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March 06, 2010

'Cougar Town'

Courteney Cox at PaleyFestBy Philiana Ng

Night six of PaleyFest was quite a turnaround from the raucous "Community" panel on Wednesday and the entertaining "Modern Family" session on the festival's opening night. The evening belonged to "Cougar Town," but it might as well have been for a drab hospital drama.

The love felt between the cast and co-creators was not lost on the crowd, however, as they offered good insight despite a lackluster host. Moderated by Us Weekly's John Griffiths, who seemed to suck the life out of the room save for some entertaining bits, the panel was a minor blip on the radar.

Co-creator Bill Lawrence ("Scrubs") introduced a screening of next week's episode and prefaced it by saying to enormous laughs, "I'm 12 glasses into the evening," after plugging the bar in the theater lobby.

"The show has changed a little bit to what it was in the pilot," Lawrence said to the attendees, joking that they may need to rethink the title of the show. The 22-minute episode titled "Counting on You" honed in on "Cougar Town's" signature wackiness and endearingly absurd antics that proved Griffiths' description -- "an adult family comedy" -- true.

Set in Florida, the show differentiated itself by choosing a location other than New York or Los Angeles, and like writing's rule of thumb (write what you know), members of the cast, Lawrence and co-creator Kevin Biegel had ties to the Sunshine State -- and the south in general.

"Kevin and I are both from Florida ... and they're bass-fishing guys," Lawrence said, referring to a storyline in the episode that aired. "My family lives in Florida, but I'm from Alabama," star Courteney Cox (Jules) added.

Christa Miller and Bill Lawrence at PaleyFest "Shooting that scene in 45-degree water was nothing like Florida," Lawrence joked, discussing a moment in the episode between Travis (Dan Byrd) and his father Bobby (Brian Van Holt) waist-deep in a sludge-filled pond. "I'm from the south as well," Van Holt interjected. "Southern California!"

The genesis of the show came from Lawrence's own life experiences and the tone was a calculated decision to make certain it could be successful. "The show can only work if you're self-deprecating and have no vanity," Lawrence said. "She (Courteney Cox) was the one who could do it."

Griffiths asked Cox if she was apprehensive in jumping on to a new project, but the former "Friends" actress said she was looking to team up with Lawrence from the start. (Cox guest starred for three episodes on Season 8 of "Scrubs.") "I wanted to do a comedy with Bill Lawrence," she said, adding "... and Kevin Biegel" after Biegel's feigned shock.

The TV vet spent two years post-"Friends" on FX's "Dirt" playing a celebrity tabloid queen. When the moderator commented that the cheeky premise wasn't on television anymore, Cox corrected him. "It's actually being done now. TMZ has a show," she said.

Script ideas often come to fruition when Lawrence eavesdrops on the cast. According to his wife and co-star Christa Miller (Ellie), his memory is like a well-oiled machine. Next thing they know, whatever Lawrence spotted them doing usually makes it in some way, shape or form.

The raunchy subject matters on the show are plum for a 9:30 p.m. timeslot, but it would never fare well at 8, according to Biegel. "I love 'Modern Family.' They can have ... two guys' butts touching, but our show is so policed now because it's 'Cougar Town,' " Lawrence added.

The "kid" character, Travis, is oftentimes the most sane in an insane world. "Sometimes he seems like the smartest character on the show," Lawrence said to applause, saying that Byrd doesn't play him as the victim. Van Holt shouted, much like his character on the show, "That's my boy!" "In real life, Dan Byrd's really 36," Lawrence kidded.

During one of the lighter moments of the night, Lawrence, who worked on "Friends," recalled a conversation he had with Cox. On his last day working on the iconic sitcom, Cox apparently told him, "'Thank you for your hard work, Chris,' " he said. Cox responded, "I thought he was Marta (Kaufman's) assistant!"

Griffiths asked Josh Hopkins (Grayson) what it took to get good banter, one of the odder queries of the panel. "A good banteree?," he answered, bewildered.

"It's like working with a comedy ninja," Hopkins said about working with Cox. "She's so quick and funny."

Ian Gomez (Andy) said even though the show centered on adults in their forties, there is no "mommy" or "daddy." "It's like we're a bunch of kids. There's no authority here," he said.

Ian Gomez and Brian Van Holt at PaleyFest Miller, known for playing fiesty women, was asked if Ellie was closer to her off the set. "I'm not like that at all, John," she said half-seriously. Gomez, seated next to her and plays her onscreen husband, died laughing after hearing her response.

"These two (Courteney and Christa) have developed a relationship that we all feed off of," Lawrence said. "And it's become 'the nice guy and the other one.' " The latter being Miller.

"I think Jules is the most functional drunk," Cox said of her character's incredible alcohol intake. Lawrence later shared that the actors drink real wine, unlike other TV shows where the glasses are filled with apple juice. Their wine of choice? Charles Shaw.

With Jules single and having the worst luck with men, Lawrence hinted at a possible romance between she and Grayson. "It gets naughty and fun," he said, saying that the show is "not going to drag [the romance] stuff out."

Though Scott Foley, Nick Zano and Ryan Devlin have recently completed guest arcs, and singer Sheryl Crow appearing in a future episode, Lawrence already has his mind set on his next target. "Jennifer Aniston will be on the show next year, but she doesn't know it yet," he said, clearly kidding.

During the Q&A session, a fan asked Cox what her recent Golden Globe nomination meant. "It means everything," Cox answered playfully. "That's so funny 'cause it's so true!," Lawrence added, laughing.

Cox elaborated further, to loud cheers: "I've been doing this a long time. It'd be really nice to be [nominated for an Emmy]."

Some odds and ends from the panel:

-- When Lawrence had to cast the part of Barb, the snarky fortysomething who follows Jules around at random times with pointed one-liners, it was Cox (who also serves as an executive producer) who suggested Carolyn Hennesy for the role.

-- "Cougar Town" is the only broadcast show that has "more women on the writing staff than men," according to Lawrence.

-- "If one thing works, you'll see 20 of it," Lawrence said, on the trends in television.

-- Van Holt suggested the show's title be changed to "Cirque de Cougar Town."

-- Hopkins did impressions of Busy Philipps (Laurie), who was in Hawaii, and Van Holt.

-- Van Holt originally read for Grayson and bombed his on-camera audition.

-- In "Counting on You," which airs March 10, the following can be expected: father-son bonding, gay traps, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Blumfy (blanket + comfy), tiny eyes, Twitter, motorcycles, "Born to Be Wild," a friends handshake, someone copping a butt-feel and ducks.

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