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'Happy Endings' Creator David Caspe Talks Weddings, Gay Characters & His Plans for Season 2

by Laura Prudom, posted May 18th 2011 10:00AM
David CaspeWe love stories with 'Happy Endings,' and showrunner David Caspe should be very happy indeed, given that his freshman comedy was officially renewed for a full second season (22 episodes) at ABC's Upfronts presentation yesterday.

As one of the last comedies standing on what began as a crowded playing field last September, 'Endings' quickly separated itself from the sitcom pack as a midseason replacement, managing to make an impact with only 12 episodes as others fell by the wayside.

Earlier this week, AOL TV caught up with Caspe to hear his reaction on the renewal, his plans for next season and what fans can expect from the remaining three episodes.

(Tread carefully, there are vague spoilers for the season finale at the bottom of the interview.)

Congratulations on the Season 2 pickup!
Thank you! Yeah, we're really pumped -- I can't believe we get to keep going. I really look forward to it, it's going to be great.

Were you feeling quietly confident about the show's chances, or were you sweating it a little bit?
Well, in general I'm always surprised if anyone wants to listen to what I have to say at all, so I'm surprised when anyone is going to encourage me to keep talking in any way. You never expect that you're going to get to keep doing this ... I mean, I feel so lucky to get to write for a living and make TV shows. You kind of always think someone's going to walk in at some point and reveal you for the fraud that you think you are, so you never really expect to get to keep going. It was definitely a huge relief and just a big thank you to ABC for believing in us and letting us try and find an audience.

Happy Endings Cast'Happy Endings' was your first ever TV pitch. I know you have a background in features, but that had to have felt like a huge vote of confidence in you.
Yes! I mean, I got incredibly lucky. I had come from the feature world and had been writing movies for a few years, but this is the first time I sort of ventured into television and I got sort of stupidly lucky and feel extremely fortunate and very aware that this is not how it usually goes. I'm just kind of trying to do my best to do a good job in this sort of amazing opportunity and situation.

The networks love sitcoms to be self-contained in terms of plot, but do you see yourself attempting more serialized stories in the second season?
Yeah, I mean if we're able to, I would love to -- I like the longer form storytelling. That's kind of what attracts me to television in general; like, I love the show 'The Wire.' I kind of think of us as the comedic version of 'The Wire.' [Laughs] We're very much like 'The Wire,' don't you think?

Oh yeah, it's uncanny. Aim high!
I really do love longer form storytelling -- that really is what attracts me to television and comedy and drama. I would love to get to do more of that stuff. I think that in trying to launch a show you're better off, and everyone's advice is always keep it non-serialized because you're trying to build an audience. Some people won't even find the show until episode 10. You don't want them to tune in ... again, not to compare us to 'The Wire' because we are nothing like 'The Wire,' [laughs] but if you were to tune into episode 10 of 'The Wire' you really would maybe be a little lost on certain things because it's so serialized. But if you do that with a comedy, you're trying to launch it as a network show, I think that you do yourself a disservice in that it's much harder to get people to get into the show. You're much better off if early episodes are all stand-alones. Once we're able to venture into that a little bit more that would be great and I'd love to do it.

Even though 'Happy Endings' plays with similar friendship dynamics to shows that have come before, there's something very unique about its tone. Can you talk about what you were aiming for when you came up with the concept?
You know, I was just sort of trying to make a show that had to do with my group of friends or maybe how they talk. The more we got into it -- obviously I wrote the pilot, but then once we were picked up for series you bring in a whole group of writers. Also, they brought in Jonathan Groff, who is a brilliant writer himself; he was the head writer of 'Late Night with Conan' in New York for years and is just a brilliant guy in his own right [Editor's note: not to be confused with actor Jonathan Groff of 'Glee' fame].

Working on the episodes going forward with him and with our team of writers that were all great, that definitely started to shape the show in different ways -- it took it in places I never even saw coming but was happy to get to. Really, we were just trying to make it funny, to be honest, nothing was off the table. Any thought we had for a story that we thought was funny we kind of just went for. Luckily, it seems like there is a group of people who also think those things are funny.

I wrote an article last week that posed the question: Is 'Happy Endings' more modern than 'Modern Family?' particularly in their depictions of gay characters --
Oh, that was you? Thank you! I actually really enjoyed that article. I thought that was really interesting.

Thank you, I'm very glad to hear it! I got such an overwhelming response on Adam PallyTwitter from people admitting how happy they were to see a character like Max (Adam Pally), who truly represented them and their personal experience the way few gay characters on primetime actually do right now. How did you come up with the character?
I really just based him on a really close friend of mine. It felt like that'd be sort of an interesting character to put on TV that I don't feel like I've seen very much, so that was really the goal there. But in general, the characters are just based on friends of mine, I definitely was not going into it trying to make a statement or anything like that about that type of character versus other gay characters from television history, that was in no way my intention.

My initial intention was that I wanted to base a character on a buddy of mine -- obviously, I'm not an idiot so I am aware that this is a different character, it'll probably draw people's attention a little bit, and I like that. I like to be able to try and do a character that is maybe a different way to look at a gay character on television and a different representation of a gay character on television -- I definitely enjoy doing that.

This show was not me planting my flag and trying to make a statement or anything like that, but I'm glad people have responded to it because I do feel like it could have gone the other way and people could have been pissed off about it. I'm sure there are some people that are, but really, I just felt like that's a character in the world so that should be a character on TV.

I guess that's exactly why people empathize with the character: because he's genuine and based on someone that actually exists, rather than appearing purely as a statement or a writer's personal agenda. His voice is real because he's a real guy -- I think that's very refreshing.
Yeah, I think it's definitely an underrepresented character type in media. But anyone who is out in the world knows all different types of gay people; there's not just one type, obviously.

How much do the actors drive the writing process? In terms of having such a funny group of people in the main cast, do you leave a lot of room for improv?
We actually do as much improv as we can. Obviously, the schedule for television is crazy, we shoot an episode every five days. You can't go overtime because it's crazy expensive, so we do as much as we can within the framework of a network show. That's really why we decided to cast such funny people; a lot of them are writers in their own right and hilarious improvisers -- we feel like that's a real asset of the show, so we try and utilize that as much as we can.

Eliza Coupe and Damon Wayans Jr.But we don't work where we just leave stuff open and go. What we do is we write the script as tight as we possibly can like any sitcom script would be, and then we basically shoot the script and then we do a few more takes afterwards and let the actors play around and see if they can find an alternative joke for a line or something like that. Also, in rehearsal we'll run through the scene -- if one of them tries something that we think works we'll lock it into the script and then add that to it or give them a chance to do a few different versions of stuff.

We write the show just as tight as any other sitcom writes it, we just try and also incorporate improv on top of that. Then when we get in the editing room, whichever line or moment wins -- if it happens to be a really smart improv by one of our characters that's hilarious we put it in. We're not precious with the written word. If the script wins, the script wins. If the improv wins, the improv wins.

Can you tease a little about the last few episodes of the season to whet viewers' appetites for what's to come?
Well this Wednesday [May 18, 10PM ET on ABC], I think it's actually really cool; you get to see two episodes that basically are kind of a flashback to what happened in the two weeks following the breakup of the wedding. After the wedding we jumped ahead and just kind of got into sort of the standalone episodes that didn't really deal with Dave [Zachary Knighton] and Alex's [Elisha Cuthbert] breakup, but this week, you kind of get a chance to see what happened in the two to three weeks after the wedding, to sort of see -- how did Dave and Alex try to start to be friends again? How did the group deal with this couple that broke up in the heart of their group? Can they be in the same room together again? Do you hang out with one of them one day and then one of them the next day? That sort of stuff.

For people that have been watching the show and like the characters, I think it's a really interesting window into kind of the realer stuff that went down right after the wedding, but it's still funny. And then in the finale [Wed., May 25, 10PM ET], the entire group goes to one of their old friend's weddings. You sort of see how that affects Alex and Dave's relationship and then also Penny had a safety pact with the groom, which is "if we're both single at 40 we'll get married." Well now, he's getting married so how does that affect Penny [Casey Wilson]? It should be cool, I hope people watch!

**Stop reading now if you want to avoid spoilers for the May 25 season finale.**

What was the thought process in bookending the season with two weddings? If you'd received an order for additional episodes past the first 12 in season one, would you still have aimed to end with another wedding?
We thought it was just kind of a cool bookend to start it in the pilot with a wedding and then end it with a wedding. Also, we thought it was a very charged situation for this couple that almost got married to now actually have to go to somebody else's wedding together but not be married. So it just kind of felt like an interesting, fun area to explore their relationship going forward -- that's really why we did it. I think we would have wanted to end the season anyway that way, no matter what. Then we just kind of go where we go next year. Right now I don't know where that'll be ... [laughs] A bunch of writers will just get in a room together in a few weeks and we'll just start to say what's the most interesting, fun, funny place to take this thing.

Elisha Cuthbert and Zachary KnightonHaving seen the finale, things were left kind of up in the air between Alex and Dave. Can you give us a hint about where you see their relationship going in season two?
I think, to me, they're one of those complicated long relationships that goes up and down. I think it's fun to play with that: The theory that they've known each other since they were 10 and probably had moments where they were best friends, moments when they were dating, moments when they hated each other, moments when they were engaged, and then they were almost married. So ideally, we'd kind of explore what that relationship looks like going forward.

As you can kind of see in the finale, things change from the pilot as far as how each of them feels about their relationship with each other, which I think is real -- it's a real way to approach it. I think going forward, we'll just continue to do that and wherever it takes us or whatever we think is a good idea, we'll go there. Nothing is really off limits. They could end up together, they could end up hating each other, they could end up sleeping together and then the next day one of them thinking it was a bigger deal than the other one thinks it is -- now that creates a whole other thing. You just take it where it organically goes.

'Happy Endings' airs two new episodes tonight at 10PM ET and 10:30PM ET on ABC, and will air the half-hour season finale next Wednesday, May 25, at 10PM ET.

Follow Laura on Twitter: @LauinLA

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What a fascinating interview. I always enjoy reading an article where the interviewer pulls back the curtain and lets the fans get a glimpse of the wizarding work backstage. And as a brand new fan of Happy Endings, I'm thrilled to peer inside the brain of David Caspe. First of all - kudos to you Laura for an article that the Showrunner of Happy Endings really enjoyed reading. ( http://www.tvsquad.com/2011/05/11/is-happy-endings-more-modern-than-modern-family/.)

Secondly, as a theater teacher, I loved the statement about how they incorporate improv into the acting process. I am a big proponent of being a master of improv so I plan to tell all my new classes that the Showrunner of Happy Endings uses improv! And finally, I really do adore the way the characters are so realistic and likable and yet extremely funny at the same time. It takes a fine line in sitcoms to draw believable characters and David Caspe and his team have done a terrific job. I'm thrilled with the new season order and look forward to seeing where the show "organically goes". Terrific interview!

May 19 2011 at 8:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am SOOOOO excited about it second season of this show. I don't think I have ever fallen in love with a show so fast before. I can't get enough of it. I am still laughing about the hipster episode. OMG that was so on point. I hope they get a better time slot next season as well as better advertising. It is just hilarious.

May 19 2011 at 12:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great article and interview! I still am not caught up with Happy Endings yet. I've decided to save the last few eps so that they can be savored over the summer. It really does seem to have a lot of promise and a lot of heart. And I find it refreshing that Caspe is of the mindset to "just take it where it organically goes." I do love it when shows have plans for plot and character development, but sometimes I just like watching a show and knowing that what's happening is a bit more spontaneous for all involved. Leaving it open like that makes it feel more authentic and exciting.

So happy we'll be getting a second season!

May 18 2011 at 5:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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