Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

By: Geri Cole

Promotional poster for THE DROPOUT

Geri hands it over to guest host Melissa Silverstein, the founder and publisher of Women in Hollywood, for a conversation with THE DROPOUT creator and showrunner Liz Meriwether.

Liz Meriwether is a writer, showrunner, and producer known for her work as the creator and showrunner of the hit comedy series NEW GIRL and the sitcom BLESS THIS MESS, as well as for writing the screenplay for the 2011 romcom NO STRINGS ATTACHED.

Guest moderator Melissa Silverstein is the founder and publisher of Women and Hollywood, an initiative and website that educates, advocates, and agitates for gender diversity and inclusion in Hollywood and the global film industry.

THE DROPOUT is a Hulu limited series based on the ABC podcast of the same name. The series follows the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos.

The series premiered in March 2022 and is available to stream on Hulu.

Seasons 7-11 of OnWriting are hosted by Geri Cole, a writer and performer based in New York City. She is currently a full-time staff and interactive writer for SESAME STREET, for which she has received a Writers Guild Award and two Daytime Emmys.

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OnWriting is an official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, East. The series was created and produced by Jason Gordon. Associate Producer & Designer is Molly Beer. Mix, tech production, and original music by Stock Boy Creative.

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Thanks for listening. Write on.


Geri Cole: Hi, I’m Geri Cole and you’re listening to OnWriting, a podcast from the Writers Guild Of America, East. In each episode, you’re going to hear from the people behind your favorite films and television series, talking about the writing process, how they got their project from the page to the screen, and so much more.

Today, we’re going to bring you a special conversation between Liz Meriwether, the creator and showrunner of The Dropout and Melissa Silverstein, the founder and publisher of Women in Hollywood. Liz and Melissa are going to talk about The Dropout, the new Hulu limited series based on the ABC audio podcast that follows the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos.

In addition to The Dropout, Liz created the hit network television series New Girl, and Bless This Mess. She also wrote the screenplay for the romcom classic No Strings Attached. Now, let’s turn it over to our guest moderator, Melissa Silverstein.

Melissa Silverstein: Thanks so much for being here, Liz.

Liz Meriwether: Thanks for having me. I’m excited.

Melissa Silverstein: So if you had to give the logline for what the show was, what would you say it is? What is your logline for this?

Liz Meriwether: I’m notoriously terrible at titles and loglines. It’s the story of a woman’s rise and fall as the CEO of the company she founded. And then it’s also the story of a bunch of other things. I feel like this story has so much scope, I think, which is what really excited me about it was that it touches on just so many parts of our culture and big kind of historical moments. I mean, in recent history. I don’t know. Every time when I was working on it, every time that I thought I had kind of figured out what it was about, something surprised me and I was like, “Oh, there’s this whole other layer to it that I have to explore.” So yeah. Sorry, long answer.

Melissa Silverstein: It’s okay. No worries.

Liz Meriwether: It’s tough. It’s tough for me to put it in a logline.

Melissa Silverstein: So for me, I am like freaky follower of Elizabeth Holmes. I don’t know what my obsession is, but it’s like a serious obsession. I’d love to know if other people who are listening have gone the whole bad blood roots and all the podcasts and everything and read every story about it. Before I get into my fixation stuff, I want to ask you how you got started on the show and how you came to create it.

Liz Meriwether: I had read about Elizabeth Holmes in a Vanity Fair article, I guess it must have been in like 2017 or something, but it was when the company was falling apart. And I remember just pouring through it and thinking it was amazing and fascinating and then just kind of forgetting about it.

And then towards the end of New Girl, Searchlight asked me to come in and meet on the podcast that they just optioned The Dropout. And I hadn’t listened to the podcast yet. And I did and I was riveted. I thought that what Rebecca Jarvis did with the podcast was… I felt like it was this incredible exploration of who she is in a way that I thought some of the other reporting kind of hadn’t gone as deep on who Elizabeth is as a person.

So I felt like I was just so excited by the podcast, but I did ask myself, I was like, there’s been a book, there’s been a documentary, there’s been so much reporting about this. What is the point of doing a limited series about it? What do I think I can bring to this story? And it’s not just rehashing the stuff that’s already out there that’s been really well done by a lot of journalists.

And I guess I felt like the central question, that central mystery of who she is and what this story looked like from her point of view, from her imagined point of view, because obviously it’s a dramatization, I felt like that was a part of the story that hadn’t been told and that I was really interested in kind of exploring that.

And then my experiences running New Girl, I felt like I had a personal experience with being a young woman in a position of power at an early age when there were a lot of things I just didn’t know how to do. And I had that fake it till you make it and scary loss of identity throughout the process of suddenly being a leader at a young age, I think I really understood that.

So I don’t know. I was in the actual meeting with Searchlight and as I was talking about it, I just found myself getting more and more worked up about it. And I realized like, wow, I’m incredibly emotionally invested in this story. It was in the actual meeting that I realized how invested I was in the story. So yeah, that was my way. That was a long time ago because we also were supposed to start shooting March 2020 and we didn’t.

Melissa Silverstein: Right.

Liz Meriwether: We’ve been working on this for a long time. I mean-

Melissa Silverstein: So you started shooting a year later, right?

Liz Meriwether: Yeah.

Melissa Silverstein: A year, March 2021?

Liz Meriwether: Summer 2021. Yeah.

Melissa Silverstein: Okay. So almost like a year and a half later from when you were supposed to start. And you had a change of cast person, which I actually love Kate McKinnon, but I actually think worked out well for you.

Liz Meriwether: Amanda’s fantastic.

Melissa Silverstein: I want to get into Amanda because she’s spooky good in this, but talk a little bit about the writer’s room and how you put together all the Lizes. There’s a bunch of Lizes in that writer’s room and how you guys organize how to write something that, of course we know she was convicted now, but at that it was like it had a beginning and middle and end that was real. So how do you go about dramatizing something that we know happened?

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. I mean, I had never done that before. I’d only kind of written things with characters that I’d made up. And so I was excited about that challenge, but it was definitely daunting because there was so much research to do before we even got started. And then I feel like there was this moment when it was important to put the research aside and really just try to figure out how to organize the episodes emotionally, if that makes sense. Like what is the main emotional through line in this particular episode? Which it’s difficult when you’ve done all the research and you know the chronology and you know all the facts to kind of have to-

Melissa Silverstein: What’s the big point of each episode based on… Yeah.

Liz Meriwether: Having to decide what to lose, like where to veer from the facts after you spent a long time learning the facts.

Melissa Silverstein: Right. How long a period were you all doing the research and then you were like, okay, now we got to figure out this? Was it like two months, three months?

Liz Meriwether: No, it was probably like a month or so, but it was ongoing. I’d say that too. It was always kind of looking at stuff. But yeah, I feel like there was about a month of we interviewed people that they’d interviewed on the podcast and everybody read everything and we put in the writer’s room, our writer’s assistant put up all of the different prototypes that they’d had in Theranos.

Melissa Silverstein: Like the Edison and all that?

Liz Meriwether: Yeah.

Melissa Silverstein: Oh my gosh.

Liz Meriwether: The mini lab, which we didn’t include in the series because it was too confusing, but just like Theranos 1.0, 2.0, Edison. And then because it was like we were also trying to learn engineering and chemistry or at least understand enough science to be able to dramatize why she made the choice to move on from a certain prototype at certain times it. Was like we had to just learn enough to understand the bigger choices that she made.

But yeah. All around the writer’s room, we put up like all the real life pictures of the people just to keep the names straight. So there’s just like George Schultz staring down at me every day in the writer’s room. But yeah. And then the Lizes, I mean Liz Heldens and Liz Hannah were each keys with me for the writer’s room. And it was incredible because I was actually running Bless This Mess, which was a sitcom on ABC at the same time as The Dropout. So the writer’s rooms were on the same floor, so I was just running back and forth-

Melissa Silverstein: Oh, that’s fun.

Liz Meriwether: … between the writer’s rooms, but it was like just completely different tones. Like one room is just we’re talking about [inaudible 00:08:38] with chickens and then the other the room is really deep and-

Melissa Silverstein: Microfluidics.

Liz Meriwether: Micropolitics and and politics. I don’t know. So I knew that I needed really great drama EPs because I’d also never written a drama. So I really wanted to find people that understood drama structure and could kind of run the room in my absence. It was just this really weird coincidence that everybody was named Elizabeth. It was honestly the strangest.

Melissa Silverstein: And was it all female writer’s room?

Liz Meriwether: No, we had Dan LeFranc and Matt Lenski who were great, but yeah, just a small room.

Melissa Silverstein: And so for people who haven’t been watching, which I don’t know how you haven’t been, there’s two more episodes. One comes out tomorrow, Thursday, and then the next week is the last one. So can you talk about how you found the tone? Because even though each episode has a different focus, there is a consistent tone throughout it. So talk about what you think the tone is and how you were able to find it.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah, I mean I think that was everyone’s main question just from the beginning because they hired me and it was a little bit like she’s a comedy writer. She’s a sitcom writer. Is this going to be a comedy? I think Hulu had that question and it was the question that I had to ask myself too.

I guess I went into it thinking, I’m going to try to just tell the story the way that I want to tell it and not think about the tone because I knew I wanted it to feel grounded and always feel emotionally grounded, but I didn’t want to say like, this is a drama or this is a comedy because I didn’t want to rule stuff out, I guess.

I think there was so much absurdity to the story. If you listen to the podcast, if you read the book, and if you watch the documentary, you just-

Melissa Silverstein: It’s insane. The whole thing’s insane.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. There’s so much insanity and absurdity and I didn’t think it would be right to tell the story without acknowledging all of that because I actually think it’s part of it. I think it’s part of the tragedy of it too. I think the two go hand in hand a lot of the times where it’s like it’s people kind of fumbling, trying to do things that they don’t understand and be people they aren’t. And it is important to kind of embrace the absurdity to me.

But yeah, I mean then there were moments that I felt like I felt my comedy muscle reaching for a joke, or I would write more of a classic joke with a setup and a punchline. And I felt that those moments always stuck out. It just became clear in working on the outlines in the scripts. It was like, okay, if anything feels like a joke, if anything feels like we’re trying to get a laugh, it’s not going to be exactly right. It should always kind of blend in organically with the emotions of the story, if that makes sense. So, that kind of became apparent.

Melissa Silverstein: And you used the SEC deposition as a kind of through line through the whole thing, which is basically the beginning of her downfall, having to actually honestly answer things and not being able to answer things. And so what was it about that deposition?

Liz Meriwether: I actually struggled with that because I felt like that is a thing that I’d seen a lot before in these kinds of shows. And initially, I was like, oh, I don’t want any framing device. And then there’s just so much. It’s like you need to be oriented in what’s going on. And I really wanted to go back in time.

I wanted to go back to her childhood and I felt like in order to do that, the audience needed to know where we were going a little bit, like in order to kind of have the patience to be with her throughout the Beijing sequence and college and all of that, that we needed to sort of know where it was going. And part of the resources that Rebecca Jarvis had given our writer’s room was just the 10 hours of deposition footage that she had that I did not watch all of, but I think Amanda did.

But I watched a lot of it. And then poor writer’s assistant had to watch all of it and sort of document it. But it was really fascinating to me as just the form of a deposition video, I think is really interesting. That camera just unrelenting on a person, no cutting away, for hours and hours and hours with one size shot. It just felt like this kind of fascinating microscope on a person. And so I got excited by that and I got excited by not showing the people questioning her, just really trying to commit to showing just her face on camera.

Melissa Silverstein: So I want to talk a little bit about Amanda and how she was able to just really embody this woman in a way. It was spooky. Spooky, good. And her evolution, as Elizabeth and you see those moments and you use this device where she is trying to convince herself that she can do it at times.

It’s like when she’s in college and she has to talk to herself in the mirror for language that she could communicate with people. And I’m watching the scene and I’m like, feels like this woman is on the spectrum in some way. Like she has some issues about human to human contact. And I was wondering, I don’t know if she’s been diagnosed or anything like that, but that seemed to be a really interesting follow through for this.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting.

Melissa Silverstein: And so talk a little bit about that.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. First of all, Amanda, it’s the kind of performance as a writer you’re just like dream about because she elevates it. She lives like she’s living in the character. And especially you asked about the tone. I went through my journey with the tone, but I was so nervous about when we started shooting, because I knew that’s when the tone… What’s the cliche? The hits the frying pan.

Melissa Silverstein: The shit hits the frying pan.

Liz Meriwether: The shit hits the fan. The shit hits the frying.

Melissa Silverstein: Did you do it in order? Was it in chronological order that you shot or no?

Liz Meriwether: I mean we block shot the first four.

Melissa Silverstein: Okay.

Liz Meriwether: But most, we tried to do it as much in order as possible just for everybody’s sanity, but yeah. I mean she understood the tone just intrinsically. She’s one of those actresses who can hold space for comedy and drama at the same time, which I think is so rare. And she never let you off the hook as an audience. She always keeps you feeling for her, but at the same time, constantly on your toes. You’re not sure like what exactly is going on in her head. And I always thought the main engine of this show is going to be who is this woman, who is this woman. So if she had kind of offered a simple explanation with her performance, I don’t think people would be interested in continuing to watch eight episodes of it.

Melissa Silverstein: Right. No.

Liz Meriwether: She was such an incredible part of the process. And wait, what was the other thing you asked me about? It’s so interesting.

Melissa Silverstein: I was asking about Elizabeth’s kind of not being able to deal with people.

Liz Meriwether: Oh, connect. Yeah.

Melissa Silverstein: Connect.

Liz Meriwether: I really didn’t want to give her any labels or diagnoses.

Melissa Silverstein: Of course.

Liz Meriwether: For many reasons. I’m not a doctor and I think it can be distancing. I think it’s easy for people to put labels on other people and then feel like they are not at all connected to that person.

Melissa Silverstein: Right. But I connected with it more. I mean I was just trying to rationalize. All of us are really trying to understand this woman.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah.

Melissa Silverstein: She is a unicorn company, a unicorn person. And I think that’s part of the fascination.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. I’m so glad that you picked up on the connecting thing because that was another important emotional through line for me in creating the series. I felt like the box, the machine, I mean, the way that I understood it as a non-scientist was this person who wants to connect with other people, who is actually just builds a box in order to do it.

Melissa Silverstein: Right.

Liz Meriwether: In some ways. I mean it’s very primal looking at people’s blood and telling them what’s going on in their body. And yeah, I don’t know. I was so fascinated by the box as a metaphor for her attempt to connect with other people in the world. So I’m so glad you picked up on that because it was one of the things that I really thought was fascinating about her.

Melissa Silverstein: Yeah. I really want to understand a little bit more about how you handled the fact that she was a girl. She’s a girl and talking to these older dudes who are super rich, pitching this thing that doesn’t exist. And on the one hand, them being fascinated by her and then also them being able to kind of manipulate her, but also this whole masculine way of being a leader in Silicon Valley.

Like Larry Ellison said, “Did you fire anyone yet?” And she was just like, “Why would I fire anyone?” And then automatically being like, “Oh, I’m supposed to do this.” It was like how she was supposed to be, because she didn’t have the tools. This is the constant thing is she might have had a great vision, but she did not have the tools to figure out what she was doing.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. Yeah, I think she didn’t have the tools in ways that had nothing to do with her gender, meaning like she didn’t finish college. She didn’t get-

Melissa Silverstein: Right. Doesn’t know how to sink yet. All those things.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. She did not have those tools. And then I think, yeah, obviously I think that her gender plays a huge part in this story. And what I liked about it was that it wasn’t simple and it isn’t like, oh, this is a story about a victim of sexism. It’s a story about a young woman who both uses sexism, uses her gender, but also is like in constant war with herself and her gender. And I found it to be this really fascinating gray area. Not gray area.

It had so many complicated aspects to it at a time when I think there’s a lot of wanting to put things in boxes and make things black and white. I just found it was very complicated as a story about gender, which I really appreciate it. And yeah, I think didn’t have a lot of role models of what a female CEO looked like or did. And then she goes to Steve Jobs-

Melissa Silverstein: Particularly in Silicon Valley.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah, exactly. And then on the flip side, her legacy is that she’s made it so much harder for female founders in Silicon Valley because now they have to distance themselves from Theranos completely, especially startups in the hard sciences, which is the hardest thing for women to break into anyway.

So yeah, I mean I think it’s a really interesting story about gender. And the episode that aired last week, the Iron Sisters episode, I wanted to kind of show three different women in science. I wanted to put Phyllis Gardner, Erika Chung, and Elizabeth Holmes side by side to look at different experiences.

I mean I think Phyllis Gardner’s coming from this older generation of scientists who had to fight. She fought for everything she had and was constantly underestimated. And then Erika Chung, who there’s so many interesting parallels with Elizabeth. Like they both were assaulted in college. They’re young women. They’re brilliant. I think that Erika is also a woman of color and comes from no money. Then there’s things that are very different about them, but the fact that it’s a young woman who is the main whistle blower to bring Elizabeth down.

Melissa Silverstein: She’s the hero.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. To me, Erika’s story was a reason to do the show because I felt like a lot of people didn’t know just how incredible what she did is and the impact that it had on her life and her courage. I don’t know. So I guess I wanted to show these three characters in conversation with each other to show different versions of being a woman in science.

Melissa Silverstein: And Elizabeth thought that she was being a leader as an iron sister, where really she was at logger heads with all the other women who are much more iron sister in my-

Liz Meriwether: Making feminism into a commercial, like literally into a commercial, that’s from a real commercial. I don’t know. That interested me too.

Melissa Silverstein: When you had the people come in, who experienced Theranos and which also one thing I learned was I did not know it was therapy and diagnosis, which I was like, oh, that makes perfect sense. When the people who came in who worked at Theranos-

Liz Meriwether: Does it make perfect sense?

Melissa Silverstein: None of it makes sense and that’s why I’m fascinated by it.

Liz Meriwether: Okay, great.

Melissa Silverstein: When you had them come in, like all the people who worked with her, was there something that they said that you were like, like holy and maybe it made it into the show, maybe it didn’t?

Liz Meriwether: Oh yeah. That’s such a good question. I’m just trying to think back. I mean so much of what, yeah, we talked about with-

Melissa Silverstein: Like the Christmas sweaters and the clothing she wore. She was like a 15 year old.

Liz Meriwether: Well that-

Melissa Silverstein: She was like doing bra straps and I was just like, wait, what? What you doing? Put on a shirt.

Liz Meriwether: We spoke to Anna Ariola who talked a lot about clothing and telling her about Issey Miyake who was the designer of Steve Jobs’s turtlenecks. I mean, the thing that I think she had said to Anna that she was envious of Steve Job’s uniform, which I think as a woman, I completely understand that.

Melissa Silverstein: Totally.

Liz Meriwether: Just to be able to just not think about it and grab a suit or something. It’s like a dream, but yeah. I mean we spoke to Edmund Ku and so a lot of what he had talked about in our interview about the labs and the feeling in the labs and the comradery and the labs made it into the show. And then he also spoke about just when she liked you, just what that felt like. I think he described it as feeling like a shiny new toy. That she had this ability when she liked you to just kind of make you feel like the most amazing person in the world. And then she would just kind of switch on a dime and it would get, when she didn’t like you, that was just-

Melissa Silverstein: Again, mentals problems. So I just keep coming back to all these things. All right, I want to talk about one particular scene that is mind blowing. It’s the scene in Switzerland in the hotel room where they couldn’t get it to work. And duh, it only worked once. Not expected to work again and they’re doing everything like that. First thing I want to know is was that based on something real or did you-

Liz Meriwether: Yes, it’s in the book Bad Blood. There’s a description of just her in Switzerland. I think it was maybe a couple different demos and we made it into one demo.

Melissa Silverstein: Okay.

Liz Meriwether: I read it as like, okay, this is the beginning of her deciding to lie as part of the company’s policy, that it was okay. The demos are not going to be real and that’s okay. Which by the way, I think that is sort of common, but not everybody. But you know what I mean? It was like that was one of those things where you were like you could potentially say that other people were doing that too, but there was-

Melissa Silverstein: About people’s blood though?

Liz Meriwether: Exactly. I mean, no, but I think that the hotel room, there was an anecdote about just that she lost feeling in her fingers because she was trying to make it work all night and just pricking her fingers over and over again. I don’t know. As somebody who spent many an all nighter working on New Girl, I guess I kind of understood that feeling of I’m literally giving my blood to this.

Melissa Silverstein: Right.

Liz Meriwether: I’m poking my own fingers trying to get this thing to work. I don’t know. I really understood that. That always like jumped out at me and I knew that I wanted to put that in the show.

Melissa Silverstein: It feels like she tried to lie her way to the truth. Like if she lied enough, they would maybe get there to figuring it out. But that’s not how the world works.

Liz Meriwether: Well, I mean, in some ways I think the culture of startups, there is a lot of fake it till you make it. I mean it’s different. I mean there’s-

Melissa Silverstein: We all do it.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. So I think those earlier episodes, I think it’s interesting thinking about it in context. I don’t know. Anyway, go ahead.

Melissa Silverstein: We don’t know. All right, so here’s a question about the scene at the genius bar when the girl cries and basically says, “You’re worthless,” and the girl’s like, “What are you talking about?” So how Elizabeth was inspired also to turn on the waterworks, not to get the board to fire her. To use their idea of youth and femininity to her advantage. Where did that idea come from and what meaning would you ascribe to it?

Liz Meriwether: That definitely came out of the writer’s room and just-

Melissa Silverstein: That’s not a real scene in real life, right? That didn’t happen.

Liz Meriwether: Oh, well she did. Well, she did go in front of the board.

Melissa Silverstein: That the genius bar stuff.

Liz Meriwether: Oh, the genius bar, no. That’s totally dramatized.

Melissa Silverstein: Yeah.

Liz Meriwether: I mean we knew this was happening when the iPhone first came out, all the stuff that was happening.

Melissa Silverstein: Right.

Liz Meriwether: And so that became kind of this guiding principle for that episode was like the iPhone is out and she’s even more in awe of Steve Jobs. And then it ends with her in the turtleneck. So that episode, so that episode was sort of about that. But yeah, I mean I think it was like we knew that we wanted her to… In real life, she talked her way out of the board trying to fire her in this one moment. And we don’t really know exactly what she said in that meeting and so in the writer’s room, I mean it was just constant, “I wonder what she said. How are we going to do that?”

And I think initially we had her going into that meeting and being really strong and suddenly the CEO and blowing them away with her leadership abilities. And I think it shifted to kind of be what would a room full of older men, what would they hear? What would they listen to? What would they understand? It just ended up kind of being flipping that. Like she keeps the power by making herself seem powerless, which we think is right.

Melissa Silverstein: Right. And she could have just said vagina, vagina, vagina. And they all would’ve been ugh. That’s what it kind of felt like. That scene was just like, “Oh my God, she’s being a girl here. We don’t know how to respond to this.” Because they don’t have the tools either because they’ve never seen that before. Right?

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. I mean, I think that was something we talked about in the room a lot of just like this is the group of men that probably haven’t had to deal with young women that much in this professional setting. So that’s kind of where that came from.

Melissa Silverstein: Yes. Okay. So I’m going to just pop in some of these questions. Someone says, “Liz, I feel like all writers have that project and capitalized that should have seen the light of day, but didn’t. Do you have any that you can tell us about and any takeaways as to why that project did not make it?”

Liz Meriwether: That’s such a great question. There was a while that I really wanted to… I still might try to do this, to do like an entire show on a lifeboat with two people. There was a long time that I wanted to do that, but I think I actually spoke to a producer about like, “How would you make it seem like water? Would you always have to be on water?” And then the realities of that freaked me out. So maybe one day.

Melissa Silverstein: Got it. So we have a question about breaking in and specing for an existing show versus creating your own premise. What was your first spec and how did you break into the business?

Liz Meriwether: Yeah, I would say especially now to not write specs. I don’t know. I always read original scripts and I feel like a lot of showrunners do. So I was a playwright in New York and I got a pilot deal off of like a 10 minute play that I wrote for a showcase that was a theater company in New York bringing writers over to LA to do a showcase.

Melissa Silverstein: Wow.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. And then I wrote a pilot that we shot, but didn’t go to series. But yeah, my way into it was through theater, through plays which I love. And I feel like, especially if you’re in New York, it’s an amazing… I think writing. Just writing any… Just keep writing. I think it doesn’t matter where or how, just keep writing.

Melissa Silverstein: Absolutely. Can you share a couple lessons you learned from doing New Girl that helped you tell this particular story?

Liz Meriwether: Oh, that’s really interesting. Oh, God. I mean I feel like everything I know is from New Girl. As I said, I knew nothing when I started New Girl. I had plays of mine produced, but I knew nothing about real television production. And also, the network is such a grind. It’s just a relentless schedule. It just has to keep moving. You’re making actual air dates. So I had to learn how to move quickly and how to… I don’t know. I learned everything

Melissa Silverstein: Everything.

Liz Meriwether: I learned everything from New Girl.

Melissa Silverstein: That’s fair.

Liz Meriwether: So, yeah. I felt like I got really good at editing in New Girl and I think that’s a thing that I have always really enjoyed and I feel like it’s another draft of the script in my mind. And so in particular, I really love editing and learned a lot from New Girl.

Melissa Silverstein: In the span of your career, which is 10 years, 15 years?

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. 10. I mean-

Melissa Silverstein: 10 plus? I mean, not that long, right? The entire industry has shifted.

Liz Meriwether: Totally, yeah.

Melissa Silverstein: Sitcoms. Everybody wanted to be on a show that did 22 episodes and now no one does. Right?

Liz Meriwether: Yeah.

Melissa Silverstein: I mean because you were saying the actors that you got were happy and no one wants to sign anything where they have to commit for seven seasons to stop. Talk about this transition in the industry from your New Girl days to now streaming days.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. I mean having done network for seven seasons of a show, I understand why people are like, “I don’t know if I want it. I don’t want to do this,” because it is so relentless on the set. I mean the flip side of that is I think it’s such a proving ground. I think network, especially network pilots are a really great way in for young writers because a network can take a chance on a pilot. Whereas if you’re trying to sell a limited series, I think it’s difficult as a young writer for a streaming service to put that amount of trust into you. But for a network pilot, I feel like they’re always willing to take a chance on something, which was my experience.

Melissa Silverstein: Does that still exist now? Do they still take that chance?

Liz Meriwether: I think it-

Melissa Silverstein: I don’t even watch TV in the same way that I did.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. I think they’re making fewer pilots. I don’t know. I don’t know right now because I’ve been so out of network for a few years, but yeah. I mean I do think that has shifted. When New Girl started, I have a good friend Bo Wilman who was the showrunner of House of Cards. And I remember he called me and was like, “We’re selling it to Netflix.” And I was like, like, “What? Really?” I was like, “How is that going to work? It’s like they send you CDs mail. They send you DVDs in the mail.” I just did not understand it.

Melissa Silverstein: Nobody did.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. And I think I remember being that person that was skeptical. And then in the run, by the end of new, I was obviously Netflix had taken over everything with streaming, so I really watched that happen. I think storytelling has completely shifted because of it. I mean, just-

Melissa Silverstein: Can you elaborate a little bit more on that? What do you mean?

Liz Meriwether: Binging a show.

Melissa Silverstein: Right, right.

Liz Meriwether: Like even comedies, which were early New Girl. Really early, mid, most of New Girl, I was told, “You need to reset. You need to reset every episode. You maybe could get away with like one or two storylines that are going throughout this season, but somebody needs to be able to turn on the TV and not have seen any of the previous episodes and understand what’s going on.” So that always the way that you made network comedy.

And The Dropout was my first experience of really having to write a show that people were supposed to be binging. So it was like I was really nervous about that going in because I was like, “When we get to the end of the episode, are you going to want to go forward?” And it was just something that I was really thinking about a lot. I mean I feel like that’s completely new.

Melissa Silverstein: And story watching is different. All of us are different now. We watch differently.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah.

Melissa Silverstein: I was thinking about Abbott Elementary, which has been a network success and you just look at me like, “Oh my God, it’s on a network and everybody loves it and people are watching.” It’s possible, but that also is not a reset. There are still through lines, but you can come in and watch that.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. I mean I think network TV has shifted in a good way to scoop up some of these things, which I think is great. And I hope they keep learning from streaming.

Melissa Silverstein: Does the streaming world affect writers? I mean financially, I’ve been told that it’s not the best.

Liz Meriwether: I’m under a deal at 20th, so I don’t know as much about that, but my husband’s a writer too, so I’ve sort of watched that part of it. But I know that the shows can really stretch on for a very long time. I don’t know, I can’t really speak to it, but I know that there’s frustration with there’s not many episodes or you get paid episodically, but then they’re like stretched over a year.

Melissa Silverstein: Right.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah.

Melissa Silverstein: And they have a condensed writer’s room.

Liz Meriwether: Right.

Melissa Silverstein: And then when the show shoots, you’re not on contract anymore.

Liz Meriwether: I mean for New Girl, at one point, I think our writer’s room was 17 people. So again, network is like… I don’t know what is going on right now, but it was these big writer’s rooms and it was a good job that could go for years, that lasted the whole. So I think there were really some positives to that.

Melissa Silverstein: Wow. So you just hit the end of that world.

Liz Meriwether: I know.

Melissa Silverstein: And now you’re into this new world. It’s so fascinating. What was the biggest hurdle in making The Dropout and how did you surmount it?

Liz Meriwether: I think it was COVID. In some ways, I’m so glad we didn’t start shooting March 2020 because I don’t think I was ready. A lot of the episodes ended up getting rewritten over the course of the year that we were down, but it was tough. I mean obviously for so many people, for so many more real reasons, but I mean for me, it was getting really geared up to start shooting and then everything just coming to a halt. And then we lost the director. We lost our main actor.

For a lot of it, there were definite moments that I was like, “This isn’t going to happen. It’s just not going to happen.” But still having to continue on writing, feeling like I don’t know if this is going to happen, but I have to write the last episode. It was that kind of emotional thing that was hard. Just being completely alone also after having come from being in a bunch of writer’s rooms for nine you years and just always being around other writers and people. And then suddenly I was just alone in my house and I was also really pregnant, just having to soldier through that was-

Melissa Silverstein: So you had a pandemic baby.

Liz Meriwether: Yes, I did.

Melissa Silverstein: There are many people I know who’ve done that.

Liz Meriwether: Yes.

Melissa Silverstein: It’s quite an interesting thing. There’s going to be a book on pandemic babies. So here’s a question about how do you feel about the increasing move in the industry to create series over movies? What has been your experience working on screenplays and films? And would you like to work on another film project or are you sticking to TV, episodic stuff?

Liz Meriwether: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean I wrote No Strings Attached and I’ve done rewrites on movies, but I haven’t done a screenplay, original screenplay since then. So I feel very outside of the world of film. I mean I think that limited series are amazing. I love limited series as a form.

I think they’re so fun for actors and writers because you just get to do this deep dive into a story and the characters. You really have time to dig in, but tell a story as opposed to having to get to the end of a season and come up with some reason why things didn’t work out to keep the series going. I think they’re different than movies. I don’t think they’re like long movies. I think they’re a whole different form.

Melissa Silverstein: Yes.

Liz Meriwether: In The Dropout, in our show in the fourth episode, it’s called Old White Men and we’re telling the story completely from the point of view of the guys that worked at Walgreens that signed up for Theranos without having seen any of the labs. And to be able to do that point of view shift, I think is this really cool, unique thing that you can only do in limited series and you can’t really do in a movie as much.

Melissa Silverstein: Right.

Liz Meriwether: And to take a really big story and to break it down into episodes that feel like they each have a point or they each have an emotional story to tell, I think is really interesting. I don’t know. I’m just really jazzed about limited series right now. But yeah, I think it depends on the story. It just really depends on the story and what the story that you want to tell.

Melissa Silverstein: Are you interested in doing more based on true stories or more that is fiction in the limited series area?

Liz Meriwether: I mean my next project is based on a real story, but I don’t know. I really am open to a lot. I really enjoyed aspects of working on a real story. I think obviously working on a story that was happening while the actual trial of the person was happening-

Melissa Silverstein: Weird, right?

Liz Meriwether: … was very weird. Maybe I wouldn’t go there again, but I don’t know. I always just go from the place of character and are these characters people that I want to dig in on, I guess.

Melissa Silverstein: So people who haven’t seen the next two episodes, what do you want to just prepare them for, if anything? Or do you not want to give anything away?

Liz Meriwether: No, I mean I think I’m just really interested in hearing reactions and so terrified. I don’t know.

Melissa Silverstein: Of what? Of having it closing?

Liz Meriwether: Yeah, I get scared. I get scared of-

Melissa Silverstein: No. I’ve watched and it’s excellent. The whole thing is excellent. I watched it. I’ve watched it twice now, the whole series. I’ve got to say-

Liz Meriwether: Oh, wow. I’ve watched it more than twice.

Melissa Silverstein: Yeah, so it’s just so… I mean, Amanda, there’s not a false note for a second. And Naveen is great too. He’s scary. Very, very upsetting dude.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. I mean I think the finale was very hard for me to write because it is ongoing. And then I just felt like it’s hard to sum things up. It’s a hard story to sum things up.

Melissa Silverstein: I mean but they got away with not… They were living together and nobody knew. How is that? Again, it goes back to not being able to connect thing, which is like she can just separate. Sometimes she didn’t feel real, which maybe is how she survived.

Liz Meriwether: 12 year relationship, yeah, that no one knew about is insane.

Melissa Silverstein: It’s insane.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. It’s strange.

Melissa Silverstein: It’s really weird. Okay. So just a couple more questions. It’s so refreshing to see a female antihero done so beautifully. Did you ever feel pressure to make her more likable?

Liz Meriwether: No, I definitely didn’t, which was wonderful. And I feel like Hulu and Searchlight never asked for that and there was never an expectation. I also didn’t think of her as an antihero. I really tried to not put any label.

Melissa Silverstein: She’s just a fraud. She’s just a fraud.

Liz Meriwether: I just wanted to look at her as a human and I just wanted to tell her story as a human. But I mean I guess the likable question for me was more like can the audience go on this journey with her? Are they connected enough with her?

Melissa Silverstein: People are freaking addicted to her.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah, but I guess from my role as a writer, I think the question I was always asking myself was like, are you attached enough to want to go on this journey with her? The more extreme her choices get, is the audience going to be with her still or still wanting to watch the next episode? So that was a question I was just always asking myself, was like I said, keeping the audience on their toes. You feel connected with her and then she does something that pulls you away from her and trying to get that balance right.

Melissa Silverstein: Oh, you definitely did. Last question.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah.

Melissa Silverstein: You’re at a party and she’s there too.

Liz Meriwether: Oh no.

Melissa Silverstein: Okay? What do you do? Do you run?

Liz Meriwether: I leave, yeah. I leave.

Melissa Silverstein: You leave.

Liz Meriwether: Yeah. Yeah. But that’s me.

Melissa Silverstein: What would you say to her if you saw-

Liz Meriwether: If I’m at a party in general, I think I’m always just fighting the urge to leave. So if I-

Melissa Silverstein: But what if you saw her?

Liz Meriwether: If I saw her, I would [crosstalk 00:44:12].

Melissa Silverstein: What if you saw her? What would you want to ask her?

Liz Meriwether: I don’t want to ask her anything. I don’t want to talk to her. I don’t know. I feel like I was totally immersed in this story for years and I felt like I did my own work with it and processed it and told the story I wanted to tell. I don’t know. I also think it’s very much a dramatization, so I think there’s a lot of stuff that I know is not exactly like her story. So, it’s a good question. I should come up with a better answer.

Melissa Silverstein: It’s okay.

Liz Meriwether: I would run and I would-

Melissa Silverstein: I would definitely [crosstalk 00:44:49].

Liz Meriwether: If there was valet, I would leave my car and I would-

Melissa Silverstein: Absolutely.

Liz Meriwether: … get in and Uber. That was a very LA-

Melissa Silverstein: Yeah, no problem. Okay. I think we’re just going to close it on that note. I just want to really thank you for your time and for answering these questions. It’s a really beautiful rendering of a fraudster.

Liz Meriwether: Thank you. And thank you so much for watching and I really appreciate it. Thanks for all these great questions.

Geri Cole: What a great place to wrap up and what a great conversation. Thank you, Liz. Thank you, Melissa. And watch the dropout at Hulu and thank you all for listening.

That’s it. For this episode. OnWriting is a production of the Writers Guild of America, East and is hosted by me, Geri Cole. This series was created and is produced by Jason Gordon. Tech production and original music by Taylor Bradshaw and Stock Boy creative. Our associate producer and designer is Molly Bear. You can learn more about the Writers Guild of America, East online at And you can follow the Guild on all social media platforms at WGA east. If you liked this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. Thank you for listening and write on.

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