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The Cougar Town cast has pounded grapes, traveled the country, and, from a promotional point of view, pretty much killed themselves getting word out about the return of their show tonight for an exciting third season after a lengthy absence. (EW readers likely have heard the news.)

But the result of their efforts — and, in turn, the true power of guerrilla, self-funded promotion — won’t be known until tomorrow morning, when overnight ratings are released. Though, even then, creator Bill Lawrence, who largely funded the massive campaign pegged to the show’s return, says he’s trying to stay realistic about the possible ratings outcome for a show premiering on Valentine’s Day. “Here’s what I really think will happen: I think the show will not premiere as high as people hope,” he admits. “And what I hope will happen is what always happened on Scrubs when they brought it back. The first week, the numbers are always lower than their predecessor….But what would happen then, as people became educated that the show was back on, each week it would be higher. The next week, the gap would be closed.”

Should his prediction come true, he’s prepared himself for the reaction — the Internet will try to stick a toe tag on Cougar Town. “We’re such an immediate culture that you immediately read on blogs is, ‘It’s dead!’ I read that about Scrubs for four years in a row,” he says.

Understandably, the team’s very public investment in the show’s future will make any disappointing result sting, but he sees their ambitious efforts as a source of great pride. “The one thing we all talked about as a group was that if the show went away and we all didn’t at least try, we would be so bummed out that we didn’t take a shot. So we’re taking a shot. We feel like this might be the future of TV — taking your marketing out and trying to get your own project going with people,” he says. “One of my writer friends joked, ‘If this doesn’t work out you’re going to feel like an idiot. You spent a bunch of money.’ I didn’t break the bank, and I don’t feel like an idiot. I liked it as an experiment but I liked it more on a personal level of getting to see how passionate some people are about our show and TV.”

The next four to six weeks will be the best indicator whether Cougar Town will have a fourth season, he says. But they luckily don’t have to pull out any miracles to win this coin flip. Should the same number of viewers return for the third season (season 2 averaged a 3.2 rating) he thinks they’ll be in good shape. “If we have the same audience, it will live on. And that’s such a small number that I told [star and fellow executive producer Courteney Cox] that maybe we’re in a future where we can affect it and turn the dial and make a difference by being on Twitter and having contests and giving fans access to writers and stars.” Another bright spot? The absence of Glee from the TV schedule for almost two months after that show’s new episode tonight. “I think we have a very good shot.”


Episode Recaps

Cougar Town
Courteney Cox stars in Bill Lawrence’s ensemble comedy
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