'Enlisted' knew it needed to enlist help to get military comedy right
"Enlisted" Creator Kevin Biegel and Executive Producer Mike Royce decided in 2012 to create a TV workplace comedy about the military.
The odds were not in their favor.
Prime-time television, once home to madcap military adventures like Sgt. Bilko on "The Phil Silvers Show," "Gomer Pyle, USMC," "Hogan's Heroes" and "MASH," hadn't supported a military comedy in years.
"It's basically a workplace that is very important to America and has disappeared from television," said Royce.
That might have been in part because the U.S. had been at war for over a decade. Maybe the Army just wasn't funny anymore.
"It was kind of sacred ground," Biegel said. "People were like, 'Maybe you shouldn't do that.' But for us it was the opposite. We thought, 'Of course we should.'"
The duo made their sale on the first pitch, to Fox executives who embraced the concept heartily.
"Why isn't this show on the air right now?" Jonathan Davis, president of creative affairs at 20th Century Fox, remembers asking himself. "Why isn't anyone doing this yet?"
The resulting Friday night show, "Enlisted," premiered in January. The ensemble comedy follows a serviceman who is demoted after socking a superior officer and reassigned to lead a group of Army misfits.
Prior to "Enlisted," Biegel co-created "Cougar Town" and wrote for "Scrubs." Royce was a producer for "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Men of a Certain Age."
The goal with "Enlisted" was "to show, just like any good workplace comedy, how these people grow and bond and how they live their lives every day in this workplace," Royce said.
Trouble was, though Biegel grew up with two brothers and a father in the armed forces, neither he nor Royce had served in the military.
As a result, the pilot was sprinkled with inaccuracies. The soldiers' hair was too long. Their uniforms were not to code. They didn't salute senior officers when they should.
Leery of producing a show that was disrespectful — "We're not trying to poke fun at the institution," Biegel said — the "Enlisted" men reached out for help.
After the pilot was shot, they hired Greg Bishop, an advisor at Musa Military Entertainment Consulting, who viewed the show and found it … lacking.
"There were a lot of things wrong with the pilot, not done out of disrespect, but done out of not knowing," Bishop said. "We said, 'Wow! They could use our help.'"
Bishop worked with the creators to make the show more authentic and also helped with publicity by reaching out to military members.