In January, “Cougar Town” creator Bill Lawrence wasn’t sure when his ABC sitcom would make it back onto the network’s lineup. “I’m not super psyched about the predicament we’re in,” he said of being left off the mid-season schedule, “and I don’t feel bad for saying it.” So Lawrence thought outside of the 8-11 p.m. timeslot, and over the next month brought his cult comedy directly to viewers at select screenings in bars around the country, where the show’s cast and crew hung out and drank with fans, Lawrence and co-creator Kevin Biegel footing the bill themselves.

“Awareness comes from the outside, not within the networks anymore,” Lawrence said of his promotion strategy when we caught up with him at a “Cougar Town” press event that he — you guessed it — funded from his own pocket. “I don’t think they can launch their own stuff. They pick one show each year — one drama, one comedy — to put all their money behind and that’s what the champion is. It either works or it doesn’t.”

But the success story this winter has been the underdog: “Cougar Town” did finally get its winter premiere, with the third season kicking off tonight. It’s an episode Lawrence knows will appeal to those fans he shared a big glass of wine with, and hopes will draw newcomers who have heard the DIY buzz as well.
“We made the first episode essentially like a third-year pilot, so that new people aren’t excluded [from the storylines],” he explains. “It’s a big spoiler to tell you what happens in it, but it certainly eliminates all elements of any cougars. This will be the one show called ‘Cougar Town’ without any elements of cougars whatsoever.”