Q&A: 'Happy Endings' Creator Addresses 'Friends' Comparisons, the bin Laden Joke and Serializing Season 2

Happy Endings Still Cuthbert 2011
Mitch Haddad/ABC

HAPPY ENDINGS - "Like Father, Like Gun" - Brad's uptight dad (guest star Damon Wayans) is in town for some serious health tests.  When he gets an all-clear, he cuts loose with a new lease on life, something Brad has a hard time adjusting to. Meanwhile Penny meets a gorgeous Italian guy (Alex Valente); the problem is, he doesn't speak English, and Penny, who once  studied in Italy, finds she can only speak the language when she's drunk, on "Happy Endings," WEDNESDAY, MAY 4 (10:00-10:30 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.

There's something to be said for being under the radar. ABC's rookie series Happy Endings, which didn't receive the biggest marketing push prior to its early April debut, is evidence of that. Happy Endings, which centers on a group of friends who try to navigate life after one of its couples breaks up, was one of only a handful of freshman comedies – along with Fox's Raising Hope and CBS’ Mike & Molly – that are returning this fall. In fact, two of its cast members had back-up plans in case the show went south: Damon Wayans Jr. and Adam Pally booked roles on Fox's New Girl and NBC's Best Friends Forever, which were picked up to series.

The Hollywood Reporter chatted with first-time showrunner David Caspe on the eve of ABC's upfront presentation in New York City, which took place Tuesday, about Happy Endings’ accidental similarities to Friends, the infamous bin Laden joke and how he plans to serialize Season 2.

[Note: On Tuesday, ABC revealed that Happy Endings would air in the post-Modern Family slot this fall.]

The Hollywood Reporter: The show has performed solidly on Wednesday nights, so what do you think is the perfect home for Happy Endings?

Caspe: I just try and do the best I can on my end and let [the network] make all those decisions. But people seem to like [it]. It wasn't like [the show had] gigantic ratings. I hear people talk about it, which is super cool. I'm always surprised when anyone likes anything I do. To be honest, I'm so happy and thankful just to get to make more of these that I'm kind of like, "Wherever you guys want to put us, wherever you think is best, I am into it." I'm still super pumped to get to this for a living.

THR: Do you think following Modern Family and Cougar Town made sense?

Caspe: I think so. I think people see a similarity between us and Cougar Town tonally. I guess we're considered somewhat edgy of a show. I think I'm probably desensitized to that slightly. I've grown up on HBO and R-rated movies to the point where I don't really feel like we're that edgy necessarily. Our goal was to do a modern take on a Friends-type show, the same way Modern Family did a modern take on a family-type show.

THR: Happy Endings didn’t get the splashiest debut, yet a group of viewers has formed ..

Caspe: It feels like that. It's so hard to tell. I read the Twitter stuff and I read stuff on Facebook, and it definitely feels like there's a group of people who really love the show. I'll hear people tell my mom how much they like it. I don't know how much you can trust your mom, but again, it's so hard to tell because you don't know how big that group of people is. The comments that like it are pretty effusive and the comments that don't like it are pretty effusive also. It seems like either people love it or they want me to die. [Laughs] I read everything everywhere, but I probably shouldn't. I hope it continues to be good for those people and hopefully find even more people.

THR: How did the Osama bin Laden joke [in the "Of Mice and Jazz-Kwon-Do" episode] affect the show? [Note: The joke in question was said by Zachary Knighton, who led off with, "He's my bin Laden. ... Jessica bin Laden, a super hot Arab girl I went to college with." The silenced line was, "She was the one that got away."]

Caspe: I honestly forgot about the joke entirely, then we got a call from ABC saying, "We should probably mute this just out of respect to the situation," and I agreed. It could've been that and it could've also been because it wasn't applicable anymore that they wanted to mute it. I don't think it's a particularly offensive joke; it's not really about bin Laden, it was trying to be a play on words. I actually don't think it seemed to cause that much of a stir. [Bin Laden] had been pursued for 10 years and this episode could have aired a week earlier and nothing would've mattered. We shot it six months ago and because we're not in production right now, there was no opportunity to go in and re-edit the episode. I'm sorry if it offended anyone of course.

THR: Was there another instance when the timing of an episode played a key role?

Caspe: We did an episode a week earlier or two weeks earlier that was Penny dates Doug Hitler that happened to air on Hitler's birthday, which was a coincidence. It was weird; that was not planned. That wasn't our Valentine's Day episode. I think random stuff like that happens. There was another show, Chuck, that did an Osama joke that week also.

THR: How has airing the episodes out of order changed how the show is viewed? Was it a strategic decision?

Caspe: I hope that it doesn't bum people out too much. This week, the two episodes that are going to air address what happened in the few weeks following the wedding [between Dave and Alex]. You see how Dave ends up living at Max's [apartment] and how the friends dealt with the breakup. I think people will like [them] as long as they understand that we are going back in time just a little bit. 

In launching a show it takes a while for people to hear about it and check it out, so if someone's seeing the fourth episode first and they haven't tuned in, you don't want them to have to have known what happened in the previous episode. You really want each episode to stand alone. If you looked at the early episodes that we aired after the pilot, you don't need to know anything. It's easier to get people invested in a show that way and now, we have the opportunity to delve a little deeper and show more serialized elements.

THR: You've said before you want the show to become more serialized. How do you see that happening in Season 2?

Caspe: Everything from someone gets a new job and now you're following them from starting a new job for a few episodes or Max gets a boyfriend and now we're following him as he has to meet the guy's parents or get more serious -- or not want to get serious. We're still a very young show so I don't know if we'll be able to get to that right away; that may be later on next season if we're lucky enough to hang in there. We're still launching, but it'd be fun to deal with the characters growing in general.

THR: More TV shows, like Mad Love, Perfect Couples and Happy Endings, are focusing on romances and couples. Do you have a theory on why?

Caspe: We caught a lot of heat for being "another one of those shows" as if we knew about all those other shows. Everyone was making them themselves, putting them on the air and all of a sudden you realize, "Oh god, there's a lot of these." I just know certain seasons, networks are looking for certain genres of shows and this season, for some reason, multiple networks were looking for a “people in their late twenties”-kind of show. I don’t know that our show is so much a rom-com. We got grouped into that a lot. As much as we do dating stories, we more do ridiculous stuff. I don't know that Penny dating Doug Hitler really counts as a romantic story.

THR: What are your thoughts on being compared to Friends? 

Caspe: Modern Family and The Middle don't necessarily get compared to each other as much as we get compared to another Friends show. Maybe because Friends itself was so popular, any time you have people in their late twenties that are a close-knit group of friends, you end up getting compared to that. Ours starts with a wedding getting broken up. For me that was the idea of starting where romantic comedy movies end, specifically movies like The Graduate, that's what I was thinking. I didn't realize -- I haven't seen the Friends pilot in 10 years -- so I didn't even fully remember [what had happened until] someone pointed it out, that Rachel starts the show by running in in [sic] her wedding dress. Even that seemed different enough to me because it wasn't starting at the wedding, but we took a lot of heat "ripping that off." That being said, I get it, we’re always going to be compared to those shows and we’re just trying to make our own mark.

THR: This if your first TV series. What have you learned during this process that no one could have taught or warned you about?

Caspe: That it is hard. It weirdly has given me this great respect for even the worst television shows or movies that I've ever seen in my life because you realize that everybody works their ass off to make these things. As a casual TV viewer, you see a show come on for two episodes and it sucks and it gets canceled, or it's great and it gets canceled, either way. What you don't realize is the thousands of hours from hundreds of people that went in just to get to that point. It's hard to even make a bad television show.

THR: What is the biggest challenge that you face as a showrunner?

Caspe: The hardest thing that I saw is again, how much there is to do in such a short period of time and how the deadlines are all hard deadlines. I come from the feature world of writing. You have a deadline to hand in [the script], but if you're a couple of weeks late, it's not a big deal. This is like, the camera's rolling Monday morning and if you don't have a script, it's rolling anyway. You better make something up on the spot because it's hundreds of thousands of dollars for every minute that you don't do anything. It's a crazy, high-stress situation.

THR: What can viewers expect in one of next week’s episodes, “Shershow Redemption”? 

Caspe: It was shot as a season finale. I’m really proud of that one. I think that one came out good. We definitely learn a little bit more about Dave and Alex going forward maybe and hopefully that sets us up nicely for what we’ll do next year.

Happy Endings airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.

Email: philiana.ng@thr.com