If you haven't seen New Girl -- the Fox sitcom that premiered last September to stellar ratings -- you've probably seen the billboards all over town, featuring star Zooey Deschanel in lime-green vintage, grinning alongside the slogan, "Simply Adorkable."
Its almost-cringeworthy tagline may have been the work of buzzword-happy marketers, but New Girl itself is the creation of 30-year-old Liz Meriwether, who based Deschanel's character Jess -- a gorgeous but almost pathologically quirky young woman who moves into a loft shared by three dudes -- on herself.
New Girl's fans and detractors alike have zeroed in on the very specific brand of femininity Deschanel's character defends. In one oft-blogged speech, Jess insists her love of glitter, ribbons and desserts "doesn't mean I'm not smart and tough and strong."
What's actually genius about New Girl is the way its girly-girl often is used as a catalyst to humanize her male roommates, turning potentially stereotypical characters -- the slacker, the douchebag -- into multilayered, endlessly surprising people.
"The idea for the show [came] from my experiences, and my friendships with my guy friends," says Meriwether, who came to TV via playwriting (Heddatron, an adaptation of Hedda Gabler involving robots) and screenwriting (last year's Ashton Kutcher/Natalie Portman sex-com No Strings Attached).
As she talks to a reporter in a conference room next to her office on the Fox lot, Meriwether is getting her makeup done for the Weekly's photo shoot, a submission from a would-be New Girl writer open on her lap. She was in the editing room the night before until midnight -- it's not unusual for her to arrive on the lot at 7 a.m. and leave at 3 a.m. Today she's so tired that she actually forgot to have coffee. "I feel like I live in my office," she says.
She actually lives in Laurel Canyon, near Mount Olympus, where her neighbors include screenwriter friends Diablo Cody, Lorene Scafaria and Dana Fox, a unit immortalized as "The Fempire" in a New York Times story a few years back.
"I think the word fempire" -- Meriwether laughs just saying it -- "was a joke that got a little bit overused. I certainly don't call myself that, or call my friends that or anything. But I think it's great to know that there are a lot of women screenwriters in Hollywood who are supportive of one another and not competitive -- they're not trying to bring each other down."
With her tousled blond mop, high cheekbones and bashful eyes behind big, black-framed glasses, Meriwether is unmistakably fetching. Given the general invisibility of writers in Hollywood, is there perhaps any upside to being -- you know -- a young, female, attractive ...
Meriwether cuts off our awkward inquiry. "You can say 'hot,' " she deadpans, then bursts into a self-deprecating grin that defines the middle ground between awkward and alluring, making the case that if Deschanel is the glamorized TV version of adorkability, Meriwether is the real thing.