‘American Auto’ Isn’t Just A Wacky Car Comedy, It’s A Reflection Of A Typical Workplace


If you work in an office, any kind of office, you’ll get a kick out of what’s happening on American Auto, says one of its executive producers, Justin Spitzer.

The series, set in Detroit, follows the corporate executives of Payne Motors, who are struggling to adapt to the ever-evolving industry. At the helm is the new CEO, whose leadership, experience and savvy is only slightly offset by her complete lack of knowledge about cars. Luckily, her team has some of the best minds in the business – when they aren’t fighting or trying to outwit each other.

Spitzer, who created the series, says that there are common factors in every workplace show. “You have people who don’t necessarily like each other thrown together, which creates conflict. You have people working hard to not be fired, to impress the boss. So those are similarities, but then every show has their differences, and for me, what I get excited about with a workplace show is that [it] presents opportunities for stories that only this show could do?”

He points to The Office, on which he worked as a producer, saying, “[That show] was about middle management in as generic an industry as you can [have]. It was literally about a square, flat, white piece of paper.”

Then he talks about Superstore, another workplace comedy that Spitzer created and ran for six seasons. “[It] was about being working class and being constantly under the thumb of a corporate hierarchy.”

The difference with American Auto, explains Spitzer, is that “this is people at the very top. They can do what they want. They don’t have a CEO or corporate making them do anything, but that means they still need to figure out how to deal with a changing industry in a changing world.”

While Spitzer says that the series is really about following the executives and not so much about trying to riff on the latest automotive trend, fellow executive producer, Eric Ledgin, points out “But I think we’re also at a fortunate time where there’s so much happening — even just with Tesla and Elon Musk — in the auto industry that there is a lot to pull from that. It’s news that, even if you weren’t looking for it, you can’t really avoid it.”

He says that the creative team works hard to measure real life and lead every episode with something that has actually happened.

One of the corporate areas that the team says is ripe with stories is the Human Resources department.

“HR issues are topical,” says Spitzer.

Ana Gasteyer, who plays in-over-her-head CEO Katherine Hastings, agrees, adding, “I feel like our show reflects a lot of those conversations in terms of hiring and firing and public appearances.”

She also believes that, “people who work in offices relate to [our show] as much as people who are really into cars. I mean, we are an automotive culture, so luckily most Americans like to talk about cars.”

Gasteyer says that while she and the rest of the American Auto crew do improv sometimes in what they call ‘fun runs,’ of a scene, the narrative is a bit too complicated for them to ad-lib anything. “Because it is a corporate comedy with so much topical and relevant stuff happening with seven characters — Justin is incredible at creating a little perfect Rubik’s cube, so the need to improvise on the show is minimal.”

At its core, Spitzer says that, “it’s always been important to me that Payne is not like the cut‑rate, crappy car company. It’s a car company just like GM or Ford or any American car company. This is not a show about a terrible company. This is a show about a company. We do the stories about the things that go wrong because that’s where you get comedy.”

‘American Auto’ airs Tuesdays at 8:30pm ET/PT. The series is also available to stream the following day on Peacock.

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