes. Are you going to be skipping some letters, or how will you deal with that?
BEN QUEEN: Some episodes will cover more than one letter. For instance — I’m not saying this is an episode, but it could be — LMNO, which is texting jargon for “laughing my nuts off” and that episode could theoretically be about texting and how that gets in the way of relationships.
How does it feel to be the first new TV show of the Fall season to debut online?
CRISTIN: Great. I think it’s equal parts scary and exciting. It’s really wonderful to know that people who are behind the show are that excited about it. I’m someone who has a TV. But I sat in front of my TV the other night and watched DRUNK HISTORY on Hulu instead of turning on the television. So that’s how I watch most of the stuff that I watch. So I think it’s very smart. That is becoming the new platform.
BEN FELDMAN: I think this show is going to have a younger demographic and that is the way you get to that demographic — via their computers.
BEN QUEEN: The “Back to the Future” stuff, for instance, part of what we want to do with the show is integrate real pop culture clips and real people. I mean, it’s set in L.A., so you could in theory run into Lea Thompson on the street. Plus, in A TO Z, they get to know each other through social media. That was not cynical attempt to reproduce anything that has been successful, but to reproduce how people actually interact. So it just felt right that NBC chose to premiere the show this way. We felt very lucky. Plus, it separates it from all the other shows. There’s so many shows coming out. SELFIE looks good.
BEN FELDMAN: (Laughs) Don’t promote other shows!
HENRY: We’re like the show with the big old heart that just needs a chance.
Do you have a strategy? Because A TO Z will air Thursdays at 9:30 p.m., which is up against SCANDAL. What’s your strategy to go up against a show like that?
CRISTIN: (Laughs) There’s going to be a plotline where Zelda has an affair with the President and there’s an assassination attempt on him. That’s the “LMNO” episode. Spoiler alert!
BEN QUEEN: We’re just trying to make a great show every week and just trying to make it as awesome as possible. I just feel, like Cristin says, people are going to find it. Then hopefully people will love it and they will tell people to watch it. So we’ll just be on the set trying to make the best show we can. I think people will find it.
CRISTIN: They are actually so different. I haven’t seen SCANDAL. So I don’t know what I’m talking about.
BEN FELDMAN: I’m impressed you know so much about it.
CRISTIN: Well, I listen.
BEN FELDMAN: You listen to SCANDAL like it’s a radio program?
CRISTIN: (Laughs) I think both shows will appeal to the same demographic, but you’re either going to watch either SCANDAL or A TO Z.
BEN FELDMAN: You can DVR the other one anyway.
HENRY: And we’re going to bring a lot of snazzy sex to our show too – sex and intrigue and drama and scandals!
BEN QUEEN: We did add a new character that shows up in episode 2 that will be on for a number of episodes — Ben Falcone, who will be the erstwhile love interest of Lydia (Christina Kirk).
Are we going to meet Andrew’s father or Zelda’s mother?
BEN QUEEN: Yes, of course. Actually, they were in the pilot, but we didn’t end up shooting it. They were in scenes, but ultimately we cut it down for time. What I want to be able to do is be a workplace show, a family show, and a relationship show. I want to do as much as we can, so, yes, absolutely.
CRISTIN: Can Stevie Nicks play my mom?
BEN QUEEN: I can see that.
BEN FELDMAN: Did you have a pitch for my dad?
CRISTIN: (Laughs) I said Jeff Goldblum because I want to meet him.
BEN FELDMAN: So Jeff Goldblum for any guest-starring role.
You mentioned that popular media will be incorporated into the show, like as flashbacks. Can you give some examples on how you want to use that?
BEN QUEEN: For example, I love LAVERNE & SHIRLEY. I was a big fan of those Gary Marshall shows growing up. So I thought of that relationship for these two girls [Zelda and Stephie] as they have a LAVERNE & SHIRLEY vibe. So when we had to find an apartment, I was like, “Where’s the apartment that they filmed the LAVERNE & SHIRLEY years where they moved to here in L.A.?” So we went to that apartment and that’s their [Zelda and Stephie’s] apartment. So when you see the exterior of that apartment, that’s where Laverne and Shirley came down the steps. We’re going to have a scene in one of the episodes where we lean into that a little bit. So stuff just like that. I love that you can go there. Someone is living in the BRADY BUNCH house and you could do a story about that person living there. We’re trying to find a way to work something like that into each episode. Like the second episode has a reference to “War Games.” I just love that stuff. I just like to pile a bunch of fun stuff into an episode as much as possible.
What about the Wallflowers? Are we going to hear stories of Andrew and Stu’s work environment and the people they have to encounter?
BEN QUEEN: For the price of this set, you bet! We’re going to be here a lot. I had a friend who worked at eHarmony for many years, which kind of informed how [Wallflowers] works. It’s like one of those companies and it fell on hard times and they are just going for the lowest common denominator. So its about the love stories are the people who use the app. But mostly the show is about the love story between Andrew and Zelda and everyone down the line [Stephie, Stu, Lydia included]. They are all going to have their fun stories. “Love Actually” is another fun inspiration, as well as all the different types of romantic comedies.
CRISTIN: Never seen it, and I’ve never seen “Back to the Future.”
BEN QUEEN: Whoa! Pull that screen back in here and we can all watch it together. (Laughs)
While the television premiere of A TO Z is scheduled for Thursday, October 2nd at 9:30 p.m. on NBC, the digital version is now available online for free on multiple platforms, including partnership with iHeart Radio, Clear Channel Media, Hulu, xFinity, NBC.com, the NBC app. This is the perfect time to discover this delightful and charming new series and fall in love with Andrew and Zelda as they fall in love before our eyes. (Note: The digital episode available online has additional 90 seconds at the end, which will not be on the broadcast version. It features a special fun scene with a “Back To the Future” hoverboard.)