Interview with Cougar Town Creator Bill Lawrence, Part Two
It's been two days and I'm still smiling about Monday's Penny Can-tastic episode of Cougar Town! You can imagine, then, how excited I am that there is another new episode airing tonight!
To get you salivating in anticipation, like Jules preparing to take a sip out of Big Carl, here is part two of my interview with Cougar Town creator Bill Lawrence. Enjoy!
TVFanatic: One thing I love about following you on Twitter; not only are we getting information about the show and stuff, but we're also getting to know you a little better, especially with the back and forth between you and Christa. In fact, she actually told me I should ask you where your wallet and keys are, and how to work the clock in your car.
Bill Lawrence: (Laughs) Oh God…my wife. I'm the luckiest guy in the world, for many reasons, but also because I will lose my wallet and keys about once every three days and they always come back to me. I left my wallet on top of my car a couple of weeks ago, when we left home, and I couldn't find it and then I walk outside of my office and it was still on the roof; it hadn't fallen off on the drive.
But I think there is a reason behind [ fans feeling that connection ]. I think one of the reasons you can say reality TV works, or people really dig on Howard Stern is that they aren't manufactured. When you feel like you have access to somebody and know what's going on and sense that connection, I think that inspires loyalty or the willingness to give something a try. I think it's really fun to be authentic on these things. I'm gonna ride it out until I burn out on it.
TVF: I completely understand what you mean. I've been a fan of Cougar Town since it started, but took on a whole new life when you and Christa started interacting with me on Twitter. I was like "Woah, hey…this is pretty cool!" You actually feel closer to the show that way.
BL: Right, and I also think the best shows out there, the writers and creators are generally writing things that are essentially stories about themselves and from their own life. Someone on Twitter asked me whether or not a lot of the J.D. stories happened to me, and I'm like "Yeah of course." We're not just making stuff up out of a vacuum. A ton of his embarrassing stories happened to me and the other writers.
TVF: Yes, I was going to ask you before, and I actually think you tweeted me directly saying that in your personal relationship you're Jules and Christa is Grayson, so I was wondering how much of your relationship actually gets reflected in some manner within those stories?
BL: You know, a ton man. it's impossible not to do that. The shows nobody ends up liking are the ones where the characters feel fake and there's no undercurrent of real affection for each other and it's a bunch of people tossing snarky lines at each other. Some people dig those shows, but they generally don't work for me. The only one that did was Arrested Development, just because, that show was a comedy writer's dream. It was every great, fast 9000 miles an hour joke that you ever wanted to do as a TV writer. Even my friends that were on Seinfeld took such great pleasure saying it was about nothing; whether they liked it or not there was an undercurrent on that show that the main characters actually loved and cared about each other, and that's why people were hooked into them. That's why so many people were mad about the finale, because they cared about those people whether the show wanted them to or not.
TVF: That's actually what I love the most about Cougar Town. Yeah, there's a little heightened reality I guess you could say, and some snarkiness back and forth, but when it comes down to it these characters all love each other. No matter how mad they get at one another or what happens, who did what, like even though Bobby cheated on Jules, there's still that connection and they care about each other.
BL: Yeah, they have a kid, so they have to be. I like it because, exactly what you said. You should be online describing our show, dude. Under the same heading, so many TV shows are filled with judgment and our characters, like Busy Philipps character is a tramp, they might make a joke but they don't really judge. Bobby's character lives on a boat and kind of rips off food and money from his friends, and they love and accept him and it's not, you know, every one of my friends is [screwed] up and none of gives each other too much crap about it.
TVF: I've noticed a trend of self-deprecation with writers and producers on the social networking sites. Is that more or less just being funny, or do you think a healthy does of that self-maligning attitude bolsters your ability to churn out funny dialogue?
BL: I'll be 100% honest with you, I'm not gonna say everybody's just doing the "aw shucks" thing, trying to protect their image, but it's general comedy writers…you won't generally see the actors doing the self-deprecating thing, but comedy writers are insecure nerds that were fanboys growing up, or like me who loved musical theater and used their sense of humor as a defense mechanism, and because of that everybody thinks deep down they're still that insecure dork. So, for me, it's certainly not fake. The hardest part of Twitter for me is when people are complimentary it makes me really uncomfortable, it seems too nice and because of that I find it easier to lock on to haters. One of my favorite things to do is when people say horrible things is to engage them, it's just easier and someone finally said "Hey, how come you only respond to people that are just horrible and the people who are nice to you, you don't respond back?" This week it actually turned me, and I've been trying to but it's because when people are nice it makes me really uncomfortable and I think it's that way for a lot of writers.
TVF: Do you ever get too focused on the negative comments, and they just eat away at you?
BL: Oh, of course. The one thing I'll tell you is I've been doing this for a long time, so I'm a little bit teflon. People were mean about Spin City and people were mean about Scrubs. The truth is more people were nice, A and B it's a small price to pay for getting to do this job. My biggest pet peeve are TV writers out there who say the aren't really fans of TV or watch much TV, or actors who are on TV shows that say they don't watch television. I always want to reach through the phone and choke them. Please, if you don't want to watch television then don't work in it or don't write TV.
TVF: I completely agree! Courteney let slip recently that Jules and Grayson are having baby issues? Would you care to elaborate on that?
BL: I always try to set these things up in the show so it doesn't come from anywhere, first off, look we're not gonna have another baby show up on the show, because it would just be another character on the show that no one ever sees and would just complain about, like when they say we never see Baby Stan, or whatever, but one of the issues Courteney had in her life, we set up that Josh Hopkins' character really likes kids and Courteney's already got a 19-year old boy and I would imagine she's not chomping at the bit to have another one, and because I'm not gonna do Ross and Rachel, break them up and then put them back together only to break them up again, we still need to have real issues for couples that age to deal with and I think a 40 year old guy and a 42 year old woman and the guy wants kids and she's already got a 20 year old, it's definitely gonna be an issue. It's something we look at in these last episodes. When I say we had a ripple effect among the characters with this Travis thing, that's how that story ties in. Courteney's son has run off to Hawaii, living on the beach waxing surfboards for a living, and her boyfriend is talking about how great it would be to have another baby, it's enough to make her want to kill herself.
TVF: I'm glad you mentioned that about the Ross and Rachel thing, because I wanted to ask you if you thought Jules and Grayson had a long term future.
BL: I do; here's how I prefer to write relationships…we always start from a place of what would really happen? On Scrubs, people asked me about why J.D. and Eliott got together so early and then you ignored it? Well, because except on TV shows, in my life, when people that are single and attracted to each other in their early twenties, and they work at the same place all the time, they end up usually sleeping with each other and then it becomes this disaster. That's just what I've seen throughout my twenties. And with this show, people are like "Hey you should play that 'will they or won't they' think with Grayson and Jules and really play it out" and I'm like "Why would I play it out?" In my experience if a 40 year old lives across the street from a 42 year old and they're both single and attracted to each other and are adults, they don't pretend and flirt and not hookup for five years because that's how TV shows are. They generally would get together and then for us as writers as long as it's funny and there are stories to tell and it's working then they'll stay together. If it doesn't seem like it's working, and it doesn't seem funny or dynamic, we'll end them, and we won't play it back and forth, back and forth. But for us right now, it's kind of a cool color on both of them.
TVF: You've had guest stars from both Friends and Scrubs appear on the show. Are there any other familiar faces we can hope to see or any stars you'd give anything to get?
BL: I have this friends and family policy, which is generally. I like bringing guest stars on here to be funny. If we're gonna take the time to write something funny for someone, it's got to be someone I know and like. The people that will be coming on the show will be people from my old shows sometimes because I like to work with them again. As far as special guest stars, I always wanted to get John Cusack, a friend of ours, on Scrubs. He said he'd do it and he never did, so I'm always after him for that. He's such an iconic figure, for a writer like me, I'd love to get the chance to work with him sometime. I'd like to get some more Scrubs people on here. The rest of this season there's a couple of cool stars, Ken Jenkins from Scrubs comes back as Jules' dad in an episode I really, really like; Nia Vardalos, who is Ian Gomez' wife, she comes on and plays his sister-in-law but she really wants to [sleep with] him, it's a really funny story. And then my favorite guest star this year, which will make some people's brains explode, is Sam Lloyd in the finale plays Ted Buckland from Scrubs, he reprises that character in the finale. It makes me laugh. He lives in Hawaii, he got his heart broken by his girl and he makes a living, with a guitar and he can take any happy song and make it depressing, and he basically wanders around doing that.
TVF: That sounds fantastic! Is there anything else you would like for our readers to know about the show and the final episodes for the season?
BL: The only thing I'd tell you is I really try to reward fans, there's a lot of Easter eggs and opportunities for interaction with the cast and crew in this last group of episodes; in one of them Busy Philipps' character puts out her Twitter address that people can already follow now, it's called @theLarmy which stands for The Laurie Army. When she starts talking about it, people occasionally see her tweeting during shows, and when that happens, the writers will be doing live content during the shows as her character. And there's stuff like that the rest of the year. If you're a Community fan, you should watch out for our response to what Community did.
TVF: I'm gonna go follow her right now. Thanks again for taking the time to chat with us, and on a personal note, I just wanted to say that my favorite episode ever of Spin City was when you had Jennifer Garner on.
BL: (laughs) I always try to take credit for launching her career but she was just awesome man. I love her, she's a nice gal.
Don't forget to watch a brand new episode of Cougar Town tonight in its regularly scheduled time slot after Modern Family at 9:30/8:30c and then come back here shortly after for our review!
Jeffrey Kirkpatrick is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.