What a difference a year makes.
A year ago, Cougar Town was waiting (and waiting) to start its third season on ABC after two acclaimed but low-rated seasons. ABC had held the show for midseason and didn't announce a return date until after eight months off the air. Now going into its fourth season (beginning on Tuesday, Jan. 8 at 10/9c) — its first on TBS — the show's return is no secret thanks to a constant stream of commercials and a Times Square billboard.
"I've been trying to kill this show for years," co-creator and executive producer Bill Lawrence joked at the show's Winter TV preview panel Friday. "Are you going to believe me if I said this was my plan all along?"
After getting what some might call the cold shoulder from ABC last season, Lawrence jokingly called it "insane" that TBS was airing commercials for the show at all. ("Go to New York and see the Don't Trust poster right next to ours," Lawrence quipped about another ABC comedy, before noting that ABC and Disney still own the show and are "doing a great job.")
The cast agreed it was a very big change of pace to switch from ABC to TBS last May. "I think we all were curious as to how the transition was going to be, but going to the upfronts from last year and being so embraced ... it was really refreshing," Busy Philipps said. "It was a new energy filming this season."
Added star and executive producer Courteney Cox: "It feels like we're a brand new show."
However, just because the show is on a new network doesn't mean Cougar Town will change much — if at all — going into Season 4. "Transition-wise it was easy because [TNT/TBS president/head of programming Michael Wright] was actually a fan of the show — unless he's a good liar," Lawrence said. When TBS was in the process of acquiring Cougar Town last spring, Lawrence said the only instruction the team received from their new boss was "deliver the same show I've loved the last three seasons."
"I want them to notice no difference," Lawrence said, saying that the goal is "eventually, if [fans are] watching reruns of these episodes, they can't tell what's from the third season and what's from the fourth."
One small difference loyal fans of the Cul-de-Sac crew might notice is a slight increase in cable-friendly edgy material, particularly nudity. Which means expect more shirtless Grayson (Josh Hopkins) and a designated naked day to help keep newlyweds Jules and Grayson keep the spice in their young marriage. "Courteney did declare this year the year of her cleavage," Lawrence said.
Other upcoming plot points include a new love interest for Bobby (Brian Van Holt), a kiss between Ellie (Christa Miller) and Grayson, a flashback episode featuring a very unattractive mullet — at least according to Cox — for Bobby and more will-they-or-won't-they tension for Laurie (Philipps) and Travis (Dan Byrd), which was first tackled in Season 3's two-part finale. "I think in the beginning I was super anti-[Travis and Laurie]," Philipps said of the unlikely pairing between Jules' best friend and her son. "They did a really good job of easing us into it," Byrd said.
"The truth is that Dan and I are such good pals in real life and we do enjoy working together," Philipps said. "By the time that we got to the culmination of this season where we really have to deal with it and it becomes a plot point, we knew it was coming."
Just don't look for Philipps' real-life pregnancy to become a plot point for Laurie as well. "Travis did not knock Laurie up," she said with a laugh.
Cougar Town's new season premieres on Tuesday at 10/9c on TBS. Are you excited for Cougar Town to return? Do you want to Laurie and Travis to get together?