New Girl was initially—and, ratings-wise, successfully—promoted as a starring vehicle for the "adorkable" Zooey Deschanel as Jess Day, before evolving into a funny ensemble comedy about four roommates in Los Angeles, including the young but consistently grumpy Nick Miller (Jake Johnson), the vulnerable creep with a heart of gold Schmidt (Max Greenfield), and Winston Bishop (Lamorne Morris), a pro basketball player-turned-police officer who is terrible at pranks.
The extended ensemble includes Cece Parekh (Hannah Simone), Jess' longtime friend and Schmidt's on-again/off-again girlfriend, and Coach (Damon Wayans Jr.), a personal trainer who is friends with the group but disappears for seasons at a time (thanks to Wayans' busy schedule.) Here are some facts about the series, which airs its fifth season finale tonight.
1. ITS CREATOR HAD NEVER WORKED ON A TV SHOW BEFORE.
New Girl creator Elizabeth Meriwether was completely new to the world of television when she began developing the series in 2011. The then-29-year-old came to the attention of 20th Century Fox when the mother-in-law of Jonathan Davis, the studio's president of creative affairs, sent him the playbill from one of Meriwether's theatrical productions. Davis read her work, liked what he saw, and gave Meriwether a call. She pitched a sitcom based on her experience of spending four years moving from one Craigslist sublet to another in Los Angeles. It was originally titled Chicks & Dicks.
2. JESS WAS PARTIALLY INSPIRED BY DIANE KEATON.
"She’s so massively, heart-wrenchingly funny, and she is never just playing one thing," Meriwether told The New York Times. "Whenever we get criticized that the Jess character is too this or too that, I think about Diane Keaton." Meriwether was also inspired by Tasmin Greig's character in the British series Green Wing (2004-2006).
3. ELIZABETH MERIWETHER IS BOTH A NICK AND A JESS.
Meriwether's colleagues have said that Nick Miller has a lot of the New Girl creator in his personality; one example is that they both pull their hoodies over their heads. However, Meriwether has said in interviews that Jess—in addition to Keaton and The Green Wing—was based on herself. New York magazine wrote that, like Jess, Meriwether sings to herself when she's uncomfortable. By the end of the first season, she believed Jess Day was a hybrid of herself, Zooey Deschanel, the writers, and the editor.
4. JAKE JOHNSON HAD TO LOSE 15 POUNDS TO PLAY NICK.
After learning that he had booked the New Girl pilot, Johnson and his wife went out for Mexican food to celebrate. "In the car, I was already thinking about what I was going to order," Johnson told The Advocate. "I was going to get chips and guacamole, a blended margarita, a quesadilla for the table, and a chicken burrito for me. I knew she was going to get tacos, so I figured we’d do a little mix and match on that. Then I got a call from my manager, who told me I needed to lose 15 pounds before we started shooting. So when I got to the restaurant I had chicken salad with no dressing."
5. COACH LEFT THE FIRST TIME BECAUSE HAPPY ENDINGS WAS RENEWED.
It was a bit of a "surprise" to the cast and crew of Happy Endings when the ABC series was renewed for another season. It was a particular surprise to Damon Wayans Jr. who, thinking the show was going to be cancelled, took on the role of Coach in the New Girl pilot. When New Girl was ordered to series and Happy Endings was set to continue, Wayans was contractually obligated to return to the latter. Because replacing Wayans with another actor would mean an 80 percent reshoot of the pilot, they kept Wayans in and opted to introduce a new character—Winston—in the second episode. But when Happy Endings was finally cancelled in 2013, Wayans came back to New Girl in its third season.
6. WAYANS AND ZOOEY DESCHANEL GO WAY BACK.
7. MAX GREENFIELD DIDN'T WANT SCHMIDT TO BE SUCH A JERK.
”I went to [executive producer] Jake Kasdan and said, ‘Let’s just try to make this character as not-douchey as possible,”’ Greenfield told Entertainment Weekly. "And he goes, ‘Well, just don’t play him douchey.'"
8. MERIWETHER ASKED JAKE KASDAN TO DIRECT BECAUSE OF HIS WORK ON FREAKS AND GEEKS.
Meriwether "more or less cold-e-mailed" Jake Kasdan and asked if he could direct the pilot. "He blended comedy and emotion beautifully on Freaks and Geeks, and that was one of the main reasons I wanted him to direct the pilot so badly," she explained. He would later direct six other installments of New Girl, and is an executive producer on the show.
9. THEY OFTEN HAVE TO NEGOTIATE WITH STANDARDS AND PRACTICES.
For the first season episode "Naked," in which Jess had issues saying "penis," Fox's standards and practices allowed the show to say the word five times. They also were allowed to say "b-hole," but not "a-hole." The writers got excited when they found out the usage of the word "dick" was permitted, provided it wasn't being used in reference to a body part.
10. THEY PURPOSELY NEVER EXPLAIN THE RULES TO "TRUE AMERICAN."
According to Meriwether, explaining the rules of how to play the drinking game won't make it "easier to comprehend. Our goal is the opposite, actually, to make it harder and harder and harder to understand." The idea for True American came from one of the writers, who played a similar game when she was in college, but she couldn't remember the rules.
11. JOHNSON PITCHED THE IDEA OF TRAN.
One of many story ideas Johnson has pitched to Meriwether via late-night texts was, "What if I have a Vietnamese friend in a park? And he doesn’t speak English, and his family gets really mad at me for hanging out with him?"
12. THE NICK/JESS KISS WAS CAREFULLY CHOREOGRAPHED.
"Embarrassingly, I actually did try to tell them how to kiss," Meriwether admitted. "I walked up to Jake Johnson between takes and said: 'I want you to kind of take her, and then do this—' (I demonstrated by making my fingers kiss each other) 'Then wait and do that again, but kind of like this—' (more finger kissing). He just stared at me for a beat, and then, to his credit, nodded and said, 'I think I got it.'"
13. DENNIS FARINA WAS IN UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY.
Dennis Farina played Nick's father, Walt, in two episodes. And according to New Girl executive producer Brett Baer, the actor seemed to be having a good time. Farina told Meriwether he had never been on a set before where he didn't have a gun and couldn't say 'f*ck.' Farina passed away in July 2013, a few months after Walt was killed off.
14. PRINCE WAS A FAN AND WAS ORIGINALLY ASKED TO BE IN THE "VIRGINS" EPISODE.
Meriwether believed he turned down a cameo appearance in "Virgins" because it was "too racy." Instead he appeared in "Prince," the season three episode that aired after the 2014 Super Bowl. When Prince heard the idea that he would be the one to get Jess to tell Nick she loves him, he referenced Silver Streak (1976) and Hitch (2005). "I was incredibly shy around him, convinced that I would say the wrong thing and make him leave," Meriwether told Vulture. "But once I got over the initial terror of speaking to him, I realized we were just two people who were both obsessed with making the episode good. He wanted to choose the name of the non-speaking chef character, the chef’s wardrobe, the paintings on the walls, the linens in the bedroom set, his wardrobe, Zooey’s wardrobe, the music, the pancakes, the hairstyles ... he had a piece of art, a poem written out in the shape of an egg, flown from Minnesota to hang on the wall of the set. His vision of the episode was all-encompassing, but I never felt overpowered. He always asked what I thought. It was like he was asking me to rise up to meet him."