Showrunners 2012: 'Happy Endings' David Caspe, Jonathan Groff and Josh Bycel

David Caspe, Jonathan Groff and Josh Bycel

"The show that I love that I did not think I would love is 'Revenge,'" Josh Bycel says. "I don’t think Adam Pally has actually watched it, but he gets a lot of 'Revenge' jokes on the show. I think we even put one in again this year."

From their obsessive rituals (Peppermint Patties! Oatmeal! Bruce Springsteen!) to the parts of their jobs they hate most (killing characters off, dealing with agents), TV's most influential writer-producers featured on The Hollywood Reporter's annual list of the Top 50 Showrunners come clean about the people, things and quirky habits that keep them -- and their shows -- alive. 

David Caspe, Jonathan Groff and Josh Bycel, ABC's Happy Endings

My TV mentor:
Caspe: Happy Endings was my first experience with TV, so I've been in this weird position of being the boss, while still trying to learn everything I can from everyone else. It's sort of a mentorship by a committee of people who were probably all very annoyed with me for not knowing how to do shit along the way.
Groff: I've never been as good as I should be at getting mentored, but I think the culture of Conan O'Brien mentored me. Conan is such a funny writer; I learned how to pack more comedic value in my writing just by being there.
Bycel: Even though I only worked for him for a year, it would definitely be Bill Lawrence. The way he knows how to handle the actors, the studio, the network and everyone... he’s the best I’ve ever seen at it. He can come in and give notes for 20 minutes and help you fix a story.

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The show that inspired me to write:
Bycel: Cheers and MASH were both big, seminal shows for me, even as a little kid. Cheers was really the show for me that was my all time favorite show just in terms of character development and funny stories. There were like eight or nine funny people on that show.

My toughest scene to write this year:
Caspe: All of the love triangle stuff has been hard to manage, because we are a comedy. We're not very soapy. We have our heart moments and real relationships, but wherever we get into that weird area of one friend being interested in another friend's old boyfriend, it's tough to write. You don't want anyone to be a shitty friend. We have to play that story very light.

My big break:
Groff: My first job in television writing was The Jon Stewart Show, and I was fired after week. We all went out to dinner to celebrate the wrap of the first cycle of shows and then I was fired the next day.

The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
Caspe: The very first note I ever got in Hollywood, for a feature I won’t name, was “Is there any way there could be more kicks in the balls?”
Groff: I had a pitch that I developed with the working title American Feud. It was basically a modern-day Hatfields and McCoys. After hearing about this feud that had been going on for 100 years and all of the people who had died, the executive who heard the pitch said, "OK, where's the conflict?"
Bycel: My first show was Veronica’s Closet. Towards the end we were doing this thing where Dan Cortese and Kirstie Alley were hooking up. We had a joke where she was trying to figure out something dirty to say to him, but she was bad at it so she said, “I want to put a dry-cleaning bag over your head and punch you in the stomach." I remember NBC saying, “We do a lot of business with the dry cleaning industry. Can you please change this joke.” I’ve never seen a dry cleaning ad on network television.

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The aspect of my job as showrunner that I'd rather delegate:
Groff: Just being in charge of recycling seems really hard, having to separate the plastic and the glass. Isn't there someone on the lot who can do that?

If I could add any writer to my staff, it would it be:
Caspe: Bruce Springsteen. I think he’d bring something really great to the show, and we’d get to hang out. I think it would be pretty great for both of us, actually.
Groff: The guy who wrote The Book of Mormon -- not the Broadway show, the actual golden tablets. I would love to see those. Anybody who can go from zero to what they've done in a 100-some years is really impressive. That religion was founded in 1830. It's really impressive.
Bycel: Probably Gail Lerner -- but our writer’s assistant, Jason Berger, is writing a script this year and said that he would pay me 50 bucks if I said him. So I would say Gail Lerner or Jason Berger.

The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
Bycel: I am not embarrassed at all to watch this show, but the show that I love that I did not think I would love is Revenge. We love that show on the staff. I don’t think Adam Pally has actually watched it, but he gets a lot of Revenge jokes on the show. I think we even put one in again this year.