'Happy Endings' Creator Talks Up New ABC Comedy

04/13/2011 06:05 pm ET | Updated Jun 13, 2011

For every sitcom about young friends hanging out, there seems to be another show about young friends hanging out, but David Caspe is hoping you give his new ABC show, "Happy Endings," a chance.

Premiering tonight on ABC, "Endings" kicks off with Alex (Elisha Cuthbert of "24") leaving her fiancé (Zachary Knighton) at the altar. Their closest friends (among them SNL alum, Casey Wilson, and Damon Wayans, Jr.) then have the uncomfortable task of choosing sides.

Caspe, the show's young creator, came to LA in 2006 with a feature script in hand, and has since sold a few others, including an Adam Sandler vehicle currently in pre-production, I Hate You, Dad, about a father who moves in with his soon-to-be-married son.

We spoke to him about leaving behind a career as a visual artist, the limitations of network TV, and his first experience as a show-runner.

Before deciding to pursue writing you had been a visual artist working with galleries in New York. What sparked the change?
Yeah, I studied at the School for Visual Art in New York City. That was always the thing I had been pursuing my whole life. I could draw realistically at a young age, so I gravitated towards that at first because I was good at it. I wasn't the greatest basketball player- I was a Jewish kid from Chicago, so I wasn't a phenomenal athlete.

How did you transition into writing?
When I was in New York, I'd begun showing at galleries, and got interested in doing more video art. And the more of that I did, the more I thought, "What if there was more of a story to this thing?" And then it was: "What if I got some more actors for this thing?" And then: "What if I made it a short movie?" And soon I just thought I should probably switch over to making actual movies. So I wrote a feature script and moved and gave it to the only woman I knew who's in the business [Shelley Browning, who is now his manager]. And she read it and liked it and sent it to some producers and then they sent it to studios and it went from there.

What was the feature you brought to L.A?
It's tentatively called Two Tickets to Paradise - kind of a comedic, imagined sequel to The Karate Kid. The movie is about the two kids that the movie Karate Kid was actually based on. It picks up twenty years later when they're at their high school reunion and they're in a sort of fall from grace. It sold, and we're currently trying to get it made.

How did the idea for "Happy Endings" come about?
I think my original idea was to begin a TV show at the point where all the romantic comedies end - break up at the wedding, the guy running to the airport to catch a plane, that moment that ends so many movies. And then from there it was about pitching and describing characters and jokes that the networks liked.

What kinds of characters interested you?
I guess my goal with them was always to make them funny and to talk like my friends talk, and maybe that will end up sounding inherently like a lot of people's friends talk.

A lot of people's friends probably can't say things you can air on ABC. Did you feel any constraints from airing the show on a network?
Would the characters sound more like people int heir late 20s early 30s if this was on HBO or FX? 100%. But that's not ABC's fault, that's just a function of the medium. They definitely tried to do the best they could. To me, "Seinfeld" is as funny as any comedy ever made, including R-Rated movies and cable shows and things like that, and it's obviously super clean. There's a way to be funny without being dirty. I'm not comparing our show to Seinfeld [laughs] but I think it is possible. I'll definitely learn more as I go along.

And you've also had some outside help.
Yeah, the Russo Brothers came onboard to direct and they're amazing. They did "Arrested Development" and they're currently doing "Community." And then, you know, I'd never been in a TV writers room before this show, so they brought Jonathan Groff [former head-writer for Late Night with Conan O'Brien] to come in and co-run it with me.

How much of the show is improvised?
For a network TV show, I would say we're doing as much improv as anyone is out there. There's not a lot of time in TV. We only have five days to shoot an episode, and if you go over budget you're in serious trouble. Every minute over on a normal day is very expensive, so we try to do improv in rehearsal. Also, tons of our actors have a improv background, and a couple of them are working writers on their own. Giving them room to play around was always the goal.

What was the learning curve like - going from writing features to running your first TV show?
TV is a crazy schedule and it's really tough to introduce a lot of characters in 22 minutes that you've never met before. In a movie you have a lot of time to get into these characters, to get to know them, but in a pilot you have 22 minutes to tell a story. I think our show really finds its footing as it moves along.

"Happy Endings" premieres tonight on ABC.