‘Happy Endings’ producers on ‘Kickball,’ Sunday scheduling and renewal hopes

Tonight at 10, ABC will be airing something doubly unusual: another episode of “Happy Endings” on a Sunday night – as part of a recent strategy where that show and “Don’t Trust the (Bitch) in Apt. 23” have been airing on both Tuesdays and Sundays so they can finish their seasons before “Dancing with the Stars” returns in March – and an episode that was left over from the previous season.

For scheduling reasons, tonight’s episode, “Kickball 2: The Kickening” – a sports-filled episode guest starring Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs – never aired last spring, and has been sitting in limbo in America (though it’s aired internationally) until tonight.

When I was at ABC’s press tour party a few nights ago, I ran into “Happy Endings” producers David Caspe and Jonathan Groff, and asked them about “Kickball” finally seeing the light of day, their thoughts on this scheduling strategy, and whether they think they have a shot to come back next year.

You had an episode left over from the first season, too. Why was this one dangling out there?

David Caspe:  Literally, we got the schedule from, they were launching “Bitch,” and we had one left over. We didn’t know when to air it, and when they started talking about the Sunday thing to give us more exposure, and they wanted us to have as many new episodes as we could. Because of our shooting schedule, we didn’t have that many on the shelf right now, and that one allowed us to put a new one out and still stay on the schedule.

Jonathan Groff: It’s going to be a little weird, continuity-wise. We were hoping they might promo it as a lost or hidden episode.

Other than Dave and Alex not being together, what’s weird about it?

Groff: Penny is totally on the make. She’s big-time single in this episode, and really loaded for bear – literally loaded for Bear. Loaded for Lance Briggs. So if the fans of the show are following the series closely but yet don’t know this is an old episode, it’ll be, like, ‘What?’ But hopefully it’s funny – it’s a bit of a romp of an episode – and people will just go with it.

When they told you about the Sunday thing, did you think this was good, or that they were just trying to burn you off?

Caspe: They told us that it was good, because they were going to try to get some sampling for it. They’ve never lied to us before, so I take them at their word.

Groff: We didn’t freak out, even though every article we read said they were burning us off. To be honest, when they double-pumped our episodes in season 1, everyone said they were burning us off, but they had told us, ‘No, this is a way to get the show out there.’ They’ve been right so far, so if this is what they say is best for the show, I’m all for it. Honestly, the bigger thing was a month or so when they said we were going to end in March. So when they said, ‘Let’s try to get some momentum while you’re still on the air, and we can get a couple of extra shows on the air, we have to go for it.’ I honestly think it came from a place of, ‘What can we do to give the show a shot?’ Because here’s the thing: We weren’t on that much this fall. We started late, we had a debate pre-emption, an election night pre-emption, a hurricane pre-emption, and then we were on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, which I don’t think is a great night for our demo. December was the first month we had three originals on. I think it was an attempt to get a little momentum going.

Caspe: We have a couple of pre-emptions coming up on Tuesday, also, and it was a way to try and get some continuity. We haven’t really been able to build any momentum because we’ve been on and off all fall.

Groff: It’s such a dogfight on Tuesday nights, also.

In terms of picking the episodes that go Tuesday versus Sunday, other than “Kickball,” are they running in order, or are you strategically deploying certain things on Sunday and certain things on Tuesday?

Groff: It’s mostly in order. The only thing is the episode that ran last Sunday night was shot after the episode that aired on Tuesday, but both of them didn’t have much character arc in them, so that wasn’t a problem. And we actually had the choice of airing them in either order; we just thought that maybe, for that “Revenge” audience, that one that aired on Sunday might be a better one. Other than that, we’ve been able to stay in continuity.

Caspe: Obviously, now, we’re finishing them as fast as we can, so we don’t have the option of airing them out of order.

March isn’t that far away. How optimistic are you guys feeling about whether you come back or not?

Caspe: This is the first TV show I ever pitched, so it should have never even gotten shot, much less got three seasons. So we’ve all felt from the beginning that we’re the underdog show that somehow continues to scrap its way along. Honestly, we read all these articles about how we’re f–ked and everything, but it sort of feels like we’re always f–ked and we always keep going. We’re optimistic. It kind of feels like the story of the show a little bit. It doesn’t surprise us that we’re against the ropes, even though honestly we don’t even know if we’re against the ropes. Everything we hear from ABC is positive. They love the show, and they’re trying to make it work. I think it’s more people outside the show feel that it maybe looks worse than it actually is. For us, it’s just business as usual.

Groff: I also think that all the networks are going, ‘Do we just not do shows that appeal to a younger audience?’ Because all of them are hurting a little bit in some way or another. Do you just cut and run or say, ‘This is a good show, its audience watches it in different ways, we have to accept that if we want to reach out to them, and we know that the audience we do get is of high value to the show.’ It’s just that the audience isn’t big enough. Anybody who makes a show that isn’t a big family show or a big multi-camera on CBS is in the same boat.

Caspe: We got a 1.4 last Tuesday, that’s basically in line with everything except  “Modern Family,” “The Middle” and the CBS shows. We feel we’ve gotten a lot of love from you and a lot of critics. People who like the show love the show, and hopefully that’s enough to win the day.

Groff: I think ABC steps back and goes, ‘It’s a good show. Will it kill us to keep a good show around with a quality audience?’ It’s just not a giant hit.

Caspe: For the record, it’s not a giant hit.