'Enlisted' creator Kevin Biegel on life in TV limbo and going to the ATX Television Festival
"Enlisted," one of this TV season's best new comedies — and easily its most star-crossed — has been in limbo for more than a month. The last new episode of the military sitcom aired in late March, and though FOX promised that the remaining four episodes would air at some point, possibly in a more favorable timeslot, it's not anywhere on the schedule for May — meaning that they'll air after FOX has already made its decision about what shows to renew and cancel.
While the show's creator, Kevin Biegel, awaits its fate (and also that of TBS' "Cougar Town," which he co-created), he figured out a way to make the four missing episodes available early to at least some fans. Those four will get their world premiere at the ATX Television Festival, which will take place in Austin, Texas from June 5-8.(*) The series had a very successful debut at last year's ATX, and Biegel — who will host the screening with producer Mike Royce and potentially some members of the show's cast — wanted to at least close the circle.
(*) I will, as it turns out, also be at ATX, both to moderate some panels and to appear on one — along with Matt Zoller Seitz from New York Magazine, Todd VanDerWerff from The AV Club and "Lone Star" and "Awake" creator Kyle Killen — about ratings, recaps, and reviews.
I got on the phone with Biegel to discuss the show's fate, the various obstacles it ran into, and why he wanted to bring it back to Austin.
So how are you feeling?
Kevin Biegel: I have this weird thing where I'm like, "Well, we made the show, and it exists, and that doesn't end." And we made a show where the end of the first season could, if we get canceled, function as a really wonderful end of the series. So I don't really feel horrible, if that makes any sense. And now I'm also waiting on "Cougar Town." Though all signs point to better than 50 percent chance that that gets picked up again.
And if you had to put odds on this one getting picked up again? Is there any hope?
Kevin Biegel: There's always hope. But the smart thing is to be realistic and go, "We're not on the May schedule." There's four episodes left, by the network's own decision, which seemed like a smart one at the time. They said, "We know you're not getting any exposure on Friday nights, and it seems foolish to waste these last four there. How about we save the final four until a really great spot opens up elsewhere on the schedule to get more eyeballs on you?" That sounded great in theory. But in practice, it was tough, because there wasn't any space to do that that was justifiable. It's one of those things where it got frustrating, frankly, but I understand it. But I know we made something I'm insanely proud of, and just taking myself out of it, I think it's a great show. And I know people are going to keep discovering it over the years. There's 13 of them. And I know FOX has this new model where they're skipping pilot season and rolling things out over bigger chunks of time. So there's always hope. But my biggest hope now is that I want people to see those final four, and it's all unofficial now when they're going to air them. But I've heard some dates, and they're going to air them. It's not like they're going to evaporate.
I know you guys launched the show at ATX last year. How did this new screening come about?
Kevin Biegel: It literally was me sitting in my office being bummed out, going, "Oh, man, it was so fun to go to ATX last year, I wish we could go this year!" And not thinking we had something to show, because I'm a little slow. And then I realized we had four leftover episodes, some of the four best episodes we did, and I think the finale's wonderful. And I realized, "Wait a sec, these aren't going to premiere before the ATX Festival." Mike and I are big bookend people, and I don't know if that's superstitious or stupid, but we started at the ATX Festival for the first season, and maybe we're going to end it there, too. We can run four of them in a row in a theater, the stories are fairly connected. It worked great for the original pilot, it worked great when we showed a couple of episodes of "Cougar Town" when we were doing the grass roots tour. It was so much fun, and maybe we can have an experience like that again. And then we cleared it with the studio and the network, and they were on board. There's a lot of fans in Austin, and if you can make it there, it'd be awfully fun to see it on a screen. Maybe some of the actors will come. I bet Parker (Young) will go, (Parker Young impression) "Dude, I want to hang out in Austin!" and he'll fly himself down there.
And on a personal note, it's just really satisfying to have these four episodes that we couldn't wait to show to people, and then they're off the air, and to actually be in a theater with people to watch stuff you're proud of. That's a gift you rarely get as a writer. To have that experience is super super rare. Usually you're sitting in a dark room by yourself.