Interview: Lizzy Caplan on the ‘Party Down’ cancellation

Lizzy Caplan got one hell of a rotten birthday present on Wednesday, when her agent woke her up with the news that Starz had canceled “Party Down,” the hilarious but low-rated Starz comedy about a team of Hollywood wannabes working as cater-waiters.

“Happy birthday to me,” Caplan lamented in a phone interview this afternoon, in her familiar sarcastic tone. “I thought I asked for the opposite of that for my birthday. I guess (Starz president) Chris Albrecht misheard me.”

(More from Caplan after the jump…)

Caplan, like the rest of the “Party Down” cast and crew, wasn’t exactly surprised by the decision, given the show’s microscopic ratings, “But the ratings thing is interesting on our show, because none of the people we know who watch it watch it on Starz, or if they do, they certainly don’t watch it Friday at 10 on Starz. They showed episodes weeks earlier, they streamed them and aired them on other channels. Plus, we were always kind of told ratings didn’t matter, that we were making a tiny, low-budget show. You would think acclaim made up for a lack of ratings.

“Our fans, even though we didn’t have huge numbers,” she added, “were exactly the type of people we were hoping to impress: smart and vocal and funny and almost snobby about their comedy preferences. You look at hugely-rated shows like ‘Two and a Half Men’ that get like a gazillion viewers – I have the sneaking suspicion that not one of them watches ‘Party Down.’ I think if a girl who liked ‘Party Down’ found out that her boyfriend liked ‘Two and a Half Men,’ she would break up with him.  I wish we could have reached a larger audience, because more people would have seen it and we might still be on, but it always sort of felt like the appeal for our fans was that the show felt like it was theirs. It belonged to them, and they discovered it, and they told their circles of friends. It was like a secret club of people in the know.

“Of course, secret clubs don’t usually lead to TV show pick-ups.”

Network pilot season took place during the long layoff between when “Party Down” season two finished filming and when it actually aired, and Caplan, like her co-stars, was faced with the choice of taking another job and risking being unavailable should Starz renew the series. Adam Scott went to “Parks and Recreation,” Ryan Hansen did NBC’s “Friends with Benefits,” and Caplan was approached by the producers of the CBS pilot “Mad Love.” She agreed to do it, but only as a guest star whose role would be recast if the show got picked up.

“‘Party Down’ had at once nothing and everything to do with why I didn’t sign onto that show past the pilot,” she said. “If one were to bet on which show, even at that time, would end up on the air, it would probably end up being ‘Mad Love.’ It was one of the more talked-about scripts of pilot season, had a really good cast, CBS was very high on it, and ‘Party Down’ had lost its lead actor to ‘Parks and Rec,’ I think Ryan was gone too, and the fate of our show was in the hands of a guy who showed absolutely zero enthusiasm for it. So there was that on the one hand.”

She called the “Mad Love” pilot shoot an “extremely positive” experience and complimented leading man Tyler Labine as “one of the great comic actors of our generation,” but said ultimately it wasn’t the kind of show she wanted to do.

“It was never about picking that show or ‘Party Down.’ It was more that working on ‘Party Down’ for two seasons opened my eye to the type of show I want to be doing right now, this year. Maybe I will have to think differently next year, I don’t know.

“Because ‘Party Down’ was on cable, we were able to take it much further than a network show. Beyond cursing and showing boobs and dick, we could make it depressing and really really dark, and that’s not as easy to do on a CBS sitcom. Being able to play comedy and drama on a TV show is kind of a dream job for me. I’m more drawn to those kinds of comedies than ones that are just set-up/joke, set-up/joke. Even now, knowing the fate of ‘Party Down,’ if they were to offer me one more shot, I don’t think I would take back any decision that I made.”

Though her now-ex-boss Rob Thomas hasn’t had much luck with his quest to adapt “Veronica Mars” for the big screen, Caplan said she’s pushing for a “Party Down” movie.

“We want it so bad. We could do it for no money, no time. We would do it for free. I just don’t know if we’re legally allowed to do it.”

But she remains extremely proud of the two seasons the show produced, and of the work environment that Thomas and fellow producers John Enbom and Dan Etheridge created, and of the relationships she made.

“John Enbom put it best: ‘They canceled our summer camp.'”

Here’s a clip of Caplan as Casey on “Party Down.” Language decidedly NSFW:

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at