Cougar Town co-creator Bill Lawrence has always gone above and beyond for the Courteney Cox comedy, and he isn't stopping just because the show is about to play its last game of Penny Can. After traveling to SXSW to promote the second season of his NBC comedy Undateable, the busy executive producer was awake until 2 a.m. shooting a pilot in Los Angeles' Chinatown. But the very next morning, he's up bright and early to discuss the series finale of his wine-soaked sitcom, which taps out on Tuesday at 10:30/9:30c on TBS.
"I can't do this stuff these kids can do anymore. They bounce back a lot quicker," he tells TVGuide.com with a laugh.
After six seasons, two networks, a tour and lots of wine - who needs a movie? - what kind of a hangover will the cul-de-sac crew's swan song leave behind? TVGuide.com spoke with Lawrence about the finale, the show's loyal fans and how he really feels about the title.
Undateable just returned for Season 2, and now you're getting ready to close down Cougar Town. How does it feel to be in the early stages of one show and at the end of another?
Bill Lawrence: It's very weird. I couldn't believe we made it to 100 episodes. It was kind of a funky journey. I think the question people always ask is, "Are you so bummed Cougar Town is ending?" Not to be cavalier, but it doesn't feel like a big sad end because I've worked with the same people for 20 years. It's the same crew and a lot of the same cast members and friends across shows, so the shocking thing now in my career is I guess I've gotten to a place [where] I really try to only work with friends and people I want to be around a long time. The show ended a couple months ago and we still all hang out and see each other. I saw Courteney last week. I still see some of the same crew members on the pilots we're working on now.
Undateable is a bummer because the way I've been trying to protect myself - not a bummer, I'm excited about it - but the way I try to protect myself in television now, especially in network TV, so many things are out of your control, the only way to protect yourself emotionally is to try not to get way too personally invested until you know the show has kind of a toehold. ... But now I know everybody and I'm really invested so I really, really want it to work. I'm nervous about it. I think it's a hard landscape for network comedy right now.
You've gone on tour for Undateable to promote both seasons, and you first on went on tour for Cougar Town in 2012. Why do you think this strategy has worked to help market shows?
Lawrence: It's different for every situation. For Cougar Town, I knew that, had [co-creator Kevin Biegel] and I not made a creative mistake early and kind of redesigned that show after the first four or five episodes, we would be in a much different position. Because by the time we righted the ship on that show, it was a show called Cougar Town that everybody thought was about older women hooking up with younger guys. We changed it to something that we all really liked. But your window to establish yourself in TV is so quick now ... I knew we had a chance to change networks, but I knew full well that a tour would not change the ratings. But I thought it would, especially when they saw social media response and fan response, make the show not seem like a retread to another network, and seem like a viable thing to them to purchase and that's why we did it.
In the finale of Cougar Town, there is a big reference to the past discussion about changing the title. Looking back now, do you think that you made the right decision or do you regret not changing the title?
Lawrence: There are no regrets. There was one time, the second year, when we had people on board to change the title to Sunshine State and it was literally the exact same year that the show Mr. Sunshine was picked up and that was the last time we ever really thought about it. Quite honestly, I will tell you that everybody has regrets about any show they do, things they could have done better, especially if you're somebody that constantly beats yourself up like I am and Kevin is. But had somebody come to us when we first sat down to write the pilot and said, "Hey, if you sign this piece of paper, Cougar Town will never be a monster hit, but it will survive six seasons and have a very passionate fan base and you'll have a great time making it, and your fans and some critics will be really nice about it if you take it right now," there's not a TV writer in the world that wouldn't take that deal. So no regrets. It became a thing that we're proud of - mocking our own title every week in our own title cards.
Did you always have an ending in the mind for the show?
Lawrence: We always knew we were burdened by the fact that you're doing a show that's about adult friendships, to have people undergo massive changes would have been TV fraudulent. It's not like the Friends finale where you can go, "This couple is getting married and moving to the suburbs, and this couple is having a baby." These people are all in their 40s and it's a show about [whiling] away the time drinking wine with your friends. That led us very quickly to the idea to kind of, not poke fun at, but head-fake as to what finales usually are, which is the dissolution of a group. Instead, we lean into the fact that for nerdy fans of this show, I would assume that they would want to think that everybody was still hanging out outside drinking wine everyday, just like the rest of us are in real life.
Is there a character on Cougar Town you'll miss writing for the most?
Lawrence: I love them all but for me to answer that question with anything but writing an exaggerated version of my wife [Christa Miller] and how snarky she is; it would be personal suicide for me. ... Luckily, I get to hear it on a day-to-day basis in my regular life.
Like you said, the show has some incredibly loyal viewers. What do you think it is about Cougar Town that it has amassed those kind of fans?
Lawrence: There are a couple things: One is I hope it has a fairly original voice, whether it be their lingo and their turns of phrase and the way they communicate with each other. But I also think the biggest thing is I really like doing shows about people that truly love each other and give a crap about each other. I think that sometimes comedies are just people firing mean snark at each other. I'm the same age as most of the characters and my wife was one of them, but it was very natural to actually wish that I could just hang out at somebody's house in Florida and drink wine and shoot the shit all day.
Out of all your shows, what makes Cougar Town special for you personally?
Lawrence: What I really liked about it was, Hollywood and television in particular are chaos-based businesses, and to work with a group of grown-ups that I would want to spend time with anyways [was pretty lucky]. I think people sometimes go into these situations saying, "I got to get the best actor, the best actress and the best writer. I got to get everything no matter how we all get along." ... The idea of working with friends; it's a special gift. If you can pull it off in Hollywood you're a lucky person.
You've worked with a lot of the same people for many years, so will we see people from Cougar Town pop up on Undateable or other shows that you do on future?
Lawrence: I would look for some people from Cougar Town on the Undateable live show in May. To be honest, I only know 20 actors and actresses so I can't really do anything except use them over and over. I also like seeing my wife, so I've got to put her in stuff.
So do you have a role in mind for her?
Lawrence: She's thinking about doing something without me and I feel kind of betrayed and dumped so we'll have to see what happens. [laughs]
So much of the show revolves around drinking wine, so should we assume the cast and crew will be drinking out of enormous goblets of wine while watching the finale?
Lawrence: I'll be drinking tequila, but Courteney will be drinking a glass of red wine.
When you were filming the finale, was there a point during the shoot when everyone decided to switch over from the fake wine to the real stuff?
Lawrence: Without a doubt, the glasses had real wine in that last scene they shot. And it is nice of you to say just in the finale too. I would say any time on that show that they were shooting a scene drinking wine after 5 o'clock, that they were drinking wine.
Cougar Town's series finale airs Tuesday at 10:30/9:30c. Will you miss the cul-de-sac crew?