At the behest of series co-creator Bill Lawrence (SCRUBS, SPIN CITY), the cast and crew of the extremely underrated and criminally under-viewed television show COUGAR TOWN have been hitting the road to bring fans one step closer to the production. Quite astutely, they’ve been drumming up a fantastic grassroots movement campaigning ABC to put their show back on the air. The COUGAR TOWN viewing parties kicked off on December 27 in Sarasota, FL (the real town in the county where the show takes place) and will stop in Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas, and Austin just to name a few cities. Thanks to a friend of mine who so kindly brought yours truly as her plus one to the event, I was able to attend this glorious gathering on the set of one of my favorite shows. And now I can bring you the insider details straight from the set!
Just as they welcome us fans into their hilarious fictional home each week, so were we welcomed onto the lot and into their home (the set & writers’ room). The fan appreciation party was held on January 6th, on the beautiful Culver Studios lot (where the show shoots) here in Los Angeles. The night started out around 5:30pm with a Penny Can tournament with Lawrence himself (drinking, naturally) and a short Q&A session exclusively with him. Much of the cast and writers were still on the clock shooting and Lawrence was the perfect emcee for the event. He wowed the crowd with show trivia and his Penny Can skills. Wine, booze, and non-alcoholic drinks flowed freely throughout the night. Hearing rumors of an elusive cheese platter, we set out to find it but in true Jules-Cobb-style (i.e. because we were a little wine buzzed), we were sidetracked by Penny Can shenanigans.
Fun Fact: Penny Can started out as a inside joke in the writers’ room. They were trying to figure out the stupidest game they could and so the game of Penny Can was born.
Cast members also came outside to meet and greet the fans. Christa Miller (who plays Ellie and is also the show’s music supervisor), Busy Philips (Laurie), Ian Gomez (Andy), Josh Hopkins (Grayson), Brian Van Holt (Bobby) and Dan Byrd (Travis).
Fans were all given wristbands and grouped off into manageable smaller groups for studio tours – conducted by various COUGAR TOWN stars and/or writers. Our awesome guides around the sets were writer/producer Blake McCormick and Dan Byrd. However, I have to digress for a second and apologize: In addition to being rather blurry (clearly I need to upgrade my cell phone), the pictures I took on the set are rather spoilery. In the interest of all involved, I decided omitting those photos was the best thing to do. Then you fans can be just as surprised when you find out what happened in Season 3, Episode 12.
Fun Fact: During his time on SCRUBS, Lawrence had wanted to use Starbucks as “the gang’s” hangout. The corporation said, “No.” The fake coffee chain of Coffee Bucks was “the laziest fake business name we could think of,” said Lawrence.
After the set visit ended, we were given special access to the writers’ room – the place where the beginnings of the comedy magic happen. The scribbles on the walls are all funny “bits” the writers’ thought up for Season 3. They repaint every season and these are the jokes that have either stayed on the wall or were lucky enough to make it into the script. Personally, I liked the “Barbizon Modeling School” idea, however, one bit ripped off the wall was a joke about Bobby leaning in a chair, yelling, “I’m going! I’m going!”
There was also a dry erase board hanging on the wall that had alternate COUGAR TOWN titles on it. (Again, sorry this is so blurry.)
Prior to screening two episodes from the new season, we had some extra time to mingle with the cast and writers. We spoke to Blake McCormick (writer/producer), Ryan Koh (writer/producer), Sam Laybourne (writer/producer who often appears in the show), and series co-creator Kevin Biegel – all of whom couldn’t have been nicer or funnier. While they were busy seating everyone, a trivia competition ensued with two signed Penny Cans and quite a few commemorative ringer tee shirts being given out as prizes.
At about 7:45pm our screening began with what’s to be the Season 3 premiere.
In the episode entitled “Ain’t Love Strange,” Jules worries she has become too predictable and (ahem) predictably tries to break out of her routine. Also, Ellie and Andy (played by Christa Miller and Ian Gomez) fear/realize their son Stan is a devil child. And Travis’ new college bachelor pad has a green screen, so naturally that gag is threaded throughout the episode. It ends in a very non-predictable, sweet manner that won’t be revealed here because of you guessed it… spoilers! The second episode of the special evening is actually the fifth episode of the season. In the Bill Lawrence-directed episode entitled “A One Story Town,” Bobby (Brian Van Holt) starts dating Travis’ photography teacher, played by SCRUBS’ Sarah Chalke. Miniature disasters and unfortunate (but incredibly hilarious) circumstances transpire. The episode ends in a very funny way (thanks to the clever c-story that’s peppered throughout) that I also will not spoil for you. Only know that if you like cameos – the last five minutes are the mother lode.
Fun Fact: In “A One Story Town,” the writers hated Dan Byrd’s haircut so much that they wrote in a sub-story that he gets hit on the head and has to wear a helmet. “They were refusing to look at his hair!” said Courtney Cox. Byrd explained, “I was trying something and didn’t realize how many weird hair stages you had to go through before you got to the cool long hair. And now this is my payback.”
When the lights came up it was time for the cast and writers panel discussion and Q&A session from the fans. Lawrence stated,
“You don’t know how fun it is to watch this show with you guys [the audience]. I got a good first question. Does Josh Hopkins write his own songs? He does and he doesn’t. Seriously, how did this come about you doing guitar songs on the show?”
Josh Hopkins: “They started writing songs and I made them good. It was season one. Just sitting there. Not in a scene. Just sitting there with a travel guitar – just kinda wasting time. Bill just came up in his little golf cart and just literally stopped and – (mimics driving) errt – goes, ‘that’ll be in the next episode.’ (mimics driving) errt.”
The writers’ inspiration for Stan “the devil baby” actually came from Lawrence’s third child. Lawrence explained,
“Kevin [Biegel] wrote that. There’s my favorite picture of my son – my youngest. I had two kids that I like – a daughter and a son. I was really condescending and smug. They both sleep, they’re polite, they’re nice and we decided to have a third kid and what the heck? In Hawaii, we came home and he had drawn all over himself in magic markers. I wanted to take a picture of it and said, we can write any word you want on your chest cuz you already look ridiculous and I’m going to take a picture of that and it will sum up who you are. Just tell your sister what word you want. He wrote the word, “Boom.”
Fun Fact: The show has had “four or five” different Stans. As far as the changing Stans go, Gomez simply said “kids get older.”
Lawrence had nothing but high praise for everyone involved in the show.
“One of the best things as writers, as all the writers will tell you, is when you have actors and actresses that can take the material and make it funnier. And we just take credit for it.”
As far as a web series goes Lawrence said,
“We’re supposed to do one on Vulture magazine but I haven’t really asked these (motions to actors) guys.”
Biegel, however, was reluctant to say there would be one this season.
Since most of the gang spends about two-thirds of each episode with a wine glass (or in Jules’ case a Big Carl) in their hands, the talk of wine is quickly brought up and discussed. Dan Byrd answered,
“Well, I’m never offered any. When these guys are pounding grape, they hand me a coke. I’m 26 in real life and if you’ve seen me tonight, you’ve seen me drink. The first season….”
Lawrence interjects urging Byrd to talk about “Wine Wednesday.” Byrd begrudgingly responded,
“Wine Wednesday is we all went to lunch and had drinks at this restaurant down the street, because they had some sort of wine special going on Wednesday, and we all come back a little buzzed and funnier. Felt funnier at least.”
Lawrence: “Ian’s funnier when he’s drunk!”
Gomez: “Actually, I can’t talk. I slur my words all the time and when I drink, it gets even worse. There was one instance Season One, it was the SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION episode and we (Josh, Brian and I) had gone out thinking they were never gonna get to our scene…and they did. So we were all getting texts, “We need you back now!” We get back and I have to say “Full Shawshank” and I can’t say that now but even more then. We tried it a bunch of times and if you look again you’ll see Bryan in the take that they used turns to me before I was to say anything, anticipating the fact I was going to mess it up again. That was the last time we ever drank.”
Lawrence: “Courteney, God bless her. No girl that size can drink red wine like that girl. We tried to do wine drinking scenes on Fridays leading into the weekend and maybe it’s real wine. I don’t know (playing coy).”
As for watching themselves on TV, Gomez answered,
“It’s great. And my mom knows I have a job!”
“You hear yourself on the recording. Your voice sounds funny. You’re like, “Do I make that expression?” Then you walk and think, “I walk like a monkey!”
Miller was quick to cut in with,
“…and that’s how you sound and talk.”
Most fans typically want to know if Courteney really rules the group like she does on the show. Lawrence said,
“One of the things that’s important to me and Kevin is that on FRIENDS Courteney played ‘the mom’ and on this show Courteney is not the mom to this group. She’s fucking nuts!”
Cox quickly concurred,
“I don’t want to be the mom on a show like I did for ten years. It was great and I was the den mother. I don’t wanna do it. Now I’m playing kind of a wacky character who’s drinking and really fun. Whenever I see a script that’s a little too mom-like, I get to do that in real life. I am the person who you’d probably come to if you had a problem first on the show. So I do it in real life. I did it on the show for ten years and now I don’t want to do it. I want to be in love with my son. Is that weird?! I do say to Dan Byrd every day, ‘Do you know how much I love you? I love you so much.’ Not because he plays my son. I’m not method. Like I love him!”
Miller piped up on the question she most frequently gets asked- one that she hates.
“Everyone always asks us this thing about the pranks. I just want to say for the record, it’s the most annoying question. I’m assuming some of you work? Are you doing pranks at work or are you working? There are no pranks at work. We’re just fucking working. Except now I’m drinking.”
And with that quote, Miller solidified herself as my number one #spiritanimal. Just like that, at around 9:15pm, our special evening had come to an end.
Speaking as a fan of the show (and as the quasi-journalist I am), I’ve never seen a cast and crew be more embracing of their fans. Gone was the canned PR bullshit and what remained was a group of people who love working with each other and who are incredibly kind and appreciative of their fans’ attention. After a long day of shooting, to have a large group of strangers descend on your private space and be all up in your business can be a bit disconcerting (and surreal). But they all took it with complete professionalism and were happy to continue entertaining long after they clocked out. It was obvious they truly appreciated and welcomed the feedback they get from their dedicated viewers. C’mon, people! Let’s make this show get to six seasons and a movie!
Watch COUGAR TOWN when it returns back to ABC at some point this spring, or as I like to say, when WORK IT gets cancelled.