Cougar Town Boss Bill Lawrence on the Season Finale, Moving to TBS and Killing Big Carl
Josh Hopkins, Courteney Cox
Our favorite wine-guzzling cul-de-sac crew is headed for some major changes on Cougar Town — and we're not just talking about the recent passing of Big Carl (R.I.P old friend!) Tuesday's hour-long season finale (8/7c on ABC) will see the gang migrate west to Napa for Jules (Courteney Cox) and Grayson's (Josh Hopkins) wedding. But will they actually tie the knot?
Behind the scenes, the episode marks the comedy's last hurrah on ABC before it moves to TBS for Season 4. The change also includes a new showrunner who will take over the day-to-day duties from co-creators and executive producers Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel. But fans should rest assured: Lawrence and Biegel aren't going anywhere. Lawrence talked with TVGuide.com about the wedding-themed season finale, the move to TBS, his involvement next season and why Big Carl had to go.
Why kill Big Carl?
Bill Lawrence: I think that we've decided that because Courteney is a klutz in real life, I would expect people to be waiting for the death of her wine glass ever year.
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What were your goals going into the season finale?
Lawrence: The one weird dilemma is, when you're talking about characters in their early 40s, you really can't do the will-they-or-won't-they or the stuff that comes with youth. For us, if Jules and Grayson are in a great adult relationship and they're getting along, then they're going to get married. There's not going to be any leaving at the altar or anybody coming in and messing things up at the eleventh hour. So it was just playing that arc out. We actually started to get panicky because it was not our intention, but we realized after we made it that that it could have easily been our series finale and that really bummed us out because it wasn't our intention.
Is there anything you would have changed had it been the series finale?
Lawrence: In retrospect, I don't know. It's a kind of hangout show. The tricky thing is you still want characters to move forward and I think that sometimes, rightly so, TV writers get annoyed with shows when there is no change whatsoever and they're doing the exact same episode and character behavior five years in. You have to walk that tightrope too because often people will really reject and react poorly to a completely new show. We haven't really thought about it because we haven't given a moment's notice to what the series finale would be.
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David Arquette has a really funny guest spot where he flirts with your wife on-screen in an episode that you wrote. Are you all really that comfortable with each other?
Lawrence: [Laughs] I'm a very uptight Connecticut-type guy and Courteney and David and Christa [Miller] are all so comfortable with it that Kevin and I just thought it would be funny to throw them all in that situation. We were more uncomfortable than they were.
Groundhog Day plays a big role in Jules' bachelorette party. What made you choose that movie?
Lawrence: Among most comedy writers, it is literally one of the all-time favorites. We waste time by doing lists of best movies and that sort of stuff and that [movie] always comes up. ... Courteney in real life and Jules have giant blind spots when it comes to pop culture. We just thought it would be a really fun episode because Courteney herself and Jules never really got into and clicked into Groundhog Day.
Does she get the movie now?
Lawrence: I think she does 100 percent.
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To switch gears, what was it like going to the Upfronts this month as a part of the TBS family instead of ABC?
Lawrence: The most that we could have hoped for [at ABC] would be the same as last year —to be a replacement and shuffled in at the last minute and not be the network's priority. We enjoyed the show so much that I think that everyone would have been fine doing that. But it was just very odd to go from that scenario to everyone being flown out to Manhattan by TBS, put up at the Ritz and brought onstage like their flagship show and just to be treated as a special show. It was a nice treat and one that the cast hadn't had for a long time on this show and one that I actually hadn't had since the early days of Scrubs. One of the coolest things is that when we were talking to TNT/TBS president/head of programming, Michael Wright, early on, the questions he asked were the questions that a fan asks: "Are Laurie and Travis getting together before the end of this year?" The fact that he actually knew the history of the show and the characters and was a fan, I knew we had a really good shot to do great here.
After doing so much grassroots marketing this season, does it feel like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders because TBS is going to do a big marketing push for the show?
Lawrence: I don't think it's a weight lifted off of our shoulders because I think it makes us excited to do more of the same. One thing we discovered is that our grassroots thing, without a doubt, brought thousands upon thousands more viewers to the show, but in 20 some odd venues and cities we went to, we did not meet one Nielsen family. ... The most exciting thing is to not really be a prisoner anymore to traditional ratings. With TBS, getting our niche audience, feeding them content and doing events like that so that those that love the show know where it is and have access to it has much more value than to a prime-time network show.
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So you think you'll do more of those events?
Lawrence: Kevin and I will really talk closely with TBS as partners and see what they want to do. One of the first things you'll see is that Kevin and I and a bunch of the cast members on our way to Austin, Texas next weekend for the ATX Television festival. So we're doing more of the same already. Plus, the show is a lot easier to promote when TBS also purchased the 61 episodes we've already made which they will be showing in addition to our new episodes.
You tweeted a couple of weeks ago that the first six episodes of Cougar Town were your least favorite. Is there any hesitation for them to air again?
Lawrence: I think that the way a series grows is part of the fun. The only thing that's changed in television is I don't think any series has truly come out of the gate being the show that it is. Even my favorite ones like Family Ties and Seinfeld — they all evolved. It's just now with the way we cover television, you don't really have the time to evolve and that's what makes it nerve-wracking. ... To be honest, in those six episodes, there's a lot of funny stuff that I still go back and smile at. I just felt like Kevin, the writers and I kind of hung Courteney out to dry a couple times, but I like watching those episodes now to see how the show changed.
News recently broke that there will be a new showrunner taking over for Season 4, but you told fans to "chill". Is there anything else you want to tell fans about the change?
Lawrence: I don't have a job. I'm going to try really hard to get new shows on for Warner Bros. but I'm not going to go home and sit in my bedroom while my wife and all those guys are off doing Cougar Town. ... All the cast is staying around and most of the writers are staying around, and you'll see [Kevin's name] and my name all over the place.
The Cougar Town season finale airs Tuesday at 8/7c on ABC.