'Marry Me's' David Caspe Talks Lessons From 'Happy Endings,' Bringing Back Familiar Faces

Marry Me (NBC)

Stars: Casey Wilson, Ken Marino, Tim Meadows, Dan Bucatinsky, John Gemberling, Sarah Wright, Tymberlee Hill
Team: David Caspe, Jamie Tarses, Seth Gordon

Marry Me centers on a longtime couple who gets engaged -- only to quickly realize that it's harder than it looks.

Happy Endings creator David Caspe is back, with NBC's rookie romantic comedy Marry Me slated to bow Tuesdays in the fall.

The comedy stars Caspe's former Happy Endings leading lady and his fiancee, Casey Wilson, opposite Ken Marino -- they play a longtime couple who get engaged, only to quickly realize that it's harder than it looks.

The series had the distinction of becoming the first clip NBC's Bob Greenblatt unspooled to Madison Avenue ad buyers during the network's upfront presentation Monday, a show of confidence in the single-camera series.

THR caught up with Caspe after NBC's presentation to discuss how he and Wilson -- who also exec produced a pilot that was in contention at NBC alongside Marry Me -- navigated that minefield, lessons from Happy Endings, how many alums may show up on his new show and more.

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How was it returning to upfronts?

It was only my second time ever being here because Happy Endings was actually my very first TV pitch, and I happened to get super lucky and go the distance. It's been great. I was just saying that I had my bachelor party this weekend in Las Vegas, so I flew yesterday from Vegas directly here, so I feel like a bag of garbage, basically. But I'm very happy to be here.

Was it a little easier this time since you knew what to expect?

A little bit. You're always nervous, though. You want to know what your time slot is going to be, and you hope that the trailer plays well in the room. One thing that is a little easier is that I get to come with my fiancee, so that makes it a little easier to have a buddy with you. I also know a lot of the execs and writers that now have their own shows. It's more of a fun event with a bunch of people that I really like and that I know.

How much of your relationship with Casey will seep into the show?

It's definitely an inspired bunch of events, but we didn't have a big disastrous proposal situation. I'm sure as we get to write this show going forward, we'll definitely put in a lot of the sort of hiccups that we've experienced. And we'll have a room full of talented writers. I'm sure they've all had their fair share of f---ed up marriage stories, proposal stories and engagement stories to draw from, so it should be real fun. I think it's a real relatable subject matter.

Marry Me also was the first clip shown during the presentation. What was going through your mind as the clip played and how do you feel about how it played in the room?

What goes through my mind is, "Oh my God, I hope people like it." [Laughs.] Then you're always self-critical; things I wish I had done different immediately played in my head. But I thought the cut-down was great and I thought it played pretty good. It's hard to tell. I only have one other thing to compare it to and it was four years ago. But it seemed to go pretty well.

Marry Me is one of the hottest shows from a staffing standpoint. What are you looking for in writers? Who's your dream get?

There are a lot of people that I worked with on Happy Endings or tried to work with on Happy Endings that I didn't get that I'm trying to get now. There's a lot of people that I'll be bringing back. A lot of the upper-level people have moved on to their own overall deals at different studios, so I'm not eligible to get them. For example, Jonathan Groff, who I love and worked with very closely on Happy Endings, is on an ABC Studios deal; or Josh Bycel. I can't get him. Josh and his partner also are on a deal with a different studio. At the upper level, there will be some new faces. We're just figuring out who those people are right now, but as many of my friends as I can bring back from Happy Endings I will. Or new people that I've met or other writers that I just hear are great.

Looking back, what kind of lessons did you learn from Happy Endings about doing broadcast comedy?

I came from writing features, so I literally learned how to make a TV show during Happy Endings. A big thing I picked up early on in the casting process of Happy Endings is I gravitated toward asking comedians -- people with an improv background who are great writers and improvisers in their own right. I gravitated toward those types of people in the casting process and as we continued to cast the day players and guest stars in Happy Endings, I went in that same direction. I learned very quickly that that makes your job as a writer much easier. So going into Marry Me, I set out to put funny comedians in every single part because it just makes your job as a writer so much easier. Words that you didn't even realize were jokes, they will get a laugh on. I was very excited to get Casey, who is one of the funniest people on the planet, and Ken Marino, who I've been a fan of forever and who is truly one of the funniest people on the planet as well. The rest of the cast is rounded out with really funny people: John Gemberling, who is an old friend of Adam Pally's from Happy Endings and performed with him a lot. Tim Meadows, Sarah Wright, Tymberlee Hill and Dan Bucatinsky are all great. That's my No. 1 thing: "Go get funny people."

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You and Casey both had comedy pilots at NBC in contention this season. How did you navigate that on a personal level?

We're not competitive with each other at all and are super happy for each other. I'm her biggest fan and I hope she is mine. [Laughs.] She made an awesome pilot this year [Mason Twins, which was passed over]. I'm also an enormous fan of her writing partner, June Diane Raphael. I thought it came out awesome.

Have you already considered whether any Happy Endings alums will guest-star on Marry Me or are you keeping the two worlds separate?

Oh, I'm going to use them all if I can get them. I love them, and me and Pally are still planning stuff that we want to do together. I almost took out a pitch this development season with Damon [Wayans Jr.]. I am the biggest fan of all of theirs. We saw Elisha Cuthbert last night at all the stuff because she has a show with NBC [lesbian comedy One Big Happy] with Nick Zano, who was on Happy Endings as Casey's boyfriend for an arc. As soon as I can, I will get in not only Damon and Adam Pally, assuming they're allowed to. They're on Fox shows that are literally directly in competition with us now because we're against New Girl again, which is where Happy Endings was originally. And New Girl beat us pretty handily. So I don't know if Damon and Pally are allowed to do a guest spot on a competing network in the same time slot, but that might be difficult. I'd love to have them. I'd love to have Zachary Knighton. Eliza Coupe has her own show on USA [Benched], which is in the NBC family, so that could work. A lot of the people that we had guest-star I would love to bring back. I would love to have June anywhere on the show, maybe as Ken's sister or ex-girlfriend. I'd love to have June's husband, Paul Scheer, on anytime.

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The show has been described by some as Happy Endings 2: The Year of Penny. How would you say Annie compares to Penny?

That's interesting. People who have seen the pilot have been stuck by how different of a character it is and that's a real testament to Casey as an actress and comedian. I think it's similar to Penny in the sort of can't-get-out-of-her-way kind of emotional musical theater girl. But otherwise, it's a more grounded character. There's more emotion and heart to it. If you like Casey's comedy, you'll like this show for sure.

The Happy Endings cast was pilot season's hottest "get," and all of them now have series regular jobs on new shows. Why do you think the cast was in such high demand but the show struggled to find a large audience?

I don't know. Who knows what goes into making a hit show. It feels like, if you ask the show, they say that the network didn't put them in the right spot. If you ask the network, they say that the show didn't perform in the spot it was in. I think probably there is a little bit of all of that. It's lightening in a bottle if a show breaks out, and sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't. I don't know if anyone is in control of that. I'm proud of the show we made and it really was the best creative experience of my life so far. The people that I wanted to love the show, loved the show, and that's a huge honor for me. People whose opinions I really care about loved the show and that's all you can ask for. If it happens to hit a broader audience, that's great, too. I don't know how to do that. I don't know if anyone knows how to do that. The cast was just phenomenal. Maybe it's just that Happy Endings for a few people was the first time a larger group of people got to see them. But when they walked into the room, I knew immediately. Every one of them was so great that we didn't have a second choice on any of them. I was lucky to put them on the show and once people were able to see them, everyone felt the same way immediately. I think it really just happened to be the show that gave a few of them a break. There was just a shit load of luck involved. We happened to get just a f---ing awesome cast.

Would you ever revisit Happy Endings?

I loved making it and I loved all the people involved in it and if there was ever a good situation to continue it, I would love to do it. If there was ever a situation where it made sense to do it again and everyone was in, I would totally do it. I think it would be so fun, but if we don't get to, there's also something nice that we made this little three-year thing that the people who liked it really liked it. I miss it, but I'm really excited about Marry Me and I think we have an awesome cast on this one, too. We're going to put together a great group of writers and hopefully have at least as much fun. It's the only goal you can really try to achieve.

Marry Me will air Tuesdays at 9 p.m. in the fall on NBC. A specific premiere date has not yet been announced.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
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