Coming off a five-year run as writer-producer on NBC’s The Office, Justin Spitzer in August 2013 sold another single-camera workplace comedy, American Auto to NBC, with a put pilot commitment. The script did not go to pilot, and Spitzer went on to create Superstore. After he stepped down as Superstore showrunner in summer 2019 to focus on development under his Universal TV overall deal, he took a new stab at American Auto, which was redeveloped and went to pilot — and then to series — at NBC.
The comedy, starring Ana Gasteyer, Jon Barinholtz, Harriet Dyer, Humphrey Ker, Michael B. Washington, Tye White and X Mayo, is set at the headquarters of a major American automotive company in Detroit, where a floundering group of executives try to rediscover the company identity amidst a rapidly changing industry. During a virtual TCA panel for the show, Spitzer spoke about American Auto‘s origins, and how The Office and Superstore influenced his decision to take a closer look into America’s corporate offices.
“I pitched this show back in 2013. I’d been on “The Office” for a long time, and I thought I’d love to do a workplace show about the corporate world,” he said. “In The Office, they refer to decisions made by corporate, occasionally, and I’d think, oh, what’s that show about, and how do those decisions get made?
“And then, the following year, I did Superstore. American Auto was in pilot at that point, so I took bits and pieces, and put them in Superstore. Every now and then, I would talk to Tracy Pakosta — who had been to the studio when we developed American Auto originally; she moved over to the network, and she was always a fan of it — about if there was ever an opportunity to redevelop it.
“And so, then, when I left Superstore, it felt like an opportunity, and it felt like an even better time. Superstore is so much a show about people whose lives are dictated by corporate, and they seem like antagonists all the time, and it seemed fun to get a peek on behind the scenes of how the decisions get made. The people at corporate aren’t bad people; they’re good people doing their best to try to make the company work, and, sometimes, their decisions have bad effects on the employees, but I thought it would be fun to get to see why those decisions get made.
“And then, the fact that it’s the auto industry came later. I just wanted it to be about a big multibillion dollar American industry.”
Besides Spitzer, Superstar recurring player Barinholtz also provides a link to American Auto, on which he is a series regular.
“Someone asked me, ‘What’s the difference between Marcus and Wesley?’,” Barinholtz said, referring to his characters on Superstore and American Auto. “And I think the answer is 58 million dollars.”
American Auto, from Spitzer Holding Company, Kapital Entertainment and Universal Television, premieres Dec. 13.