These days, when a TV show is cancelled, it doesn't necessarily mean the series is over. It often leads to a new beginning. That is exactly what happened with the comedy series Cougar Town, which was cancelled by ABC and then promptly picked up by TBS in May. Back in November, I was invited down to Culver Studios in Culver City, California, the longtime studio home to this hit sitcom, for a fun-filled night mingling with the cast of Cougar Town, which returns for Season 4 Tuesday, January 8 at 10 PM ET with with "Blue Sunday".
While walking around the open sets, which included the home of Jules (Courteney Cox) and Gray's Pub and Grill, I had to chuckle when I saw a number of "penny cans" (insert appropriate, high-pitched pronunciation) set up, with wine glasses filled to the brim with pennies, but more on that later. The first cast member I ran into was Dan Byrd, who plays Jules' sardonic son Travis. While they are on the same sound stages with a nearly identical writing staff, the actor revealed the biggest difference in being on TBS is having a network that actually wants them there.
"We're a bigger fish in a smaller pond. They have a vested interest in us succeeding, and it's really encouraging. On the promotion side of things, it's night and day, what they're doing for us, versus what ABC did, which was nothing. They're doing a lot, and it's awesome."
The title itself has long been a topic of discussion amongst the fans, producers, and the cast. Dan Byrd revealed they have moved past it in recent years.
"Definitely in Season 2, there was a lot of weird, not-usable titles being thrown around. It's cooled off the last couple of years. We had so many f*&^ing conversations about the title that nobody wants to talk about the title anymore."
When I asked if anything in particular will surprise longtime fans, the actor gave an intriguing response.
"We get a lot weirder this season. This is, by far, the most freedom the writers have ever had, and the producers. We really have taken advantage of that in a cool way. None of the character dynamics shift drastically, but story lines get pretty weird sometimes."
Shortly after speaking with Dan Byrd, Courteney Cox entered the room. The actress also echoed Dan Byrd's sentiments about how TBS is promoting Cougar Town to a whole new audience.
"Avid fans of TBS have seen more ads for Cougar Town than they can possibly imagine. Somebody who hasn't seen the show has got to be curious."
She also teased an intriguing episode that delves into Jules' new marriage to Grayson (Josh Hopkins), and how they have a "naked day" in one episode.
"I really wanted to keep the married life alive, and focus on how it is to be together for the first year. They've done a great job dealing with all the issues, like how do you keep sex alive. We have a naked day. We spend the day naked, then you realize all the complications that come with that."
With the penny cans just outside, I just had to know who the best penny can player on the cast is.
"Not me. I'm the worst. Probably Josh (Hopkins) or Brian (Van Holt) or Christa (Miller)."
I decided to make my way to the penny cans to try my hand at this amusing game of skill. As it turns out, I'm actually fairly good at it. I suppose years of playing beer pong in college had something to do with that. At one point, Josh Hopkins walked up and started playing, taking aim at one of the eight cans they had set up. After I made three in a row, he turned to me and said, "You're pretty good." If only there were a pro league for Penny Can...
After our rousing game of Penny Can, I could see how addicting this game would be on the set. I asked Josh Hopkins how much Penny Can is actually played between takes.
"It's really annoying, when we have those scenes, because you can't have a bunch of pennies with a can there and not throw. When they call cut, and they're telling us notes, we're like, 'Uh huh...' You can't stop."
He also spoke about how the show has gotten weirder and weirder, especially this season.
"This is kind of a bizarre show anyway. That sort of niche has grown. Now that we've grown into that, we're really just doing more and more weird things. I read the script, and there will be something bizarre like noodling. I'm at work. This is what I'm doing when I'm at work."
Season 4 will consist of 15 episodes, which is standard for most cable networks these days, but still quite shorter than the traditional network model. Josh Hopkins spoke about how the shorter order provides an easier schedule.
"These are pretty self-contained shows. There's not a whole lot of broad storytelling. 22 is a lot. When we're shooting, as my friends and family can attest, I'm done. When we were down to (Episode) 5, I remember thinking, 'Oh God,' when we were doing 22. It wasn't even close. Now, with 15, we're a third done. We just started, it felt like. In that regard, it's a lot easier."
Ian Gomez revealed that his character Andy, the long-suffering husband of Ellie (Christa Miller), is taking office as the Gulfhaven mayor.
"Andy becomes the mayor of Gulfhaven. It's playing out a little bit in this season, and then next season. Ellie is the first lady of Gulfhaven, and we play off of that, and what she wants. It will be fun. It will give me something more to play than the bromance and the relationship I have at home."
The last cast member I spoke with was Busy Philipps, who plays the always bubbly Laurie. The actress revealed that she hopes the fans enjoy watching Laurie's budding relationship with Wade (Edwin Hodge), although she also teased that Laurie and Dan Byrd's Travis may just have to kiss at some point.
"I'm excited for people to see Wade and Laurie's relationship. We start off this season with him in Afghanistan, but he does come back. For her and Travis and Wade, it's an interesting little dynamic that got set up. I love Edwin Hodge, who plays my boyfriend Wade. I just think he's really talented and cute, and I really liked working with him. But I love working with... whatever his name is (Laughs), Dan Byrd. It's getting to a point, I have to be honest with you, where it's feeling like we're going to probably have to kiss, at some point. I wish it would have happened immediately, because at this point, we're such close friends, and he and my husband are so close. I've never been in this position before, on a television show. I know it's part of my job, but it makes me so uncomfortable. I'll sell it, don't worry. By the way, we have three more episodes this season we haven't shot yet. I haven't read them, so it could happen. I don't know. If we did, Dan said he would have to get drunk, and that hurt my feelings (Laughs). It's not going to be that bad."