Ever since the end of "Friends," network television has been seeking another popular and successful group of well, friends.
The gang on CBS' "How I Met Your Mother," now renewed for two more seasons, perhaps has come the closest. At the other end of the scale are groups such as the one Alyssa Milano belonged to last year on ABC's short-lived "Romantically Challenged." Undaunted, ABC is trying again.
The sitcom "Happy Endings" premieres with back-to-back episodes Wednesday, April 13. More familiar for having been in frequent peril as Kim Bauer on Fox's "24" than for comedy work, Elisha Cuthbert arguably is the first among cast equals as Alex, half of a couple that splits up -- leaving friends of her and her ex, Dave (Zachary Knighton), to determine whether they all can remain united.
The rest of the group is portrayed by Eliza Coupe, Adam Pally, Damon Wayans Jr. and "Saturday Night Live" alum Casey Wilson (who also wrote and co-starred in the 2009 movie "Bride Wars"). Though the once-and-not-future couple have resolved to stay friendly, the pals aren't sure they also can manage it without eventually taking one side or the other.
"We dealt ourselves a pretty hefty hand at the end of the pilot, which is this seismic issue that is going to affect this group of friends," says Jonathan Groff, a "Happy Endings" executive producer (who is not the same-named occasional "Glee" guest star). "We want to respect that and explore that as far as it's interesting.
"On the other hand, you do want to be able to have every episode stand alone. You want to make sure everything is not completely reliant on what came before it. Dave and Alex have a lot to deal with to really live up to the promise of the pilot, which is, 'We're going to try to not break up this group because of what happened to us.' We're going to dig in deeper and see how they actually manage to do that."
Co-star Cuthbert knows "Happy Endings" means a big change to her television image. "I wish I could say this is what I was looking for," she says. "If I was going to come back to TV, I really wanted to be a part of something that I felt passionate about, and that I was excited to go to work to do every day. This script came, and I read it, and I just felt like it would be different. I went, 'Wow. This actually might be the right next step.' "
The executive producers of "Happy Endings" also include former ABC programming chief Jamie Tarses and Anthony and Joe Russo, the filmmaking siblings who directed the pilot of Fox's much-lauded "Arrested Development" and a number of its other episodes.
Still, "Happy Endings" really springs from David Caspe, its creator and co-executive producer. He explains, "(Given) all those romantic comedies that sort of end with that big run-in (by someone to) break up the wedding, I always thought it would be interesting to see what happens after that."
Sony Pictures Television, which is making the series in association with ABC Studios, clearly likes Caspe's process: It recently signed him to a two-year development deal.
"I really just wanted to make a show that's more representative of a group of friends now," Caspe adds, "and everyone's basically based on friends of mine. A lot of these groups are all white and straight on TV or in movies. I don't really know that anyone has a group of friends like that anymore."