'New Girl' Zooey Deschanel melts grumpy critics, Damon Wayans Jr. stays in the pilot

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The mood at the Television Critics Association summer press tour is decidedly nonplussed. Perhaps jaded by years of writing about new series, only to see them tank two episodes in, skepticism lingers in the Beverly Hilton ballroom like a snarky fog while most presentations pass by with nary a clap. 

Most presentations don't have Zooey Deschanel.

Promoting her new FOX comedy, "New Girl," Deschanel reduced the hard-nosed crowd into a fawning group of schoolboys and schoolgirls, where actual questions included, "When did you first realize you were adorable?" (She seemed too embarrassed to recall.)

Amidst the laughter and collective blushing, we did gather some news from the series about a recently dumped oddball (Deschanel) moving in with three bachelors -- namely about how the series will introduce Lamorne Morris as "Winston," who replaces exiting Damon Wayans Jr. who was committed to Season 2 of "Happy Endings."

"We were really happy with the pilot," says executive producer Brett Baer, explaining how it won't be re-shot. "We thought the chemistry that was there was what we wanted to show. [With Morris], we just wanted to bring in a new character that would bring in a new energy to show."

Wayans' "Coach" is being written out in a nondramatic way, befitting, as creator Liz Meriwether insists, of the late-20s fluidity to the characters' lifestyles.

"We wanted it to feel as real as possible," says Meriwether of Winston's episode 2 introduction. "[Coach] was subletting from Winston. Winston was in Latvia, playing Latvian basketball."

Producers also dodged the racial Catch 22 of replacing one African American character and actor with another, admitting that Morris had been originally considered for a role on the series until he had another commitment.

But back to that Zooey. The actress says that while the role of Jess may appear indiscernible from her own public image, it wasn't made for her.

"I'd like to think it was written for me, but I don't think it was," she says, laughing. "I obviously need to play this part, it's me -- or a part of me. A secret part... If there's any character I want to play forever and ever and ever, it's this one."

Deschanel's sister Emily has been playing a character for the television-equivalent of forever (seven seasons) on another FOX series. So when one of the less-swoony critics brought up the "Bones" actress, he asked Zooey if her sister had given her pointers on how to deal with "the idiocy" of the network.

"She gave me hints on how to deal with the delightfulness of FOX," Deschanel responded over a roll of laughter and gasps.

Adorable and diplomatic.

"New Girl" premieres Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 9:00 p.m. ET on FOX.
Photo/Video credit: FOX