‘Superstore’ creator lampoons the car industry in ‘American Auto’

Justin Spitzer wrote for “The Office” and created “Superstore” — so he knows a thing or two about workplace comedies as his new series, “American Auto,” launches on NBC.

Ana Gasteyer stars in the ensemble sitcom, premiering Monday (Dec. 13) at 10 p.m., as Katherine Hastings, a pharmaceutical executive hired to run Payne Motors, a huge automobile company (think Ford). She’s the first female CEO in Payne’s 100-year history but has absolutely no experience in the industry — she doesn’t know how to drive or how to pronounce “chassis.” She took the job, she says, for “The money … Obviously it wasn’t just the money. There were stock options.”

“With an ensemble friends show you have people who enjoy being with each other, and in a family show there’s generally a certain amount of love there, unless it’s incredibly cynical,” Spitzer told The Post. “This is a workplace, where a bunch of people with very different interests and backgrounds and goals and values are thrown together in a world where being competitive and outshining each other is very helpful — and there’s the stress of having to be together in a claustrophobic environment.”

Photo showing Wesley (Jon Barinholtz) and Jack (Tye White) in "American Auto."
Jon Barinholtz and Tye White as Wesley and Jack in “American Auto.”
Greg Gayne/NBC

Katherine’s cohorts at Payne Motors include go-getter Sadie Ryan (Harriet Dyer); Wesley Payne (Jon Barinholtz from “Superstore”), the company founder’s goofy, black-sheep great-grandson; chief production designer Cyrus (Michael Benjamin Washington); Jack (Tye White), who works in the factory and has a thing going with Sadie; chief sales officer Elliot (Humphrey Ker), an acerbic Brit; and Dori (X Mayo), Katherine’s assistant.

“‘Superstore’ showed how people’s lives were controlled by this corporation making decisions that felt arbitrary and mean-spirited,” Spitzer said. “[‘American Auto’] gives us the opportunity to jump to that other side and try to understand how those decisions get made — that these aren’t just evil, conniving people trying to make everyone’s life miserable.

“The fun is seeing what goes on behind the closed door of the boardroom.”

Photo of Michael Benjamin Washington and Humphrey Ker as Cyrus and Elliot sitting at a table in a boardroom.
Michael Benjamin Washington and Humphrey Ker as Cyrus and Elliot.
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

“American Auto” premieres at a time in which the auto industry is front-and-center, with self-driving cars (the plotline of Episode 1), electric cars and entrepreneurs including Elon Musk keeping the car business in the headlines. But Spitzer said he didn’t plan it that way.

“I originally pitched it and wrote the pilot in 2013; I had just come off ‘The Office’ and wanted to write a corporate comedy, and that’s where I started, with the auto industry,” he said. “In terms of timing and the [visibility of] the auto industry I can’t claim credit for either one. That pilot didn’t go and then I did ‘Superstore’ the following year — and I actually used some elements from that original busted pilot for ‘Superstore.’

“This just felt like a good time,” he said. “The auto industry has changed a lot and I re-wrote the pilot, so here it is — there’s so much fodder for stories because there’s so much happening in that industry. It’s really nice to have a not-very-intelligent boss in the workplace — we had that on ‘The Office’ — but I wanted [Katherine] to be intelligent and competent, and one way to do that was to at least have her not being familiar with this particular industry so she could make mistakes that lead to funny situations.”

“American Auto” moves to its regular timeslot Tuesday, Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. on NBC.

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