Zooey Deschanel Talks ‘The Celebrity Dating Game’ and the ongoing love for ‘New Girl’

Zooey Deschanel and Michael Bolton host the revival of The Celebrity Dating Game on ABC
(Image credit: Sami Drasin/ABC)

More than 50 years after The Dating Show debuted on ABC, the format has remained relatively untouched. One suitor asks a panel of three bachelors or bachelorettes a series of flirty questions to determine who they want to go on a date with. While the original series hosted by Jim Lange featured unknown suitors — though many contestants went on to find fame — this revival taps into the celebrity angle with a bevy of famous singles asking the light-hearted questions. This tongue-in-cheek revival also brings together a pair of double-threats with Zooey Deschanel and Michael Bolton in the role of hosts and musical entertainment. Recognizable faces from TV, music, comedy and movies include Nailed It’s Nicole Byer (who also has an on-theme podcast, Why Won’t You Date Me?), television personality Carson Kressley, and former Bachelorette Hannah Brown. Tonight’s (August 16) finale features ‘90s teen heartthrob Joey Lawrence and Black-ish star Marcus Scribner in the hot seat.

What to Watch recently caught up with Zooey Deschanel to discuss why the retro format provides the perfect escapism to the difficult last 18 months. The New Girl star talked about what appealed to her about doing this series and the challenges of working during the pandemic. The multi-hyphenate has been busy recording new She & Him [Deschanel's band with M. Ward] music, joining TikTok, and starring in the new podcast Love is a Crime alongside a star-studded voice cast including Jon Hamm, Griffin Dunne, and Mara Wilson. Telling the story of an Old Hollywood scandal, Love is a Crime (launching August 17) is from You Must Remember This creator Karina Longworth and filmmaker Vanessa Hope, and taps into a darker mid-century story.   

It isn’t only new projects that are keeping audiences entertained and while it finished its run on Fox three years ago, New Girl continues to thrive on Netflix. The hilarious antics of Jessica Day and her friends offer up a respite from real-world seriousness and Deschanel chatted about the swelling fan base for the Apartment 4D gang. 

The show started long before you were born, but has been revived several times and there have been reruns. Did you watch it growing up at all? Do you have any memories of the show before you worked on it?

Not really. It wasn't on my radar that much. I kind of knew what it was, but it wasn't something I was that aware of. But once they called me about it, I looked it up and it's a super fun format, so I was engaged once I started looking at old clips of it.

I fell down a bit of a YouTube hole doing research and there are so many famous people on there like Steve Martin before they were famous. Did you do the same thing?

Yeah, I did! I was like, 'Oh this is really entertaining.' It's just fun to watch people talking — flirting with each other. 

It's such an old-school format. Obviously, everyone's on apps now so there's probably nostalgia for this style of dating activity.

Yeah, I definitely think with the pandemic and all the seriousness of the last year and a half, it's been nice to do something that felt very simple and fun. Not heavy at all, just fun and silly. 

The aesthetic is the '60s design too, so it's got that timelessness to it even though it's of the 60s. Your dresses are also a lens to the retro aesthetic as well. Did you have much say in what you were wearing?

I mean I always do, I'm not somebody that just lets people put stuff on me. A lot of the dresses I brought from home for a couple of them I did. Our designer is super collaborative and I'm always very involved in the costumes [and] wardrobe design.

What were the challenges with doing the series with COVID protocols and those aspects? 

Our audience was just our crew, but it wasn't that hard from a COVID perspective, we all got tested every day or every other day. We just got used to that, but I think the biggest challenge was that we were shooting four episodes a day and you just get tired. I was on my feet the whole time, not sitting down at all, and I'm walking around in heels for 10 hours a day — it's a lot. Every episode is half an hour, but we would shoot them for two hours and then they cut them down. It was kind of a marathon.

Was this your first job since lockdown? Was it going from being at home to working 10 hour days?

It was my first job where I was reporting to work, but I was doing She & Him recording on my own time that we schedule ourselves. It was my first TV job since COVID where I'm going to the studio lot so it's more formal. So yeah, probably, in that production kind of way. But it was really fun, I had a great time doing it.

What was it like co-hosting with a music legend like Michael Bolton?

It was great, he's such a sweet guy. I love Michael, it's always fun to be around him and he's super fun to talk to. We're both vegetarian, so that's good — it helps.

Did you have a favorite celebrity bachelor or bachelorette or episode? What were the highlights for you? 

It blurs together, but everybody was great. I enjoyed anybody who could see the fun in doing it was always a good person to have around. A good sense of humor was key, I thought. Everybody was great, such good sports.

I wanted to ask about New Girl because it helped a lot of people escape through the pandemic. What's it like having lots of new fans because it’s on streaming? How does it feel when people say to you 'Oh, I love Nick and Jess,' or 'I love the gang?' 

I love it, I'm so happy! It's great because it gives the show another life. While something is on you don't necessarily know how much life it has afterward, and when something resonates with people that's really wonderful. It made me super happy that we were able to have this kind of second wind of new people discovering it, I love it. Whenever people come up and say they are enjoying it I'm always very happy.

Finally, congratulations on your new podcast! I'm a big fan of Karina Longworth and I'm excited for this to come out.

Me too! It's very cool. I'm a huge Karina fan as well and I'm super excited for everyone to hear it. It's a really amazing and interesting story.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Emma Fraser

Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.