TV On My Terms: My Interview with Cougar Town Creator Bill Lawrence, Pt. 1
After a painfully long ten-week hiatus, ABC's hit comedy Cougar Town airs at a special time tonight, immediately after Dancing With The Stars at 9:30/8:30c, before it returns to its regular post-Modern Family time slot with a second new episode on Wednesday.
To those who have yet to watch, or who perhaps bailed on it during it's first few episodes, now is the perfect time to start watching Cougar Town.
Admittedly, the unfortunate title has confused some folks as to what the show is all about, and early episodes did focus on Jules getting back into the dating scene with a couple of fellows who were just slightly older than her son.
Since then, however, the show switched gears and has become a very funny story about a group of adults who have developed an unconventional family dynamic and like to drink wine. A lot.
Repeat: It NO LONGER has anything to do with "cougars."
The writing certainly bears the Scrubs thumbprint, but Cougar Town has come into its own with the right blend of offbeat comedy and heart. In some ways, it feels like a more mature Friends, and not just because it stars former-Friend Courteney Cox.
If you've been turned off by recent attempts of other shows to try and build upon a similar dynamic, such as 100 Questions or Perfect Couples, take heart: Cougar Town is far above those in quality, chemistry and comedy.
Don't worry about coming in late in the second season. The cast is so charming, they'll pull you in right away and soon you'll be playing Penny Can and enjoying a fine Cabernet right alongside the rest of the Cul-De-Sac Crew.
As we teased on Friday, I had the pleasure of chatting with Scrubs and Cougar Town creator Bill Lawrence about the upcoming return, the growing use of social media by showrunners and writers, as well as some other fun tidbits.
Here, we present part one of that interview:
Bill Lawrence: Thank you, man, you are truly making my day, I appreciate it.
TVF: I do think it's underappreciated for sure. I'm excited it's coming back! Are you excited it's coming back?
BL: You know, I've got a combination of being excited and being nervous. When we kind of went off the air for a while it wasn't that big of a bummer because the president of ABC, Paul Lee, called me up, he picked up the show for next year so that takes the pressure off you. Then he said, you know, after Modern Family is really the only place we have to try out new comedies and Matthew Perry is a big piece of talent and it's gonna be against two-hour American Idols and you'll come back on when Idol isn't on against you and hopefully it'll be a good thing. So it didn't really bum me out, but then ten weeks feels like a long time, you know? So I wonder, "wow, I wonder if anyone really remembers the show is on television?" Kevin Biegel, the other creator, and I have really been busting our humps to kind of self-promote the show, so yeah I'm excited for it to be back on because I think the last eight episodes are awesome, but I am nervous because sometimes with TV you get outta sight, outta mind, you know?
TVF: Absolutely. I follow your Twitter feed, which is hilarious by the way, especially the back and forth between you and your wife. You've commented a little bit about the promotion for next week's return. Is there something more you wish were happening in that area that isn't?
BL: Yeah, they started up commercials immediately after that and it wasn't because I was bitching and moaning, it was because they always planned to. In this modern television landscape that you and I nerd out on, and that you write about and I watch, I don't think you can promote shows the way you used to. When I did Spin City, you could really see how well you were doing based on the number of commercials that were on it that week, and you could constantly lobby for more promotion and commercials. I don't write those emails anymore saying "Hey, give us more promos" cause I don't think they matter. I love TV. I never find out what I'm gonna watch from a commercial. Cause I don't watch networks that way anymore. I jump around from show to show and I generally find out about what I want to watch from TVFanatic or different blogs that I read. I knew the HBO Game of Thrones thing was cool before it came on because I'd been reading about it, so now I'm jazzed to see it.
I think the burden of promoting and marketing and getting content out to the fans has fallen more on the creators. I think that's a cool thing, hopefully for fans. If you want to keep a loyal audience, you have to feed them content, you've got to give them access.
TVF: What kind of response are you getting to the Twitter and Facebook promotion? I know that Kevin has a contest going on for fans to produce a promo.
BL: (Laughs) It's been really fun man. I like interacting with people. We used to do it on Scrubs. It's been really positive. The one weird thing, the Scrubs Facebook site has 9 million plus and I thought "Wow, man, I'm gonna take that site over and post content and try to convince those people to give Cougar Town a shot," because I [screw] something on every show I do, and the mess up that Kevin and I made on this one is the silly, pop-culture, snarky title and the title doesn't fit the show, but we don't care anymore, we just make fun of it. But that was a place where I want to try and tell people "Hey, if you liked Scrubs you're gonna like this show." It's really just a Scrubs with no hospital and a lot more booze. It's a lot more about adult friendships than young doctors.
The Facebook site was positive at first about me posting Scrubs content in exchange for saying "Hey, every 10,000 of you who pledge to give Cougar Town a shot next week, I'll post some more Scrubs content." And then there was like a mini-revolt, because all these Scrubs fans were like "Why are you trying to coerce us into a show we don't want to watch?" which is what I would do were somebody infiltrating my TV fansite, so I just switched gears and posted a bunch of videos and said "Look, I'm gonna post this Scrubs stuff whether you watch Cougar Town or not, I don't care. As a result of that, people have been really positive. Anybody who writes "Cougar Town sucks balls" or anything like that I've actually been messaging them and saying "Really? Have you even watched it?" kind of trying to be tongue-in-cheek about it. I've gotten a shocking amount of "Alright, I'll give it a shot because you're being a good guy and have a sense of humor about it." It's a really weird line to walk, cause I'm just learning about social media as a marketing tool.
TVF: It's powerful.
BL: It's powerful, but man you can't cross the line into selling because, the second you do, all those people who are really there to be fans will say "Hey, [screw] you, that's not why I'm here looking at my Twitter page." I'll post maybe once every day "Hey Cougar Town comes back on Monday, but if I did it over and over and wasn't being funny, or trying to answer people's questions, they wouldn't like it. If I were a fan of the show I wouldn't like it. That's the fine line you have to walk. It's also a line the networks haven't figured out yet. They're shocked that when they aggressively try to promote something it doesn't work. That's not what people care about; they care about real connections and people being way too frank and way too personal.
TVF: Exactly. Now getting a little more into the show and into the final episodes of the season, is there anything or any particular episode coming up that you're most proud of?
BL: The end of the year I always get psyched for, because I like the ending episodes to really be about something. I thought Cougar Town came into its own at the end of the year last year, having Courteney, you know, Jules and Grayson start to date and Bobby to have to deal with it and Travis graduating from high school and all those things were connected by this red balloon floating around, I thought it was a cool ending, and we have sort of the same thing this year. It's a bit of a spoiler, I mean, it's not a bad spoiler because the actress that plays Travis' girlfriend, if you're a TV writer you know that the she's in another TV pilot, so she's not a full time character here, but we follow Travis from getting his grandma's wedding ring to thinking about proposing to her to try and keep her in town because she's got a job that is gonna take her to Chicago and the end of the year is really about his descent and essentially becoming his dad, which really makes me laugh, and here's another spoiler, by the second to the last episode he's out of college and living on his dad's boat and his Dad, whose fortunes take a bit of an upswing, is living in an apartment, and Travis has sort of become his father.
It's a cool idea because A. it's funny and B. it's cool to know that smart kid has a little bit of his dad in him and C. it affects all the characters. One of the things we were trying to set up was Jules was sort of intentionally way too intrusive at the beginning of this year into her son's life, and one of the things we built into her was realizing that with an almost 20 year old kid you have to sort of back off and stop being that person. It's a fine line to walk with her because I thought we were making her over the top annoying in a couple of episodes this year, with the plan of working to this point, and then they decided to take us off for ten weeks and I was like "Oh this sucks man!" because I wouldn't have done it that way if I knew were were gonna be on hiatus in the middle. But that's what the end of the year is about; it's about Travis' descent and how it has a ripple effect on everyone around him.
TVF: Sounds interesting, can't wait to watch it all play out. Here's an off the wall question for you: I know the show isn't about this anymore, but have you personally ever been Cougar-ized?
BL: (Laughs) My wife is much, much older than I am. You can write that I said that, cause it will make her angry, cause she's really only four years older than me.
TVF: That's awesome! Is there any particular title card joke you wished you could use, but weren't allowed to for some reason?
BL: Yes, there were two we did that got pulled: one was in the one coming back on Monday, we had the person who we were rooting for on Dancing With the Stars. It said "Welcome back to Cougar Town" and then it said who we hoped would win and ABC wouldn't let us do that because it's not in ABC's best interests to put out there anything about who they're rooting for. And I also wanted to do one that said "Cougar Town" and underneath it it says "The tabloids say all our characters are dating in real life, but they aren't." But they wouldn't let us do that either.
TVF: Are there any new drinking games coming up?
BL: Nope, just more and more PennyCan, and a huge PennyCan shoutout in the Monday episode including Bobby and Laurie trying to sell PennyCans, so they put a phone number out in the radio ad and if people call that number the cast and I are gonna be answering and most likely able to hook people up with some PennyCans.
TVF: I was thinking of making my own, but I guess I'll have to call in on Monday.
BL: Yeah, do it up man.
TVF: Tom (Robert Clendenin), as a side character, is he based on someone you know? Because he comes off awfully creepy.
BL: You're gonna see, one of my favorite stories you asked about, in like the 19th or 20th epsiode is kind of Tom's...it justifies the kind of person Tom is and why he is the way he is and he gets his foot in the door with the group a little bit. He's a great actor too, I love him. He's another guy from Scrubs, not too many people realize, but on on Scrubs he was this character Dr. Zeltzer.
TVF: Will Barb (Carolyn Hennesy) continue to be a pop-in character or will she integrate more with the Cul-De-Sac Crew?
BL: You'll see in the finale, she's still going to be a secondary character because on my shows I like having what I call the "B-Team" which are recurring characters that people get to know, like the attorney, Ted and Todd from Scrubs, and on this show it's gonna be Barb and Tom the neighbor, but Barb is going through a character change. She's our last tie to the cougar roots, and we'll keep that a little bit, but in the finale there's a hint about what's to come for her.
TVF: Are there any behind the scenes anecdotes you can share from the Hawaii shoot?
BL: I would say, anytime you see someone holding a tropical drink, they should assume it's not a prop.
TVF: Nice. I often wonder that about the wine though.
BL: I think if the wine was like that people would have died by now.
TVF: Ha! Probably so. I have to ask, where can a person buy "Big Joe" and "Big Carl?"
BL: You know what makes me laugh the hardest man? Generally they're just candle holders. (Laughs) If people really pay attention, they'll see how Jules gets a "Big Keano" in the finale which is essentially she just takes a candle holder from the room, dumps the candle out and starts drinking from it. That's the one thing I don't think Disney will ever sell because it doesn't match up with their image too well.
Part Two of our chat will go live on Wednesday morning in anticipation of Cougar Town returning to its regular 9:30/8:30c time slot that evening.
Don't forget to tune in for the first new episode TONIGHT after Dancing With The Stars on ABC and come back to TVFanatic soon afterward for our post-airing review!
Follow Jeffrey on Twitter @TVOnMyTerms.
Jeffrey Kirkpatrick is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.