“Cougar Town” creator Bill Lawrence knows a thing or two about survival on TV.
He managed to keep his quirky comedy “Scrubs” alive for nine season on two different networks and endless numbers of time slots. “Scrubs” never became a big hit but it developed a small, loyal fan base that helped keep the show alive year in and year out.
Lawrence seems to be re-living that fate with “Cougar Town,’” starring Courteney Cox.
The show, which has aired after “Modern Family,” struggled to hold on to that huge audience last season in its sophomore year. But it too has developed a fervent fan base that enjoys the show’s wine-induced irreverence and light-hearted humor.
ABC, however, didn’t place “Cougar Town” in its fall lineup – or its official mid-season lineup either. The show was then cut from 22 episodes to 15. It appears ABC is basically holding “Cougar Town” in its back pocket awaiting how other comedies fare first, particularly “Work It,” a new “Bosom Buddies”-style sitcom set to debut Jan. 3. A publicist said ABC will announce a launch date for “Cougar Town” soon.
But ABC may pair “Cougar Town,” after Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing,” an odd couple to say the least.
Lawrence, worried about his show and the fact it hasn’t been on since May, decided out of his own pocket to fund several screening parties in cities across the country.
A couple weeks ago, he tweeted about the parties and within minutes, they were filled. The first few parties were held this week and the cities were chosen less for demographic reasons than for convenience. He picked locales where actors from the show were visiting relatives over the holidays.
That’s how Atlanta ended up with one of the first screening parties for about 50 fans in a back room at Dantanna’s. Dan Byrd, who plays Courteney Cox’s character’s son Travis, harks from Marietta and has friends and family here. Writer Kate Purdy, whose husband’s family lives in metro Atlanta, also joined the festivities. (I saw the bill: Lawrence spent more than $1,300 for this particular party.)
“Cougar Town” regulars love to play a game called “penny can.” So Purdy and Byrd held a “penny can”/trivia contest.
He picked two episodes for the fans to watch. The first episode of season three focuses on Jules’ predictability. There are cracks about her mouth guard and a green screen as a chick magnet at Travis’ frat house. (Yes, Travis is back at college after running off to Hawaii briefly last season.).
Lawrence then gave us episode five, which brings back a very well-known “Scrubs” alum to play Bobby’s new girlfriend. The episode is pretty darn funny with a running Tom Cruise/”Mission Impossible” joke, an a capella group featuring another “Scrubs” alum, crabs jokes and improper usage of a bread soup bowl.
Not surprisingly, many “Cougar Town” fans were also fans of “Scrubs.”
Lawrence himself is not shy to acknowledge the similarities between the two shows. In the “Cougar Town” for episode five, he noted, smirkingly that “Cougar Town is not at all like Scrubs in Florida with lots of wine.” Two “Scrubs” regulars are also regulars on “Cougar Town” and others pop up along the way.
“Get out there on Twitter and Facebook and talk about the show,” writer Purdy told the crowd. “Get friends to watch it.”
“We just want people to know we’re still out there,” Byrd said.
Purdy noted that ABC tends to promote newer shows more and now that “Cougar Town” is in its third season, it won’t be as much of a priority. “It’s such a competitive market,” she said. “A tenth of a point means the difference between cancellation and a fourth season.”
In a later interview, Byrd said he loves how Lawrence embraces the show’s “underdog” status. “We’re all in this together,” he said. “He has knowledge and strategy for this type of thing. I trust him.”
“In this situation,” he added, “you have to live each day like it’s your last. It’s the mindset we have to stay in. Every day is a gift. We have to fight and push. In a way, if it works and we get picked up for another season, it’s more rewarding that way.”
He really feels the show is hitting its stride season three. (The show has now taped about 10 of 15 episodes to date.) But will his character Travis and Busy Phillips’ older character Laurie ever get it together after periodic flirtation? “It seems more interesting having them apart,” Byrd said. It is the closest thing to a “cougar” sensibility on the show, he noted wryly.
(Yes, for those who don’t follow the show closely, the whole “cougar” idea was ditched in the first season but the awful show title itself stuck, for better or worse.)
Rachel Jacoby of Woodstock calls “Cougar Town” a simple escape: “I almost wish they were my friends, hanging out in that cul de sac drinking wine.”
Nathanial Hutchinson, a cashier at Whole Foods in Atlanta who is also fans of NBC’s “Community,” said he just loves how the characters interact, that the chemistry and the writing works.
Ricky Rothschild, a 28-year-old office manager from Kennesaw, plays Penny Can all the time. “We get drunk, come back from Blake’s or Burkhart’s and do drunk penny can,” he said. He said he aspires to be like many of the “Cougar Town” characters when he gets older. “It’s be a dream come true,” he said, seemingly sincerely but possibly with tongue partially in cheek.
“It’s nice to see a show for us folks over 40,” added Will Gara, a former radio producer who is, well, over 40. “It’s the only comedy I have on my DVR.”
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk