NBC Planning Sitcom About Car Company, We Have Questions [UPDATED]

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
nbc planning sitcom about car company we have questions updated

You may have seen reports over the past few days about the planned sitcom from NBC dubbed American Auto.

Set for launch for the 2021-2022 season, the show is going to star Ana Gasteyer, Jon Barinholtz, Harriet Dyer, Humphrey Ker, Michael B. Washington, and Tye White.

It will focus on a struggling American car company – based in Detroit, natch – called Payne Motors. Payne Motors, you see, has to deal with a fast-changing automotive industry.

Justin Spitzer is the writer (The Office, Superstore) attached to the project, with Gasteyer (a Saturday Night Live alum) playing the company’s CEO. Dyer plays the PR boss, Ker the sales chief, Washington a designer (presumably the design head), Barinholtz a direct descendant of the company founder, White an assembly-line worker, and comedian X Mayo as the CEO’s executive assistant.

Here’s the official NBC description, via Road & Track: “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.”

The pilot was shot a year ago after the show was greenlit, but COVID-19 delayed things.

It may seem there are parallels to General Motors – after all, GM has a female CEO in Mary Barra – but it appears the original script idea was first conceived before Barra took the top job at GM.

Naturally, we have questions:

Will it get the car stuff right? Will American Auto not only have informed observations (and perhaps, opinions) on whatever is going on in the industry, but will it also get basic terminology and specs correct? If the show uses the phrase “blinker fluid” unironically, for example, it will lose a lot of credibility with car people, driving away part of the potential audience, no matter how good it is in other respects.

The casting does seem to indicate that the show understands, on a really basic level, the structure of the white-collar offices, but will the assembly worker have much interaction with those in the cube farm? That’s not likely in real life, so the show will have to get that right, for example.

I also wonder if other cast will be added or rotate in as guests — there’s opportunity to have actors play the CFO, or a product-planning manager, or a plant manager, or the head of marketing, or a vice president, or….

Will it even be all that much about cars, and if not, is that such a bad thing? Just thinking quickly about the workplace-based sitcoms I’ve watched over the years, I’ve noticed most of the comedy isn’t about the work the characters do or the industry they’re in. It’s about personality quirks, personal relationships, placing characters into situations that are relatable to the viewers (and maybe seeing how they react), and other various factors. I haven’t watched The Office a ton (I know, I know, don’t @ me) but in the episodes I’ve seen, most of the humor had nothing to do with selling paper. Same with say, Cheers or Frasier – slinging brews and slinging advice provided just small doses of the humor in those shows. Most workplace-based sitcoms use the workplace as a backdrop, not the source of the humor.

This makes sense – shows have to relate to a wide audience in order to be successful. In this particular case, how much of the audience will get, say, jokes about Lucas electronics?

What Type of Sitcom Will it Be? Single-camera or multiple? Will there be a studio audience/laugh track or no? In other words, will it look more like The Office and Parks and Recreation or Seinfeld/Cheers/The Big Bang Theory?

UPDATE: Further search indicates it will be single-camera.

How Will it Follow Changes in the Auto Industry? My first question touches on this, but I am curious how this show, to the extent it actually talks about the industry (see question 2), approaches electrification, autonomous cars, the rise of startups like Tesla and Rivian, climate change, regulation, the dealership sales model, the crossover craze, the future of auto shows, the automotive media, manufacturing, et cetera.

Will the Show Be Just a Caricature, Based on What California-based Hollywood Types Stereotype American Car Companies and/or Detroit as? I hope not. And I can’t take credit for that question – autowriter Dan Carney posed it on Twitter. But it is a good question. Hollywood does at times get things wrong, based on incorrect stereotypes of the subject being covered. Let’s hope Spitzer and his team have some industry knowledge and/or that NBC has hired some really knowledgeable consultants who paint the industry (and Detroit) in an accurate light (flattering or not). Let’s also hope NBC listens to the consultants.

What are the odds that this won’t be an offensively terrible stereotype of Californians’ idea of what the people who work for domestic car companies must be like? https://t.co/eprmTvo6xG

— Dan Carney (@AutowriterDan) January 27, 2021

Finally, Will it Be any Good? I won’t watch a bad racing movie or a bad sports movie just because I like racing and sports. Same for American Auto. If it’s not funny and entertaining and well-acted and all that, I won’t be tuning in for long, even if it gets the car stuff right. Even if it approaches the industry thoughtfully.

And nor will anyone else, whether they’re into cars or not. If it’s good, people will watch, even if they can’t tell a carburetor from a CV boot. If it’s bad, even the nerdiest gear head will seek other entertainment.

I suppose, barring any changes, we’ll find out the answer to these questions this fall.

[Image: OldskoolDesign/Shutterstock.com]

Join the conversation
2 of 27 comments
  • Jeff S Jeff S on Jan 28, 2021

    I don't know how a comedic sitcom would work but a Netflix or Amazon series would be better. Maybe a drama based on what the automobile industry is really like and the changing environment of the industry. The networks for the most part in recent times make very few sitcoms or series that are worth watching. The Canadian Broadcasting might be up to the task of making a good series since they make quality series such as Heartland and Shitts Creek.

  • Jimmyy Jimmyy on Jan 28, 2021

    I can see it now. The show will feature a female CEO pulling a 7 figure salary where her sole purpose is to shout from the pulpit about systematic racism. She will demand hiring to prove a point. And the show will be award winning.

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂