PMJ: Oh, but we can't tell you that.
FD: We're not going to separate them. Don't lose any sleep over that. (She proceeds to fill the room with one of her long, loud, hearty signature cackles)
PMJ: There's a big twist coming up.
FD: Peter and I are ardent believers in not straying from the formula that we so painstakingly created. The show has finally developed a regular flight pattern and a familiarity between its characters and its audience. They can see Fran look at Peter and know what we are thinking, and we can earn a laugh that way. We have developed very well fleshed-out characters, and to make a giant left turn from what people expect now, like to have them not living together anymore, would just upset our fans. The fact that we are forced to live with each other after divorce is the heart of the show, and it is unique to our show.
Why do you think the show works?
PMJ: The center of this show is that they are a couple, an unconventional one, but a couple nonetheless. As we are. We still consider ourselves a couple. We work together. We vacation together. We are invited as a couple to things. We go to weddings together.
FD: And we keep wondering why we are still single?
PMJ: If you read the comments on the boards, you see that people are so charmed by their relationship because it is so unique. But love is love. They may not be married or have a piece of paper, but in the ways that really count, they are a couple. Again like we are. If either of us had to call someone in the middle of the night, she would call me and vice versa. That's something you don't need a license for.
FD: We're still the emergency contact.
JMH: It's a marriage-with-a-twist show, just like "Bewitched."
PMJ: I also think there are many couples who are divorced but still living together for economic reasons these days. They don't have to be gay and straight to relate to that part of the storyline.
JMH: But I don't think the subject matter is limited to any one audience. If you approach any topic with sensitivity, skill, and intelligence, the audience will go for it even if it doesn't reflect their experience. You don't have to be gay or divorced to like our show, just like you don't have to be a cop to appreciate "Law & Order." We do good shows because we work very hard to make them just right. As a result, the characters are alive. I appreciate that and so does the audience. And it's funny. As a comedy, that's the biggest goal we have every day.
Obviously, getting laughs is your first priority, but does it also feel good to be shedding light on a gay lifestyle that doesn't get covered very often? Perhaps to an older audience that isn't as open to gay characters or people as the audience that watches "Glee" or "The New Normal" might be?
PMJ: Yes. The character comes out when he is almost 40 years old, and that's totally different than when you come out as the cool gay kid trying to open the minds of the kids at high school. You have a whole other set of problems, including a wife. Peter grew up not knowing what gay was. He put his blinders on and tried to live like everyone else. There was a big part of him that was more comfortable being married to her and making it work than trying to go out in the world and navigate it as a gay man. TV Land is not the first place you would think would do a show about a wife and her gay ex-husband, but they have been so very supportive of us all along, and they let us do so much of what we want to do. We feel a great kinship with this network. They really place a lot of trust in us. They want it to be as good as we want it to be.
FD: And I feel like our writers go that extra mile to make sure the jokes are as sharp as they can be and that they help advance the story and ideally come from a character place.
JMH: But we are also not limiting our appeal by just telling a gay story that only a gay audience can appreciate. I think we are telling a human story about an unconventional family where one person is gay while being as funny as we can be. But the bottomless well of situations and emotions that he draws on to create the fake Peter are real, and I'm lucky to have him around so much to discuss it with him.
[Related: Get more spoilers and sneak peeks]
We're assuming finding the right guy to portray the fake Peter was of upmost importance.
FD: Absolutely. It is so lovely playing with John Michael Higgins, because he is so delightful. I was really unwilling to do the show unless I found somebody that had the comedic chops to play opposite me.
PMJ: He was the last person we saw. Fran is such a big personality. You need someone with equal chops and charisma. If you don't have that, she will swallow them up in every scene. But as soon as John walked in, we knew. The two of them are very similar, and they are very symbiotic in their styles.
FD: I'm just too old to compromise, so I would have just not done the show if I hadn't found him.
JMH: I felt the same way. I was auditioning for a marriage show and that meant I was going to work with one person most of the time, and I, too, am too old to work with someone who just doesn't click. Unless I stand toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose with the other actor, it's not worth the hassle.
FD: No, it's like pulling teeth.
JMH: With Fran and me, there is never an almost. Frankly, there are usually too many choices, and we have to narrow down to one joke or one of the five ways we could play something. It is a great working situation, and it produces great comedy.
FD: I am so grateful that we get to laugh all the time at work. That's not to say that we don't also get exhausted.
PMJ: But we're old.
JMH: There's also that. At our age, exhaustion is to be expected.
"Happily Divorced" airs Wednesdays at 10:30 PM on TV Land.