By on January 27, 2021


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.

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/]

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27 Comments on “NBC Planning Sitcom About Car Company, We Have Questions [UPDATED]...”

  • avatar

    Besides Gasteyer (who wasn’t very funny on SNL), I seriously don’t think I know who those actors or actresses are, is this another we only appeal to the 18-29 demo thing?

    If they make this “The Office” it could be worth watching. Maybe. But television for a long time has been a dumpster fire, there is a reason “Friends” was #1 on Netflix for several years.

    Not looking good, male lead is known for Dumb and Dumber remake or sequel:

    “Jon Barinholtz is an actor and writer, known for Dumb and Dumber To (2014) and Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter (2013).”

  • avatar

    I can’t even think of the last live-action sitcom I watched. However, from what little I know of them, I expect this will have only a minor connection to the automotive industry. So basically it’ll be like a TTAC editorial.

    It isn’t “Tommy Boy” required the watcher to know about auto parts manufacturing, corporate sales, or probate laws.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      At least Tommy Boy got the broad strokes of auto-parts sales mostly right, and what it didn’t get right or bent for sake of story isn’t bothersome.

      Source: Son of an auto-parts family.

      • 0 avatar

        I expect it will be directionally correct. Like there will be a line about “we have a recall for camshaft problems” not “we have a recall for nuclear generator problems”.

        However there won’t be any talk about how a supercharger works or sales banks or things like that. If people want a “comedy about cars” they’ll have to stick to YouTube or read MotorTrend.

    • 0 avatar

      Best comment ever. Well played.

    • 0 avatar
      C5 is Alive

      “What the American public doesn’t know is what makes them the American public” remains a scathingly accurate line, and Dan Ackroyd delivers it with just the right balance of humor and sheer, utter contempt.

      “Basically like a TTAC editorial” is a very close second.

  • avatar

    This sounds like a bad remake of Gung Ho.

    It will probably be along the lines of the OFFICE. Which I never really liked short of a few scenes here and there.

    Are they having to do any reshoots? I would imagine since it is an NBC show there were probably potshots (veiled and outright) at Trump or his administration

    • 0 avatar

      My kids love The Office (not sure if they are aware it has a BBC predecessor). When I worked at an automotive office, I was never able to watch it with them because it was too real [and therefore not funny to me at the time].

      Since I haven’t collected a paycheck in 2.5 years, I might be up for this one. (The Simpsons Season 2 Episode 15 offers a rich vein of material to tap into.)

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    How ever this show turns out, there’s no way it can be as bad as the NASCAR Netflix show looks like it will be based on the preview.
    I’m pretty sure that was the result of having a show already and deciding to add a NASCAR theme to it without changing anything else.

    All the best car and car themed shows are on YouTube.

  • avatar

    It was reported it will be a single-camera show. My best guess (my motto: often wrong, but good guess) is that like The Office, there will be occasional auto related mentions, but only to set up the gags. IOW, not worth critiquing for technical accuracy.

  • avatar

    Just reading the headline of this post reinforces my decision to cut off cable and antenna TV 18 years ago. I was a 9-year old appalled when Newton Minnow referred to the medium as a “vast wasteland”. Forty-three years later I found myself readily agreeing and shut ‘er down.

  • avatar

    Here’s hoping they debate whether Tru-Kote should be standard equipment or not.

  • avatar

    From the looks of the alignment of the neon in the “B” of NBC sign in the heading picture, it’s going to be a show about Tesla.

  • avatar

    The picture doesn’t have 3 middle aged men running away from an exploding car *cough*Top Gear America*cough* so I’ll give it a chance. Don’t know the rest of the cast but Gasteyer (outside of SNL) is very funny.

  • avatar

    Coming from Leftist Hollyweird it will probably be used for propaganda purposes, furthering the “climate change” fraud and putting a happy face on the asinine and unnecessary mad rush to electrification.

    • 0 avatar

      That was my thought too. There has to be a leftist agenda in there we aren’t seeing yet. I’m sure they will also take plenty of opportunities to bash the American auto companies and capitalism in general.

  • avatar

    I can’t recall the last time I found a sitcom funny. Around Christmas time I was at my brother’s watching The Office and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I know they’re allegedly funny, but I don’t see it. The concept strikes me as better for a made for TV movie.

  • avatar

    “It may seem there are parallels to General Motors – after all, GM has a female CEO in Mary Barra –” based on what little information we have I see no parallels with GM. The fact GM and this fictional company have female CEOs is not a parallel. If two companies have male CEOs is that a parallel? I would suspect the choice of a female CEO character was driven more by the ridiculous “inclusive and diversity” BS coming out of Hollywood. If the fictional company was successful I can guarantee the CEO character would have been a black woman.

  • avatar

    If the show mentions “climate change” we know it’s based solely on fiction.

  • avatar

    The Fast and Furious franchise is a caricature and does well. Motec exhaust system anyone? (Craig has some good behind the scenes videos)

    Of the shows mentioned here, I liked the early seasons of Friends and Cheers. I have not seen an episode of The Office or Parks and Recreation, just clips. Watched a couple episodes of BBT and while the science is well done, the humor is not.

    If I want simple humor I will watch reruns of Home Improvement, because Heidi.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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