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Interview - David Caspe

When most shows are canceled, there may be a bit of an uproar from fans, but in all honesty, they saw the writing on the wall that the series was going to be canceled and eventually accept it and move on.

Every once in a while, when a series is canceled before it really hits its stride, the fans and television community as a whole, cry out in anger and disappointment. Well, one of those shows was Happy Endings. The series originally aired on ABC for three seasons to decent ratings, but after three seasons, ABC decided to pull the plug on the quirky comedy.

The cancellation of Happy Endings was met with a lot of anger from not only fans but critics alike. Fast forward seven years and the series still has a loyal and vocal fanbase. With that in mind, series creator David Caspe decided to get the gang back together for a very special Zoom episode of Happy Endings and use the opportunity to also raise money for charity.

We had the opportunity to sit down with David to talk about the special Zoom episode, what it was like getting the gang back together and if there is a chance to the series could come back in the future.

Pop Culture Principle – What was the motivation behind doing this special Zoom episode of Happy Endings?

David Caspe – The main reason we did this episode was for charity. The world is in such a tough spot right now and we just wanted to help in any small way that we could. Also, it was fun to get back together with everyone, but the main reason we did this project was for charity.

Pop Culture Principle – Did you and the writers go back and watch old episodes of Happy Endings to prepare for the virtual episode?

David Caspe – I’m not sure what the other writers did, but I did go back and look at a few episodes. We had a Zoom with nine or ten of the original writers and everyone just pitched story ideas. The episode came together pretty quickly because, after three years, the characters are pretty clearly drawn where it was pretty obvious what each character would be doing. I say it’s obvious because the writers of the show were so brilliant and literally every one of them has gone on to have their own show, if not multiple shows.

We broke the story pretty quickly and then Jonathan Groff took a stab at laying it all out and then we passed it back and forth between me, him, and Josh Bycel. We then split the episode up into scenes with different writers and everyone wrote a few pages and then we brought it back together. It was really a team effort between about ten of the original writers. We didn’t realize how good we had it at the time, but in hindsight, it is such a remarkably talented group of people.

Pop Culture Principle – Watching the episode, the cast didn’t seem to miss a beat. As the creator of the series, what was it like for you to experience the cast doing what they do best?

David Caspe – It put such a big smile on my face. I love all of them as performers and of course as people obviously. Back then, it was the first show for not only the cast but for many of the writers. It was such fun and we moved on thinking that is what making a show is like, but then you realize that that happened to be a very special situation.

Once we edited the episode and I watched it, I realized that it really felt like the show. My main goal was to make it feel like a real episode even though that might be hard on Zoom. What was really nice about this is that after I watched it, I thought that if we did bring the show back, we could get pretty close to what the show was originally and that was very energizing to me.

Pop Culture Principle – During the show’s run, who was the gatekeeper for the Happy Endings bible?

David Caspe – That is actually a great question. Sierra Teller Ornelas, who has a show coming out soon called Rutherford Falls with Ed Helms. She was famously known as the keeper of the bible. She would always know the canon and she is just a brilliant and hilarious writer and just a great person. She recently raised $271,000 for the non-profit NDN Collective which is an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to building Indigenous power.

Pop Culture Principle – One of the things that makes Happy Endings stand out as a comedy is its pacing. You have joke after joke during an episode. Was that intentional or something that just progressed as the show developed?

David Caspe – It is a little bit of both. I know that Joe and Anthony Russo who directed the pilot and some of the other episodes in Season 1, very early on they really pushed the pace on set. Then, when I started editing the episodes, it was my first-time editing episodes and for whatever reason, a faster rhythm felt right to me and always has if you’ve watched any of my other stuff. I have another show on the air right now called Black Monday which moves just as quickly.

Also, I think there is a bit of self-protection when it comes to the pacing. I’m always scared that the joke is not good and no one will laugh, so I thought that if we can get to the next joke as quick as possible, no one will realize that the last joke was bad.

I know this sounds incredibly pretentious, but there is a certain rhythm to editing in the same way that there is to music. There are certain rhythms that feel right to the person, you know. Also, all credit to the editors of the show who were also pushing that rhythm as well. So, it was a collective collaboration between me, the cast, the directors, the editors, and the writers. Also, we wanted to service all six characters with enough stuff so that they wouldn’t get angry. 😊 When you have six characters and you have to give them all a bunch of stuff, you have to cut out the air in the episode to get through it all or you will be at thirty-five minutes.

Pop Culture Principle – Another thing that makes the series stand out is the dialogue. Specifically, the way the characters abbreviate words or say words differently. Again, was that intentional, and did the actors have a part in developing it?

David Caspe – It was a total collaboration between everyone. For instance, “ah-mazing” was just written in the script as amazing the first time Casey said it. When she said “ah-mazing”, it made us laugh so much that we kept putting it in the script until it was a catchphrase for her character. So, that was all Casey. As for the abbreviations, it was the writers coming up with that stuff as well as the actors. It was a super collaborative set so it was basically the best pitch, best joke and best improv would win.

Pop Culture Principle – The cast for Happy Endings was fantastic. The chemistry that had with each other was a joy to watch on screen. Can you talk a bit about the cast?

David Caspe – All six actors were incredible and their chemistry together was so great that you really can’t cast for that. You could cast six just as funny people and it wouldn’t have the same feel. The cast not only elevated the stuff on the page but added so much stuff of their own that was just so funny.

Pop Culture Principle – Who came up with the idea for the racist parrot?

David Caspe – You know, I wish I could remember so I could give them credit. I don’t know but I do remember a funny story associated with that. There were some real veteran writers in the room and a bunch of young people who were working on their first show and didn’t really know a lot about how television works, me included. I can’t remember how we came up with the idea, but one of the veteran writers runs into another veteran writer in town who says, “Oh, I see you did the racist parrot”, as if it was an idea that comes up in every writer's room, but no one does it. I think our show was so below the radar that we were allowed to do stuff like that. The entire first season was made before we even had an air date and we didn’t even know that the show would come out. We were largely allowed to do what we wanted which created an environment where we would do dumb stuff.

Pop Culture Principle – When did you find out that the series was going to be canceled? Did the network give you a specific reason as to why the series was being canceled?

David Caspe – It was a phone call from the network. Every year we were a bubble show. I have never had ratings come out and it be good news, ever. I have been fortunate enough that the network and the critics to some degree like the show enough to were there are reasons not to cancel the show. I am always in that fighting to keep the series going mode. It was not a surprise that the show was canceled. Every season would end and we would be on the bubble and I would wait to find out. There would be conversations going on behind the scenes and people arguing on our behalf as to why we should continue and then we’d get lucky and continue. For the final season, it just didn’t happen.

It was also a weird time for television. Looking back our ratings actually weren’t that bad. All broadcast television was going down rapidly. It was no one’s fault and I don’t have any ill-will. We got to do the show for three seasons, I met my wife and have two wonderful kids and it launched my career. I couldn’t be happier or more thankful. I can understand why they did cancel the show. All broadcast ratings were going down steadily every year. I get the idea of trying another show to bring the ratings back up, but I don’t think the networks realized that the numbers were basically going down for good. It was just a paradigm shift and our show kind of got caught in the gears of it.

Pop Culture Principle – After the show was canceled, there was some serious buzz that the USA Network was interested in picking up the series, but it fell through. What, if anything, did you know about that situation?

David Caspe – You know, it was basically a done deal. It felt done done. It seemed like we were moving to the USA Network and all the conversations were good and then I don’t know what happened at the last second. It felt as if all the people agreed at a certain level and then it went up the chain to one more person who looked at it and just decided to kill the deal. Also, around a year ago or so, there was some talk with ABC again as well. Everyone is at different studios and different shows, so it is tricky to make a deal that can get everybody involved in the right way. I don’t know, but it might just be the weird optimist in me, but I kind of think at some point, we will do something.

Pop Culture Principle – As a follow up to your last answer, have there been any conversations about bringing the show back since the Zoom episode?

David Caspe - I’ve had no one approach me about bringing the show back since the Zoom episode, but it did give me the confidence in everyone and at the same time, it felt really good and made me realize that we could do this again.

Pop Culture Principle – If Happy Endings doesn’t come back, what would you like its legacy to be?

David Caspe – As a fan of comedy and jokes specifically, if people remember Happy Endings as being funny, I am a happy guy. I feel incredibly fortunate to get to do this as a job and to have contributed anything that people actually and legitimately like is amazing.

Pop Culture Principle – Do you think being compared to the series Friends from the jump was helped the series, hurt the series, or a little bit of both?

David Caspe – I think it hurt the series at the beginning. Back then, networks were kind of looking for certain things each year, and for whatever reason, that year networks were looking for “Friends” type shows or hangout shows. So, when we premiered, there was a bunch of new series like that and I think that hurt us critically and with the audience as well. Also, we premiered on a Tuesday night at 10 pm and I don’t think they ever aired a comedy series that late. The fact that we got a couple more seasons of the show is incredible. To this day, it doesn’t feel like the Friends thing now hurts us. I think that people see us as two very different shows.

Pop Culture Principle – Your Showtime series Black Monday recently wrapped its second season. Any word on the possibility of a third season?

David Caspe – Same kind of thing. The network really likes the show and Don Cheadle was just nominated for an Emmy which is awesome. I’m cautiously optimistic. We got an Emmy nomination and critics are starting to come around to the show. When Happy Endings first came out, the reviews were pretty mixed. By the end of the second season is when we started to pop up on people’s Top Ten lists and get better critical reviews.

I have felt recently that as we got through the second season, critics are starting to love the show and the audience finding the show as well. It’s the same position I’ve always been in. We are just trying to get to the next season. I’d love for it to happen because I love the show and I love everyone involved. I have learned that I can’t control it. I try and do my best work, make my best case for why it should be renewed and beyond that, there isn’t much more that I can do. I believe deeply in Black Monday and if we get a third season, it could finally maybe break out. Fingers crossed!

Pop Culture Principle – It was recently announced that you are involved with the new Damon Wayans, Jr. project for Peacock. What can you tell us about the project?

David Caspe – Well, I’m just a producer for the series. My friends and former writers for Happy Endings Matthew and Daniel Libman created the show. They are just starting to get into working on that project. The basic plot of the show is a husband and wife reluctantly become bounty hunters. It will have an 80’s or 90s action-comedy feel.

************************************************************************** A huge thank you to David Caspe for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with us!!

**Main photo courtesy of Brian Warner**

**All Happy Endings photos courtesy of ABC**

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