How Daisy Jones & the Six Became a Rare TV Musical to Get the Sound Just Right

We’ve all made the “Cop Rock” jokes. The Steven Bochco musical drama, which premiered in fall 1990, was a big swing: marrying original music with procedural storytelling. It was a colossal flop that we still talk about three decades later, and a reminder that musicals are hard.

Music has been a part of the TV landscape going back to the 1950s and shows like “Your Hit Parade.” But few series have successfully integrated regular music performances into their storytelling: “The Monkees” and “The Partridge Family” worked in the 1960s and ’70s. “Fame” did it in the early ’80s. And then “Cop Rock” scared people off the concept.

The 1990s animation boom incorporated music in shows like “The Simpsons” and “Animaniacs.” But not until the 21st century did scripted series really figure out how to make musical numbers work as part of the narrative. “Flight of the Conchords” did it with satiric tracks, while “American Dreams” relied on oldies nostalgia. The late 2000s saw the gantlet of musical shows: “Glee” (a big hit), “Eli Stone” (not so much), then “Smash” (not a smash), “Nashville,” “Empire,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Galavant” (should’ve been a hit). Most recently, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” was a brief critical fave and Emmy winner (for choreography).

But I don’t know that we’ve ever previously had so many music-intensive scripted series on TV at the same time: Apple TV+’s “Schmigadoon,” Paramount+’s “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies,” Disney+’s “The Muppets Mayhem,” Hulu’s “Up Here,” Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” Apple TV+’s “Central Park.” And then there’s Amazon Prime Video’s “Daisy Jones & the Six,” which harks back to the age of “The Monkees” — a fake band performing real, original music.

I have a confession to make: I can’t stop listening to the album “Aurora,” by Daisy Jones & the Six. You could have fooled me into thinking this was a real band from the 1970s. The team behind the series, based on the book of the same name by Taylor Jenkins Reid, set out to create something cut from the same cloth as Fleetwood Mac’s landmark 1977 release “Rumours.” And they kind of did.

Prior to the writers strike, I talked to executive producers Scott Neustadter and Will Graham about creating an entirely new band. Said Graham: “The hardest part was we have to make an album that stands with the greats of this period.” Then there came the serendipity of working with music producers Blake Mills and Tony Berg at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys.

“Sound City is the place where Mick Fleetwood first heard Lindsey Buckingham play the guitar and has this amazing, storied history,” Neustadter notes. If these walls could sing: Elton John, Nirvana, Tom Petty, Guns N’ Roses, Johnny Cash and Red Hot Chili Peppers all laid down tracks there.  

“The space of Sound City has this unpretentious magic,” Graham said. “You can kind of feel the ghosts of everyone who’s recorded there. We wanted the audience to be in these rooms with the characters. So that became a huge part of the show and the writing process. We had the unique experience of getting to watch Blake and Tony make this album and write some pieces of that into the script.”

Honestly, the more I hear about Neustadter and Graham’s process in researching for “Daisy Jones,” the more jealous I get. They talked to Bernie Taupin about his long-standing collaboration with Elton John. Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon shared stories in the writers’ room about what it’s like being married to your bandmate. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ Nora Kirkpatrick was a writer on the show.

Meanwhile, because of COVID-related production delays, the series’ stars, including Riley Keough and Sam Claflin, became more than just actors pretending to be a band. Daisy Jones & the Six turned into something real, and it’s on repeat in my earbuds.

I never could say the same about “Cop Rock.”

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