Cougar Town has been off the air eight months, but that doesn't mean the show's cast and crew haven't been hard at work promoting the show's long-awaited return.
In October, the cast filmed secret, blink-and-you-missed-it cameos on other primetime series like Grey's Anatomy and Castle. Two months later, show bosses Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel began organizing dozens of viewing parties in cities spanning from from Sarasota, FL to the show's Culver City set, where fans could come together to watch never-before-seen Season 3 episodes, meet members of the cast and enjoy some free wine. More recently, Biegel gave fans the chance to win a walk-on role if they waved a sign displaying the series' premiere date and time on-air during Super Bowl XLVI.
Incensed over ABC shelving his show for so long, Lawrence even threw a private party for journalists in January — and politely declined network publicists who asked if they could stop by. "The days of a network running commercials saying, 'Make sure you check out this show next Wednesday [are over]," Lawrence told reporters at the event. "This is why I believe grassroots marketing is possible and if it turns the dial at all, it will be the future."
"Waiting until [February] was a little tough. You don't want to test people too much," star and executive producer Courteney Cox said during January's gathering. "If the show does well in the first three episodes, then we'll come back probably for two years. ... If we don't, then we will be canceled and that will be it, but I really believe that we have strong fans."
That fan loyalty will be tested big-time when the show returns on Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 8:30/7:30c without the benefit of hit series Modern Family as a lead-in. Instead, Cougar Town will now air on a new night following freshman comedy Last Man Standing.
Co-star Brian Van Holt remains optimistic that fans will find the Cul-de-Sac crew's new home. "It's the first time I've ever experienced something like this," he said. "I can't go anywhere without somebody asking, 'What happened to Cougar Town? When is it coming back on?'"
The idea is not so much to bring in new viewers; Lawrence just wants the die-hards to come back. All of them. "If we do that, we win," Lawrence says. "My foolish optimism is that the people who like this show were religiously into it and that there is a big number to keep it alive. My fear is that we stayed off too long." The last episode to air was watched by a series-low 5 million viewers in May.
So whether or not fans turn up — and without the cast, crew and free booze -- is anyone's guess. "This is the first time I can't tell you how this show is going to do," Lawrence said. "I personally think that the show's asset is this community where the people who like it like it a lot and will follow it and show up for these insane parties. If the show is still on next year, I'm going to be grateful. And if it's not, I'm going to be pissed and think [ABC] mismanaged it."
(Additional reporting by Natalie Abrams)