“I can’t believe we’re finally back.”
That’s more than a line of dialogue for Courteney Cox, but it’s the first one she speaks as “Cougar Town” resumes by moving from ABC to TBS. The edgy comedy series starts a fourth season of new episodes on the cable network Tuesday, Jan. 8, with Cox back as Jules … the mom who recently married her neighbor Grayson (Josh Hopkins) just as her son, Travis (Dan Byrd), was committing himself to playing the dating game.
He has plenty of sources for questionable social advice if he wants it, including not only his mother and his father, Bobby (Brian Van Holt), but Jules’ friends: Laurie and Ellie (Busy Philipps, Christa Miller) and Ellie’s husband, Andy (Ian Gomez). Collectively, they ponder some of the more puzzling questions of modern life, even if they’re the only ones puzzled by them.
“We’re not setting out to completely change [the series],” Cox, also an executive producer of the show (as is her ex-husband, David Arquette), tells Zap2it. She acknowledges the difference between broadcast and basic-cable standards offers license to “say things a little differently. TBS liked the show the way it was, but we just have more freedom, and it’s fun. It’s nice to be able to say things that make you go, ‘Ooh. I can’t believe we got away with that.’ “
Cox has even more ability to greenlight that now: She’s also the director of the season premiere as well as four of the other episodes that make up the new “Cougar Town” round. “That was great, because normally, Bill [Lawrence, the show’s co-creator] directs the first episode of each year. For him to ask me to do it, I was really honored, because his scripts are always so powerful and funny.”
Another “Cougar Town” executive producer, “Scrubs” and “Spin City” alum Lawrence — who’s married to co-star Miller — is now concentrating on other projects, but Cox maintains his influence still is mighty.
“He had such a successful development season,” she says. “I think he sold four things. Bill definitely has cut back on the time he spends here, but luckily, he still oversees the things that need to be overseen. I feel his presence without seeing him.”
If “Cougar Town” wasn’t a ratings smash for ABC, it did keep loyal fans, many of whom responded to Lawrence’s appeal to help get it back on the air when it had been benched last season.
“All I know is that TBS took a chance,” Cox reflects, “and they have done this wholeheartedly. I’ve never felt more support, and the way they’ve even done the promotion is top-quality. The promos have been fancier than any commercial I’ve ever done, and you know how much money people put into commercials.
“When they say, ‘We want the show to be what it was,’ it just makes you want to do better. You love us as we are? We’re like, ‘Great. Let’s work that much harder to be that much better for you.’ I’d love to be on TBS forever. I think we’re a great match for them.”
Actually, Cox already has been a TBS star for a while, if one considers the near-daily workout “Friends” repeats get.
“I’m going to be on the air a lot there,” she acknowledges with a laugh. “I get to watch ‘Friends’ episodes that I haven’t seen … and that I don’t even remember filming, which is crazy. I do notice my voice is very high. They’re definitely removing some frames or something to get more commercial time in.”
As “Friends” did, “Cougar Town” largely stays focused on its regular characters, but veteran actress Shirley Jones and actress-author Alexandra Wentworth (the wife of “Good Morning America” and “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos) make guest appearances in the course of the new episodes.
“On ‘Friends,’ we used to talk about how nice it was when it was just the core group,” Cox recalls, “but when you’ve done that for a while and people are invested in those characters, that’s when you open it up. Shirley Jones is amazing, and so is Ali Wentworth, who’s just bold and fantastic. Someone took a picture of Shirley and Josh Hopkins and me on the set, and Josh Tweeted it with the caption, ‘Two television legends. And Courteney Cox.’ “
Cox has been a star and producer on cable before, given her two seasons of the FX tabloid magazine drama “Dirt.” That experience taught her, in her view, “to speak up more. The second season of that came in the middle of the writers strike, which was a real bummer, but that was great experience to come into this with. I’ve been in the business long enough where I have strong opinions, and I like to have a voice. It’s important at this point.”
With “Cougar Town” returning on a different channel, Cox realizes it will be a continuation for some viewers and a new start for others.
“TBS has a big fan base of its own,” she says, “but with the people who haven’t seen ‘Cougar Town’ but heard of it and didn’t want to watch it because of the title or whatever, we’re hoping that the regulars will follow and that we’ll get new regulars as well.”