It’s not every day that a debut writer-producer creates something that goes to the number one position on Netflix, but that’s what happened to Amanda Peet.

Known as an actor in films such as “The Whole Nine Yards,” in 2021, Peet created “The Chair,” a comedy-drama series set at a fictional New England college. Sandra Oh stars as English department chair Ji-Yoon Kim opposite Jay Duplass as Kim’s recently widowed colleague and friend Bill Dobson. As the first woman of color in her position, Kim must balance issues of race at work (namely with senior faculty member Elliot Rentz, played by Bob Balaban), motherhood, friendships and romance.

“I was reading all of these stories about professors who transgressed in the classroom in some way and I was really excited about the idea of a woman of color who’s a supervisor, who is forced into a position of having to acknowledge nuance,” Peet said at the Variety Streaming Room presented by Netflix about her thought process when developing the series. “Sandra and I talked a lot about women in leadership and the ability to use your empathy as a strength. I loved the idea that this woman was so close with all of these people, including Bob Balaban’s character, who is a man of his time, and racist, and has his own biases. I liked the idea that she knew his backstory and she knew some of his suffering, too, so that she was forced into this position of having the burden of understanding where someone is coming from. I think it’s a huge burden, but it’s also a gift.”

Oh echoed Peet’s enthusiasm about the character, and spoke on what else drew her to executive produce the project. 

“I think it’s just my relationship with television now and how I prefer to work, and that’s having access to the creator. Understanding television, and how I would like to move and be in television, it’s a living, breathing thing. It’s not a film. It’s not a play, where you find the filmmaker’s vision or you have the play writer’s voice. You’re with the writer and you’re writing and you’re creating. When different cast people came on or different situations [came up], Amanda and her writers would expand and tailor [the project] to this person or to this person. I think when you have a EP credit, or when you have access to the creator, you can have more liberal conversations and collaborative conversations. That’s how I prefer to work.”

For Duplass, “The Chair” marked a change in the way he’s used to working. Duplass was best known for his work as a producer along with his brother Mark until 2014, when he played the supporting role of Josh Pfefferman in “Transparent.” He has held different supporting and recurring roles throughout the years, but “The Chair” is his first time as a main character.

“I kept telling [Peet] along the way, ‘I can’t top-line a TV show. You know this, right? Nobody knows who I am.’ They [would] actually think that I’m Josh Pfefferman at the time, when we were talking about stuff like that, because no one had seen me before. They would just see me in a grocery store like, ‘Oh, it’s real.’ It’s insane and inappropriate that I am starring in this television show with these phenomenal human beings,” Duplass joked. “But I just trusted Amanda’s instincts and her belief in me.”

Balaban and Nana Mensah shared similar sentiments, noting how important it was to have trust in their characters and each other — a weighty task given their characters’ relationships, with Mensah as Yaz McKay, the younger Black faculty member at odds with Elliot.

“The fact that it was basically a comedy about something so tragic really struck me,” Balaban said. “Every character in this thing, bigger or smaller, is in desperate trouble. I think that breeds unknown results in the most interesting of ways. It was very hard for me to get angry at Nana Mensah, who was there to take my job away. But through the directing and the writing and just the combination of people, nobody was really a villain. They were just trying to stay afloat.”

“Everyone is so generous,” Mensah said. I think that’s one thing that Amanda got specifically, amazingly right: the casting. Knowing what the task was ahead of us, which was shooting during the pandemic, she got a real good group of soldiers. It’s about rolling up your sleeves and getting it done sans ego, sans drama. I think that spirit carried us through and allowed us to play with each other in a way that was really fun and spontaneous.”

“I have to say, I don’t think I was ever in a cast that so uniformly [had] the same kind of approach and the same kind of attitude and warmth and accessibility,” added Holland Taylor, who plays senior faculty member Joan Hambling. “There’s no one in this cast that isn’t that way, and that’s kind of remarkable. You can’t really use the word familial because, in any family, there’s usually somebody that’s just making everything impossible. This is not what we had. It was really remarkable. Maybe that has a lot to do with [shooting during COVID] and how difficult the atmosphere was. But maybe it’s really the people that Amanda chose. It absolutely shows in the final product. No question in my mind.”