Friday, February 10, 2012

Pounding Grape with Bill Lawrence at the Cougar Town Viewing Party

When Cougar Town premieres its third season next week on ABC, it will have been nine months since the last new episode. That's an enormous amount of time to go without airing and, unless you're a network darling like Mad Men, it means you have to work extra hard to remind people of your return. Add on the challenge of having a new time slot—the show will now air Tuesdays at 8:30pm—and a network that seems more focused on launching shows like Last Man Standing and Work It, and all of a sudden one of the funniest shows on television is up against some serious obstacles.

But as we've seen in the past, Bill Lawrence, Kevin Biegel and the rest of the team over at Cougar Town are not ones to sit around waiting for ABC to do all the dirty work. Last season, they produced a web series Cougar Town: Writers vs. Actors. This time around, though, they really kicked it into high gear. Starting in late December, the creators, writers and cast of the show have been visiting cities across the country to host Cougar Town Viewing Parties, VIP events at which fans of the show could play Penny Can, watch screeners of Season 3 episodes, pound grape courtesy of an open bar, and mix and mingle with the celebrity guests. The point? Keep Cougar Town in people's minds, thank the loyal fans and encourage new viewers to watch a show they might otherwise still assume is about Courteney Cox having sex with young men (it is not). And if you think ABC or Disney were shelling out for this tour, then guess again: this was all done out the pockets of Lawrence and company. Guerrilla marketing at its best.

I was fortunate enough to get in to the festivities in Stamford, CT, last night and schmooze with the likes of cast members Josh Hopkins, Dan Byrd and Bob Clendenin and, yes, even Lawrence himself. Continue on after the jump to learn more about my crazy night with the Cul De Sac Crew...

There we are with Dan Byrd, who plays Courteney Cox's son Travis on the show (and was also in The Hills Have Eyes which scarred me for life. Thanks, Dan!). His ridiculous haircut was a big point of contention last season—it was even the topic of a Writers vs. Actors episode—and I'm happy to report that his hair is back to a normal state. Of course, he doesn't go unpunished for holding out for so long, but I won't spoil the fun ahead.

After being begrudgingly assimilated into the group during last season's finale, Tom (played by Bob Clendenin) is getting significantly more screen time in Season 3. He was featured prominently—and hilariously—in the two episodes we watched at the party, and Bill Lawrence assured us that should the show return for a fourth season (fingers crossed), Clendenin will be promoted to a series regular. Yay, Creepy Tom!

I'll just answer the question that you all want to ask: yes, Josh Hopkins is as wonderfully good-looking in person as he is on television. Reel Vixen's Nikita was the first to call him Tiny Eyes, and I thusly owe her $5. Hopkins admitted to being the best Penny Can player in the cast and that he is scared of Christa Miller, who plays Ellie and is Lawrence's real-life wife (for the record, Lawrence confirms that Miller is scarier in real life than she is as Ellie). Hopkins writes all of Grayson's songs for the show and couldn't express enough what a dream job being on Cougar Town is for him.

"Two and a Half Men sucks balls."

Meeting the actors was great, as was playing Penny Can in a bar and seeing new episodes of the show, but I must admit that the highlight of the night was meeting Bill Lawrence and getting to hear him speak so passionately about the show, the fans and the industry. These guerrilla marketing efforts could, and should, be the future of television marketing—after all, engage the fans and they will be fiercely loyal—and he is at the forefront of it all. He offered great insight into the future of the show—if it gets renewed for Season 4, expect it to last at least six seasons—as well as some behind-the-scenes stories about the creation of the show and its admittedly horrible title. Though they almost renamed it Sunshine State in Season 2, ABC's short-lived sitcom Mr. Sunshine put the brakes on that plan and at that point DVR season passes and show recognition was too much to overcome. So the title remains, and it's up to those of us who know and love the show to convince others that it's just a stupid title in front of a tremendous show.

I also asked Lawrence about the possibility of entering back into the world of animation—he was the creator of the amazing MTV cartoon series Clone High—and while he would love to, the landscape of the industry is such that unless you are on FOX's Sunday night lineup, there's no chance. Should it ever happen, I'm hoping he could pair up with Adam Reed and dominate an hour of animation paired with Archer on FX.

The night was absolutely incredible and, if possible, I'm now even more pumped for Season 3 to begin. Having seen two episodes, I can assure you that the show just keeps getting better with age and, if events like these parties are successful, Cougar Town will continue to be one of the best shows on television for a long, long time.

Cougar Town premieres Tuesday, February 14th at 8:30/7:30c on ABC. Watch it. Seriously.

[Image Source: Please Welcome Your Judges]
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