Over the years, musical shows have gone through many iterations. In 2021, fans were given two incredible musical series from NBC: “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” and “Girls5eva” on Peacock, the network’s streaming platform. In both shows, the music was more than just a tool to entertain; it was the driving factor of the narrative.
Austin Winsberg, the creator and showrunner of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” and Meredith Scardino “Girls5eva” creator and showrunner, joined TheWrap for an Emmy Screening Series discussion that also included “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” executive music producer Harvey Mason Jr., “Girls5eva” executive producer and composer Jeff Richmond and “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” music supervisor Jen Ross.
The group discussed what it meant to bring these kinds of stories to screens, especially in a year where most productions were shut down indefinitely due to COVID-19. For both Winsberg and Scardino, the ability to bring joy and catharsis to people during an exceedingly tumultuous time was not something that was taken for granted.
“Even just like, seeing responses from people where people say they’ve had a really hard day or even a hard week or month or whatever, this year — and it was like a nice pocket of joy for them? It’s just so incredibly rewarding,” Scardino said.
Really, the joy that their series brought people was just a massive bonus on top of being able to continue to work through the pandemic. Both “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” and “Girls5eva” filmed at the height of COVID-19 cases, and aired just as restrictions were starting to ease up ever so slightly.
In fact, for Ross, COVID only slightly affected the conversations she had with artists in attempting to secure their songs for the show. Because, at the end of the day, fans loved their music long before a global pandemic. And in the case of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” those songs were part of the narrative, rather than just a background soundtrack.
“It’s a connection that we all have and why music really empowers us and changes our lives, right?” Ross said. “What we’re asking for is something more than just a needle drop in the background. What we’re having a conversation about is, ‘We want to take your song because it means something to people. It heals people.’ We’ve all had that moment, right? Like, none of us would be here if we didn’t jump on our bed and sing a song at some point or sing it in the shower or you know, let it loose in the car. And it’s really about tapping into that.”
It’s a similar situation over on “Girls5eva”; the music is once again part of the narrative. But while “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” runs almost entirely based on existing songs — minus the original song “Crimson Love” that came in season 2, which Ross revealed got some notes from standards and practices for its lyrics — the songs of “Girls5eva” are all entirely original, from the minds of Scardino and Richmond.
For Richmond, who’s particularly proud of the “Girls5eva” theme song “Famous 5eva,” the challenge was making sure that those songs sounded like they truly were from the late 90s and early 2000s. But cracking that came fairly quick.
“It was fun! One of the cool things about writing songs from that period is like, ‘Oh, the tools are already there!’ There’s already this road map of what to do,” Richmond said. “The people that wrote songs in the 90s or 2000s or whenever, they left you this great — when you’re trying to do a pastiche or a knock-off — they left you what it should kind of sound like.”
The trickier part was making it just new enough that it’d be something people want to listen to now. And in that respect, the “Girls5eva” team certainly succeeded, releasing an entire nine-song album amassing thousands of streams online.
Watch TheWrap’s full Emmy Contenders panel with the creators and music minds of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” and “Girls5eva” via the video above.