MilitaryOneClick contributing writer Emily Sovich sat down to chat with Enlisted (Fox, Friday 9/8c) creator Kevin Biegel about his inspiration for the show, the importance of hiring veterans, and MREs. Read on for some behind-the-scenes scoop, and don’t forget about your chance to win exclusive prizes from the set — get the details here.
After more than a decade of war and a seemingly endless stream of super-human super-soldiers traipsing across my television screen, I’ve often thought someone ought to take a look at the lighter side of military life. After all, not every soldier is a strong-jawed paragon of courage. Some of them are average; some of them are goofballs. (Not my husband, of course. He’s a broad-shouldered action hero.) Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear their stories once in awhile? Luckily for us, Kevin Biegel, one of the creative minds behind hit shows ranging from Scrubs to Cougar Town, is tackling just that in his charming new sitcom, Enlisted, and he recently agreed to sit down and talk to me about it.
Military One Click: How would you describe Enlisted to a new viewer?
Kevin Biegel : Enlisted is a workplace comedy (with some drama thrown in sometimes) about three brothers serving on a small Army post in Florida. The other soldiers they serve with become a sort of family, with all the love/frustration/hilarity (did I really just type that?) that comes with family. Also there’s some really sweet stuff sometimes and some really dark stuff sometimes and mostly it’s very funny, I promise. It’s like Scrubs but in the military sorta, or like The Office but if instead of hanging out by the coffee machine they hung out by a Bradley.
MOC: How do you feel the TV portrayal compares to the actual life of a soldier?
KB : Well, we’re not a documentary and would never try to tell anyone, “This is what being a soldier is really like 100%.” That would be wrong of us, it’d be disrespectful and just plain not cool. All we can hope is that we throw enough character moments and situations and stories in there that make soldiers and their families say, “Hey, that reminds me of something that happened to me once.” We want to get the look as right as we can because the men and women who do this job deserve that. I think our situations are a little… let’s say at times broader and goofier than what happens day to day as soldier, but I hope that a lot of the emotional and character moments ring true. We really want to ground all of it in reality – maybe not 100% of the time a real life reality, but 100% of the time an emotional reality for our characters.
MOC: Do you work with a military consultant to ensure accuracy on the show?
KB : Yes. MUSA Consulting was with us every second after the pilot (the pilot is the first episode you shoot of a TV show; it’s done in a vacuum and you do whatever you can to get the show picked up). Our pilot had mistakes we never should have made and we hired MUSA to get us as squared away as possible as quickly as possible. They vetted our stories, they made sure the actors looked the part, made sure they saluted and marched correctly – it was their job to make us look right. They also consulted on stories. MUSA was also on set every second of everything we shot. In addition, we did a lot of research before the season, talking to a number of soldiers and veterans (a lot of my family and friends are Veterans and we had a 100-page research document that was just emails, stories, etc., from them).
I also wanted to make sure we made a priority of hiring Veterans. A lot of the soldiers you see in the background of the show are Veterans, and they were encouraged from day 1 to speak up and help keep us squared away, too. If something didn’t seem right, we wanted to hear it. We hired Veterans to be in the writers’ room as well, and we also brought in Veterans as consultants. We had a number of them during the course of the season come sit with the writers. We even had the writer/artist who draws Terminal Lance come sit in with us and help for a week. Beyond that, we also really wanted to work with the Wounded Warrior Project, and we had one of them working on the show for most of the season. He was awesome and, again, helped give us real insight into being a soldier, daily soldier life and the like. This stuff was invaluable, and it was something I felt we absolutely had to do.
For the actors, I wanted to make sure they had at least a little idea of what the men and women who do this job do, so we sent them to a mini boot camp at Ft. Bliss. It was only 4 days long – it’s obviously a drop in the bucket compared to really serving – but I know it impacted not just their performances but their lives. Fox did an excellent job shooting a small video series of their experiences, and you can see it on YouTube. [You can watch the first episode here.]
MOC: It sounds like you’ve made a real commitment to veterans! What sparked your interest in creating a show about the military? Were you inspired by anyone you know or have met?
KB : A lot of my family and friends have served. My Dad, Grandpa, Uncle, Brother in Law. A lot of friends growing up did serve, and some still do. The military is something that has impacted the people I love the most in a lot of giantly meaningful ways, and it’s something I was always fascinated by. I wrote on Scrubs for years, and there I learned how to mix comedy with real drama. I thought the world of the military, especially bringing in the love and passion I had for the people I knew who served, would be interesting. I also wanted to write about my relationship with my two younger brothers – it’s the longest, lovingest, fight-each-other-then-hug-it-out-then-fight-again-then-watch-Iron-Man-3-est relationship I’ve ever had. When you can find very specific people to write about and very specific feelings to write about, it makes for (hopefully) a good story and show. This was a group effort, though – so a lot of wonderful stuff (the best stuff) was brought in by all the actors and other writers on the show.
MOC: Have any of the actors, creative team, or crew ever been in the military?
KB : None of the actors have served (although almost all have family who did, like Keith David), but a lot of the crew were Veterans. One of the people in our writers’ room was a Veteran as well. Mike Royce, my partner on the show, comes from a family that had lots of military in it as well (it was cool during the course of the year as he dug into his family’s history more and more and discovered stuff like great uncles/etc who served as far back as WW1).
MOC: Has the cast taken a sample APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test)? How did they do?
KB : They have not! But I think they did pretty well during the obstacle course during the boot camp at Ft. Bliss (it’s in one of the boot camp episodes here) and Geoff Stults and Parker Young would regularly go on long runs during lunch on the Fox lot… shirtless. Honestly I think they were just doing it so people would lean out their windows and look at them. I mean sure they look great shirtless but c’mon…
MOC: Shirtless, huh? Where did you say the show’s filmed?
KB : The pilot was filmed at Cal State Channel Islands University outside of Los Angeles, and the show itself was filmed at the Fox Lot in Century City in Los Angeles. It’s all industrial architecture and cinder block buildings… so throw a few signs up, some Humvees, folks in ACUs marching properly and it kinda sorta actually looks like you’re on post!
MOC: How has your experience with Enlisted compared to other shows you’ve been a part of?
KB : It’s been incredibly personal and satisfying. I’m tied up in this show because of my personal relationships with my brothers and because the show reminds me so much of my family/pulls a lot from my family stories (we also giantly used stories from all the writers as well – it certainly wasn’t a 1 man show, not by a long shot: Enlisted is truly a group effort). But there’s a lot of very personal stuff for me tied up in this show.
I’ve loved every show I’ve worked on, but this one was special. The thing this show had that other shows I’ve worked on didn’t, though, was the incredible groundswell of vocal input and thankfully support from a specific community – obviously the military community. Their engagement, humor, stories, and outreach have been incredible and undoubtedly the most meaningful part of any show I’ve ever worked on. We are making this show for everyone, but we really want folk in the military community to enjoy it. Hearing from them means the world to us.
MOC: Do you ever use actual military members or their families as extras or other roles on the show?
KB : We really made a point of hiring as many Veterans as we could and a lot of the soldiers in the background you see marching/talking/etc are Veterans. Almost everyone in Sgt. Perez’s platoon, in fact, is a Veteran. It was important to us, and not just on a show level. I think hiring Veterans is something we as a country need to get a hell of a lot better at (sorry I will hop off my soapbox now).
MOC: It’s safe to say we agree! What’s a typical day of shooting like?
KB : Let’s see, actors show up on set at about 5 or 6 for make-up and wardrobe then shoot scenes all day, usually finishing up by about 6/7/8 at night. Most of the time I’m on set or Mike Royce is, and if we’re not there we’re in the writer’s room or editing. On TV shows the showrunners (that’s the people who run the show day to day, which here was me and Mike) have to juggle set time, writing time and editing time – it’s kinda a lot of plate spinning, but it’s fun. Being on set with the actors is actually my favorite part on this show – they’re very fun. Also, we had fancy nuts on this set. Like these almonds with cinnamon and sugar on them? They were nuts. Hey look what I did there! That is awful. But really I love food and especially free food so when they have like free bologna sandwiches or fried chicken every day I’m like, that’s pretty sweet. But I can’t eat that food because of a stupid health thing so I mostly just got sad, chewed on a carrot and enjoyed the actors and people around me.
MOC: Given the depth of your commitment to veterans, what kind of feedback have you received from service members?
KB : We started out – especially before we were on the air and the show only existed as a trailer – kinda rough. The first trailer showed hair that was too long, blouses that were open, no one had covers (the cover thing was a choice; in a 20 minute pilot for a show with 10 characters and everyone in the same outfit, I felt we had to at least be able to see everyone’s faces to tell them apart… so that’s on me). We had consultants on the pilot, but for whatever reason it didn’t work and we weren’t as squared away as we should’ve been. But we wanted to let the service members and their families know we cared and wanted to get stuff right, so we shot this video on our own.
And then we really started to engage military folk as much as possible – apologize for what we got wrong, promise them we cared and that we wanted to get stuff right and were actively trying to do so. And as the episodes started coming out, we saw the support in the community really grow. It was amazing. It has been great and we love doing stuff like visiting VAs and working with military support organizations like Operation Gratitude. We care about these people; I have to, because these people are my family. Besides, if we kept getting stuff wrong my Dad would kick my butt.
MOC: When you created the show, did you have any political or patriotic aims in mind, or did you choose to set the show on an Army base for some other reason (juxtaposition of humor and seriousness, or because you were inspired by someone)?
KB : It’s more what you said, juxtaposing humor and sadness and showing a way of life and people you don’t normally see on TV.
MOC: Have you and the cast/crew had a chance to try MREs yet?
KB : I think the cast all tried them, and a lot of the writers have over the years. I personally never have. I did see the story the other day that they’re about to figure out how to make a pizza one. That is cool. But of course because of my dumb diet I couldn’t even eat it. I’d have to eat an MRE carrot. Did they ever make an MRE carrot? I bet that would be so awful.
Tune in to Fox at 9pm on February 28th to watch the show, and then head over to MilitaryOneClick’s watch and win page for a chance to win awesome prizes from the set. And don’t forget to bring your MRE carrots!