The “Cougar Town” cast and producers arrived at press tour with a clear message: Same show, same (easily mocked) title, new network – and a network that seems much more supportive than the old one.
When the comedy about a group of friends hanging out and drinking wine in a suburban Florida cul-de-sac migrates from ABC to TBS for its fourth season on Tuesday night at 10, co-creator Bill Lawrence said he wants viewers “to notice no difference” from the ABC version. “(Our) goal would be that eventually, if they’re watching reruns of these episodes, they can’t tell what’s from the third season and what’s from the fourth.”
New producer Ric Swartzlander said he was told, “TBS wanted the same show that they had, and they were saying, ‘Don’t screw it up.’ They said ‘We don’t want to see your fingerprints on it at all.’ And I think I accomplished that goal.”
(Having seen – and liked – the first six episodes of the new season, I can say Swartzlander is correct. “Cougar Town” is still “Cougar Town.”)
“It feels like a brand new show that hasn’t changed,” said star Courteney Cox. “It feels like we’re out there, and it just started. We’ve been doing it, but we feel so comfortable.”
Really, the biggest change is that they’ve gone to a network that has made the show a priority, which it really hadn’t been at ABC after the initial launch – back when it was a show that actually merited the name “Cougar Town.”(*)
(*) Turner boss Michael Wright said there was discussion of changing the title “For about five seconds, and I think all of us said, ‘We’re buying “Cougar Town.”‘ The title has become part of the show itself… Why look away from all the marketing that’s already been done about the show?” Lawrence, meanwhile, said he’s embraced the terrible title, and the way the show continually makes fun of it, since “being filled with self-loathing is a characteristic of 90 percent of comedy writers… I’ve embraced it. It’s an amazing title. I’d do it again.”
Actress Busy Philipps said that, “Being so embraced by TBS, having all the executives, the marketing team, so enthusiastic with great ideas, made us all feel, ‘Oh, right. We know this show is funny, we like what we’re doing, and now somebody wants to embrace it and try to get the word out.’ It was really refreshing.”
Because ABC had so many shows to promote each season, and because new shows get the bulk of the promotional money, the later ABC seasons didn’t get much of a marketing push. TBS, on the other hand, has fewer original shows, and “Cougar Town” ads have been ominipresent on the channel since the baseball playoffs in October.
“We worked with the same crew for four years now, and going back, for them to see commercials during the baseball playoffs,” recalled Philipps, “they would come to work and say, ‘Did you know there was a commercial for the show last night?'”
Early in the panel, Lawrence said, “I think your goal in television is ultimately to stay alive.” Four years in, “Cougar Town” is still alive, and well-positioned in its new home.