Happy Endings Boss on "Satisfying" Finale, Show's Future and the "Ultimate Kerkovich Alpha"
Eliza Coupe, Damon Wayans Jr., Elisha Cuthbert
Will Happy Endings get its happy ending and a Season 4 renewal?
That remains to be seen, but should you fail to "Save Happy Endings" like ABC wants you to, executive producer Jonathan Groff thinks they have crafted a Season 3 finale (Friday, 8/7c) for the kooky, GIF-tastic, ratings-challenged sitcom that would leave you, well, "happy." "Obviously, we want to go on, but if this is it, I don't think any Happy Endings fan would be disappointed," Groff tells TVGuide.com.
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Find out what else you can expect from the back-to-back episodes, the latter of which features the wedding of Jane (Eliza Coupe) and Alex's (Elisha Cuthbert) heretofore unmentioned older sister Brooke (Stephanie March), what he really thinks of ABC's "Save Happy Endings" campaign, if USA will pick up the show and more.
How did you prepare for the finale with everything up in the air?
Jonathan Groff: Honestly, we didn't think too much about, "Oh, this could be it." If it is it for the show, which would be sad, I think it would leave people with a nice feeling of, "OK, I get where this could go." But we really felt like we'll land somewhere and come back. People at ABC really like the show, all the way up to the top. They've been so supportive in so many ways that we kind of feel like maybe at the end of the day, they'll say, "This is a good show. We just need to figure out how to put it in the right place. This cast is going to be in movies. We want to say we have this cast and keep them for as long as we can." I don't know if they want to let them go. Obviously, there are challenges in the ratings, but I think they're aware there have been challenges in how they've handled this. I think we really looked at it like, "What would be a satisfying end to the season that would underscore the kind of weird ecosystem that is this group of friends and how they would go on from there."
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That includes a wedding, which is your finale staple.
Groff: [Laughs] Yeah, we love weddings! We really did something interesting to introduce two new characters and to revisit Jane and Alex's parents. We meet Brooke and get to see a new family dynamic for Jane and Alex, which is a little unusual for a finale, but we like doing weddings. Now that we blew the lid on the fact that it's not Penny's (Casey Wilson) wedding since she broke up with Pete (Nick Zano), we were like, "Who's wedding could it be?" We talked about, "Could it be her mom [Megan Mullally] and Big Dave's [Michael McKean]?" We felt that wasn't right and Megan wasn't available! So Megan's in the [penultimate episode] with Michael. Then we said, "Let's define Jane a little bit." So we came up with Brooke.
And she's more anal than Jane, right? It's hard to imagine anyone would be.
Groff: Brooke out-Janes Jane. She's the ultimate Kerkovich alpha. It's fun to see Eliza play Jane back on her heels. She just really wants to get the approval of her older sister. It's very important to her. Alex leans into her role as the kid sister. It's really fun to see the three of them together. The kicker with Brooke's wedding is that she's also marrying a black guy, Elliot, (James Lesure), who's kind of perfect. That messes with Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) a little bit. Through that, we felt like we did set up some stuff for next season and also, if we don't get a next season, you could go, "OK. I'll make my own imaginary show."
Check out an exclusive sneak peek of Brad meeting Elliot below.
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Dave (Zachary Knighton) and Alex are also hiding a secret.
Groff: Yeah. I don't think [the secret's] that surprising, but they agree not to tell anyone and of course they each tell the wrong person. Some of the fun is watching the secret get out. You really get to see Max (Adam Pally) and Penny's reaction to it.
When I talked to David Caspe and Josh Bycel earlier in the season, they said Dave and Penny won't get together this year. Is that still true? Do you even hint at that possibility in case this is it?
Groff: Well, I think it would be way too soon no matter how you cut it to with Dave and Alex, and Penny just getting out of an engagement. But the consensus in the writers' room is that you're always looking for interesting combinations and it just has to be at the right time and you have to buy it.
So you didn't change any plans even when things were looking dire and you were pulled off the schedule for a month?
Groff: Nope. We just did what wanted. The only thing we struggled with is we have such funny actors that we always want to make the show super-funny. We need to check ourselves and remember that people, especially on ABC, are connecting with the characters. That's the genius of Modern Family and The Middle. We get carried away sometimes with being super-funny, and I love that, but sometimes the best episodes for us are the real, grounded moments. I think the show at its best does that well. And I think we've had some great moments of that this year, like the end of the game night episode after everyone finds out Penny broke up with Pete. There's a moment at the end in the finale where you go, "That's sweet." But we honestly just kept doing what we wanted to do and already planned.
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I don't think any show has been moved as much as you guys. You've been in three time slots this year — technically four if you could the double episodes on Fridays. Were you worried at any point, especially during the month off the air, that you'd be pulled altogether?
Groff: No. Honestly, ABC has been great. They really do love the show and they were trying — they still are — to make it work. The Sunday thing wasn't like, "We legitimately don't know what to do with this." We did well last year around Revenge. I think we were a decent lead-in to them from Modern Family, so I think the thought was, "Let's get some Revenge eyeballs to Happy Endings." I think it was more of a good experiment than a "We don't know what to do." The Tuesday thing was more, "Was that a good idea? I don't know." We had Dancing with the Stars [as our lead-in], but the fall's Dancing wasn't the most successful. We started late [in October] and we didn't air many episodes. And there was a hurricane and an election. We aired three originals in December when that's a dark period. I don't think anything has done gangbusters at 9 o'clock since. I'm probably getting myself in trouble! [Laughs] But it was a weird season, scheduling-wise. That was weird.
And then they launched the Save Happy Endings campaign.
Groff: Right. You know, it's easy to make light of it because the corporate entity that has the power to save the show is asking viewers to save it. I think it was their way of getting fans excited. It also got attention. Rarely have I seen a promo get picked up in news outlets. It struck people as kind of odd and paradoxical. It got news. Social media for us has always been a huge factor because people talk about it on Twitter and Facebook. I think it's because we do jokes. It's a visually satisfying show. Our crew just comes up with the best stuff. ... For ABC to say "Get it going" was kind of odd, but it got people talking. We'll take anything! And honestly, they could've canceled us. The move to Fridays to keep us around was to keep us on the schedule. ABC has been so, so good to us. Other networks would've canceled us already and I think they didn't because they know it's a good show and this cast is insanely talented. It's an attractive audience for advertisers even though it's not as big as we'd like it to be.
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What do you know or have heard about USA possibly picking you guys up?
Groff: I don't know much. It's nice to know that people might want us, but I don't really know anything. No one tells us anything. ... If ABC picks it up, it's because it's a good show. They have good comedies and we're one of them. They want to try us again and handle us differently. I'd love to be anywhere, but I'd love to stay on ABC. We'll see what happens.
Happy Endings airs back-to-back episodes Fridays at 8/7c on ABC.