The rogue marketing campaign to bring ABC's "Cougar Town" back to TV came to Chicago Saturday, and star Busy Philipps was ready to party.
"The cast will tell you that I’m the most not like my character," the Oak Park native told the crowd of about 100-some fans at Lincoln Park bar Racine Plumbing. "But I'm gonna bring a little bit of Laurie tonight and I’m gonna get drunk!"
Philipps and writer Melody Derloshon drank, posed for photos, played the show’s invented game Penny Can, danced and treated fans to two never-aired episodes of the hoot of a sitcom about a group of wine-swilling friends. (Spoilers! Jules realizes that she’s predictable; Ellie and Andy think their son is the anti-Christ; a bunch of ex-“Scrubs” cast members visit).
In other words, Philipps and Derloshon did exactly what show creators Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel had planned when they decided to launch and finance their own publicity tour for “Cougar Town,” which has yet to earn a spot on the network’s midseason lineup.
Lawrence and Biegel hope the nationwide screenings will get fans to do what ABC hasn’t—encourage more people to watch their ratings-challenged series. With stops in Sarasota, Atlanta, Louisville, San Diego, and Culver City, Calif., prior to Chicago, the tour will travel to Pasadena, Calif., Monday to host a party for TV writers the night before they meet with ABC president Paul Lee at the Television Critics Association event.
“It’s subversive and that’s Bill Lawrence … Let’s have a [bleeping] cocktail party the night before TCA,” Philipps said Saturday, adding about the tour in general. “Bill Lawrence is one of the most innovative show runners that I’ve ever seen in action. He’s prepared to do anything and sacrifice his own time and money.”
Lawrence, who wants to take the tour to 30 cities, may see some results sooner rather than later. He, Philipps and cast members Courteney Cox, Christa Miller, Josh Hopkins, Brian Van Holt, Dan Byrd and Ian Gomez could be back on the air soon. The premiere ratings for ABC’s horrible cross-dressing sitcom “Work It” last week were dismal, which could mean “Cougar Town” slips in to replace it. Wouldn’t it be awesome if Lee made the announcement Tuesday?
Philipps thinks so. “Bill Lawrence is a [bleeping] fighter,” she said. “But above anything else, we’re making a really quality television program and he wants it to work, as do we [the cast and crew]. So will it? I don’t know. I’m as jaded as any television viewer. I love TV. I TiVo it, I watch it, and I want one of my favorite shows back on the air.”
After adding her own live commentary to the two episodes shown Saturday, Philipps answered fan questions both in a group format and, forever, one-on-one. She and Derloshon also quizzed the audience, giving away prizes that included two Penny Cans, T-shirts and the Morange by MAC and boysenberry lipsticks Philipps has worn as Laurie. (Philipps styles her character herself now that the “Cougar Town” makeup artist who used to went to “Happy Endings.”)
The pair was thoroughly enjoying their time in Chicago with fans.
"The whole idea of giving something to the fans who have been loyal, giving them something to be happy about, to be excited about, and getting them kind of pumped up for the next season ... I think it's awesome," Derloshon said. "I'm so happy to be here. It's so great to see people who are excited and to talk to everybody and to hear what they like. It's just amazing. The fans are insane. They know more about the show than I do. They know every trivia question."
Like Derloshon, Philipps is "bummed" that fans haven't been able to see any episodes from Season 3 yet. They agreed the writers and actors are on their A-games so far this season. “So this was incredibly fulfilling and rewarding to be able to sit with a group of 100 people and watch the—100 strangers, not like 100 like random bros in Hollywood—but like 100 Midwesterners who are teachers and librarians and moms and dads and real people who love the show and like use it to escape," Philipps said. "We have to remember that we’re making like a television show that people respond to and look to weekly to laugh and escape from their own life situations. It’s nice.”
Whenever ABC does decide to put “Cougar Town” back on the air, Derloshon said, she believes it will succeed.
"I have faith in our show, in our actors, our crew, our writers. Whatever time we're going to be on, we'll be all right," Derloshon said. "It's evident by things like this ... We haven't been on for 10 months and all these people are here to watch a couple of episodes.
"It's a great thing to be a part of, especially watching the episodes with fans. They're a litmus test to what's funny and what's not."
And if the laughs Saturday night are any indication, "Cougar Town" will be funny, as it always is, in Season 3.
Busy Philipps offers Season 3 teasers:
- “Laurie gets a boyfriend who is in the Army and is stationed in Afghanistan and he’s super hot,” Philipps said. The character, played by Edwin Hodge, and Laurie don’t meet in person, but only know each other over Skype.
- So what about Laurie and Travis? The flirty couple willdiscuss their relationship early in the season, she said. “I was kind of leaning toward Travis for Laurie,” Philipps said. “Then they cast this amazing actor to play my boyfriend in Afghanistan. He brings so much heart and so much soul and love to the part. I’ve been feeling really torn.”
- Briga Heelan joins the cast temporarily as a woman Grayson got pregnant during a one-night stand years ago. Philipps said she’s a big talent with breakout potential. “I hugely believe in her talent … I think that they found like a really unique, interesting voice in comedy and I’m excited to see like where she can go. … I hope she gets a reoccurring [gig] on our show, but that bitch is going to get snapped up during pilot season, let me tell you.”
Random question of the night for Philipps, who drinks tequila, not wine like the “Cougar Town” characters:
Have you named your shot glass? “My shot glass is called, ‘Bring it on mother-[bleep]. And it’s like, 6 inches big—I’m kidding!”
Random questions for Derloshon: Was the name "Cougar Town" a mistake? "It's hard to tell. Was it a mistake or was it brilliant? ... I think in hindsight maybe there was a better title, but who knows?"