Exclusive: Kevin Biegel Talks the Battle To Save Enlisted, The Most Geek-Friendly Military Show Ever

Kevin Biegel, creator of the cult-hit FOX military comedy Enlisted, is used to living his life [...]

Kevin Biegel, creator of the cult-hit FOX military comedy Enlisted, is used to living his life with a show on the bubble.

As the co-creator (with Scrubs's Bill Lawrence) of Cougar Town, Biegel has had at least one show a hair's breadth from cancellation for a few years now (Cougar Town will enter its sixth and final season on TBS in 2015, after having been cancelled after three years on ABC).

With Enlisted, though, he's not just on the bubble -- he's facing the firing squad. With 13 episodes filmed, the midseason replacement show didn't make next year's FOX schedule and is currently burning off the last episodes before it vanishes into cancellation...

...Except that's not Biegel's plan.

He and excutive producer Mike Royce have been trying to find a new home for Enlisted, a show that follows a trio of brothers who all serve on the same military base in Florida. It's a sitcom full of earnest and heartfelt moments and featuring a demographic that's not the usual 20- or 30-something big city liberals.

It's also decidedly apolitical, meaning that unlike many shows that fit the above description, it doesn't work to make sure you know just how redneck everybody is. If someone came onto the show who was a "big city liberal," it wouldn't immediately become a fish-out-of-water comedy.

The show is a hit with the military -- which is fairly a rarity for shows about the military, which tend to be inaccurate and draw the ire of those living the life day to day. Biegel admits that Enlisted had that problem in its pilot -- but that listening to the viewing audience, making adjustments and having a sense of humor about their shortcomings has won them a lot of friends in a community that often feels stereotyped or marginalized by the mass media.

Biegel -- an avid comics fan who has toyed with the idea of pitching a Marvel show and done superhero-themed episodes both on Cougar Town and Enlisted -- joined ComicBook.com to talk about the show, its future and what Marvel property he might pitch next if it turns out Enlisted really does have a 13-episode lifespan.

At this point, where do you see Enlisted in a year?

Oh man, loaded question! Look, myself and the cast and crew are just thankful it exists. We were lucky to make it, we are thankful we got to make what we made and we hope more than anything we get to make more. But the show exists now, for 13 episodes, and we didn't bone it too bad during those episodes i don't think so we're pretty proud of that. An un-boned run! How lucky are we!

Obviously, you've had a very vocal fan contingent. What do you think it is that has made it difficult to reach out beyond that group to get more mainstream success?

It's always tough to break through to the mainstream but I think we have the seeds - heck, the sprouting plant maybe actually - of something that could do that. It's always been my experience that when a group of people really like and personlize something, that's indicative of it maybe being possible for a little bit bigger group and then maybe a little bit bigger group.

I think the trick is time - it's very hard to be a massive thing right out of the gate. I think honestly too a great many people don't really know about the show, and that's fine - that's what Hulu and iTunes is for!

I feel echoes of your buddy Lawrence a bit in Enlisted, with the way the PTSD is handled. It's a rare sitcom that manages to pull off the earnest stuff as well as you guys did. How tricky is finding that balance?

"Echoes of Bill!" That's a pretty good soap opera title. The credits are all shots of Bill looking out a window, and cross-fades as you hear someone off camera whispering, "Bill... Billl.... Biiiiiilll, are you there?" I will ask him if he'd like to star in that show, and then we will write that show and it will be on CBS daytime this fall. Also Sharon Gless is gonna be in it because she'd make it good. Sharon Gless makes everything better.

But okay, as for the earnest stuff - it's just to approach it as honestly as possible. Not to shy away from some scenes or moments that may be difficult to pull off, to embrace the emotion. I think when I get emotional it doesnt trickle out, the damn just kinda bursts then self-heals, and that seemed to be a good approach to the show: be funny, but don't be scared to jump from funny right into the heavier stuff.

In general, you guys have an interesting relationship with the military. How key do you think taking notes on the pilot from the audience was to the show's later success?

I think realizing that we mucked up a bunch of technical stuff in the pilot, and being very open about mucking those things up, was very important. We had to let people know we were able to make fun of ourselves and show that we knew we screwed some things up.

It was freeing to be self deprecating and just say, "Okay, we know that if you have an eye toward military stuff - if you're military yourself or you care about this - some of this looks like busted. We promise you, we're gonna get squared away, stick with us."

I think that openness really helped our relationship with that wonderful, awesome community - they are vocal, they are passionate, and they just want to know you care. We really do care. We have to.

We've chatted a couple of times about what a comic fan you are. How much fun was it to work with Brandon Routh this season?

It was so great!! He was such a nice guy, so down to Earth and cool and friendly and funny. We had a mutual friend, so that was my lifeline in the conversation, because of course I was trying to play cool like, "Aw, yeah you know Bendavid [Grabinski] (a great screenwriter and our mutual friend), he's a great guy," and on the inside I was like, "HOLY S--T LOOK WHO I"M TALKING TO!"

Did you learn a bit from Cougar Town when developing this show? Whereas most of the biggest fans of Cougar Town I know agree that it took half a dozen episodes to find its groove, Enlisted was in many ways defined by the pilot.

Well, that's very flattering. Thank you. I think for Cougar Town that was a great lesson I learned from Bill and Courteney that you can change course if things don't seem right- you're only beholden to keeping the show alive, you aren't beholden to any concepts outside of that.

Here, the show was coming from such a personal place, from my relationship with my brothers and my desire to do a show set in the military - an institution that has meant a lot to my family. But it's still evolving. The show has to change, has to adapt to the actors and realities of what works and what isn't so hot, be it storywise or editing wise or style wise. It's a changing beast.

Did you know when you had actors come to read, or when you reached out for casting, that Chris Lowell was going to be doing the Veronica Mars movie? That's such an oddly unique project that it seems like it would have been interesting working with and around it.

I really didn't know! Chris is the kind of person you can talk to for hours and laugh and actually learn about the world and also want to drink whiskey with and also he's cool and funny. So of course he's a part of a cool funny Kickstarter that made a beloved TV show into a movie. Hell he did one for his own movie, Beside Still Waters, to help raise funds for distribution. He's just a really talented, great guy.

Which of course begs the Kickstarter question. I know it's a lot more complex for a show like Enlisted than it is for Chris's movie, let's say, but certainly you have to have a lot of people pointing to Veronica Mars and saying, "No! Really! You can do it!" What do you tell them?

Well... that's tough. First off, I'm not even sure we can legally do that because the show is owned by Fox. I'd love for it to continue however we can make it continue, obviously. But I'm not sure it's time for the Kickstarted version of Enlisted quite yet.

Obviously you've been pushing to bump up ratings in the last few weeks to help your negotiating position to keep the show alive. For those who haven't seen it yet, will those episodes be accessible?

Absolutely. We really wanted every episode to be as accessible as possible to a casual viewer. They're all pretty much self contained.

What's the elevator pitch, or what you think potential new viewers would have to know to consider buying it on Amazon or at least enjoy the experience of the last few?

It's a great comedy that sometimes may make you tear up but it's good tears not crappy tears and then they'll usually be a joke after those tears to make things okay. It'll make you feel better about the world, yourself, and it will make you happy.

Also if you're in an elevator you probably don't want to be pitched anything anyhow so just know Keith David is in it and you should watch anything that Keith David is in.

How seriously were you talking about that Damage Control pilot you told Reddit you wanted to write? 

That would be so fun to do. I was joking, but it did get as far as "one e-mail sent" which is not far at all. But come on, that's who I am. I would love to someday make a "comedy" (i used quote because I'd love to do a comedy like the comedy I like with some heavier heartier stuff, too) set in that world.

Is that something you think you could repurpose as a S.H.I.E.L.D. episode odwn the road? Obviously you've got a relationship with ABC.

Naaaah. S.H.I.E.L.D. has its own great thing going. You don't gotta repurpose that! Just show me Deathlok with robot parts and not just a vest!

...and on the other hand, the folks at Fox currently hold the X-Men/X-Factor/Madrox rights. Just saying.

Someone call Netflix right now and tell them we'll do that show as a Simon and Simon / Magnum PI-style hour long fun procedural. I mean, they'd hang up on us...but come on!

Enlisted -- like Cougar Town and Men of a Certain Age, which Royce was involved in -- is a show that doesn't follow an "obvious" group of protegonists for a primetime comedy. Is the challenge of getting the network to think outside of the box a barrier, or is presenting something that's so different than the other hundred pitches they've heard in the run-up to pilots actually kind of a benefit?

I think a benefit. If it seems unique but also universal (I know, I sound like a shithead writer when I say stuff like that) then you're in good shape. If the emotions of the character are honest, it doesn't matter if the person is a Green Robot Alien or a Green Hulk or just green - folks will be able to relate.

Going forward, had you thought about trying to work outside the box with social media and merchandising and such to promote the show? It seems more and more, the idea of creating a "universe" is a thing. Not even just S.H.I.E.L.D. and the like. Freaking Parenthood and About a Boy are taking place in the same universe, in spite of the fact that they're both based on existing properties that were never linked!

I do think that kinda stuff is cool, and I've been trying to get a Fort McGee mention on Cougar Town. But I think for now we're just gonna keep cramming our little show down people's throats, and maybe hope that they do that to their friends in turn and then one day people everywhere will have a mouthful of Enlisted.

My God, that sounds awful...