'Community' & 'Cougar Town': A Match Made in TV Heaven?

Tonight's cuppa: organic free-trade coffee (pipe down, it was on sale)

Community_Group.jpgAs fans of NBC's "Community" know, last night's (Thursday) episode, "Critical Film Studies," began with Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), wearing a suit straight out of "Reservoir Dogs" (OK, it was actually out of "Pulp Fiction," but it's the same suit), walking to to a dinner engagement.

In voiceover, he says, "It was my friend Abed's birthday. I had met Abed at community college almost two years earlier. His obsession with pop culture had always alienated him. He'd quote movies, pretend his life was a TV show. He watched 'Cougar Town.' It was as if he didn't want people to like him."

At dinner, Abed (Danny Pudi) tells Jeff of his love of the ABC sitcom "Cougar Town," co-created by Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel, and tells an elaborate story that ends with him having an accident in his pants (in the story he's telling, not at dinner).

It's a complex plot -- click here for a comprehensive recap, and here if you want to take the time to watch the episode -- but a good-sized part of it was devoted to Abed's love of "Cougar Town," not the first time "Community" has referenced the other show.

So, I hopped on Twitter and asked Lawrence (a k a @VDOOZER ) about it, and he Tweeted, "Incredibly flattering. We were in on it."

I wanted to know more, but Lawrence had busied himself talking to TVLine about the issue Kevin_Biegel.JPG and taking meetings instead. So I moved on to the less-heralded but equally hilarious better half of "Cougar Town" (no, not Bill's wife, actress Christa Miller, nor star Courteney Cox), but Biegel (at right) himself.

Here follow my Qs and Biegel's As. Enjoy ...

Q: According to Bill Lawrence when he talked to TVLine, you had heard about the "Cougar Town" references in last night's "Community" when Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan  -- two writers from Lawrence's "Scrubs" that now are executive producers on "Community" -- sent over a photo of script pages. What was the reaction around the office and the set?

A: Well, I got sent two of the pages by Neil Goldman via text... I hope that's not some breach of NBC protocol or anything. Anyhow, he had said there was an episode of "Community" coming up where Abed talks about being on "Cougar Town," and we were like, 'Okay, that sounds pretty cool.' Then we saw those two pages -- mind you, it was only two pages of a much longer scene -- but even only seeing that, we couldn't believe they were going to do it to that extent.

I think people saw them and thought, 'Yeah, well, that'll probably get cut way down, and they won't say the name of the show that much (or at all), and Abed's story will be very quick.''

Still insanely flattering, but I had no idea it'd be as big as it was in its final version. We're all giant fans of "Community" at the show, so it was an honor to read the pages and then when I saw it on TV, it put a smile on my face that may be there forever.

Q: Will you reciprocate on your show beyond the line Travis got about forcing his girlfriend to watch the Season One of "Community" on DVD?

A: Unfortunately, we've already finished shooting for the season. We had laid in a few Easter-eggy kind of things regarding "Community" that you might catch if you pay attention (i.e. pay attention to the movie marquee in the plaza shots), but I kinda wish we could go back and do even more.

Q: Do you watch ""Community," and if so, what do you think of it?

A: I love it; I think it's the best show on TV (aside from ours). I see their show, and it's like our show is my little kid, and I'm very proud of my kid, he's a good kid, but then I see this other kid on the playground and I'm like, 'Shoot, I wish my kid were cool like that sometimes.' Metaphors are one of my strong suits, obviously.

Q: Although their formats are very different, do the shows have things in common?

A: I don't know if the formats are that different... they're both about people who aren't related, who on their own would probably be very lonely people, but they've come together as a group to form a family... a "Community", even... a "Cougar Town", even. Sh*t, that doesn't work when you use the title of our show.

I do love their ability to use pop-culture stuff not as mere reference points (like you get a point if you recognize that they're doing a "Last Starfighter'"joke), but to actually tell stories. You don't need to know the references to love their show, because their storytelling is so good, and I actually really care about their characters.

I know they were worried a little about this past episode because a lot of it is just two guys talking. Well, I could watch their two guys talking for hours.

Q: How did ABC feel about a shout-out on an NBC show?

A: ABC could not have been cooler and more supportive. They recognize that this isn't the type of thing shows usually do; I think it's unprecedented to have two shows on different networks referencing each other back and forth.

But, again, I don't entirely think this is us high-fiving across the 10 Freeway; if we're talking about these characters living in a world where our pop culture exists, Abed would love "Cougar Town" and Travis would love "Community." It's not just a mutual show-creator wank. Okay, it is a little but...

Cougar_Town.jpgQ: "Community" producer Dan Harmon ( @danharmon ) interacts quite a bit with other showrunners and actors on Twitter, and "Cougar Town" has been praised for its lively Twitter presence (indeed, this Q&A was arranged through Twitter). What impact, if any, has social media had on the show (or is it just fun for you guys)?

A: I think that Twitter has made my job about ten times as fun. It's become the world's best feedback system. I don't know if I could take another year of trolling through comments on boards to see how people react to whatever show I'm working on. Not that I don't like doing it, I do, but I just don't have the time now.

With Twitter, it's 140-word bursts. You can get a lot through in 140 words. "You suck" is only two words, but someone saying why they think this story line is working or not? I find that interesting.

At the end of the day Bill and I go with our guts, but all fans should know -- with the dawn of the Internet, almost every show creator reads what is said about their show online. If they say they don't, they're lying.

Plus, after spending probably 100+ hours putting together an episode from inception to final edit, it's nice to hear that someone enjoyed your work. It helps give you the confidence to let "you suck donkey balls, thanx for ruining TV" roll off your back.

Another thing it has done -- it has let me start a sorta relationship with people whose work I enjoy. I've never met Dan Harmon, but I think it's great we can talk on Twitter. Same with other show runners/writers/etc.

For now, at least, the playing field seems even. Five years ago, I would never have been talking with some of these people and vice versa. It has made things easy.

And I barely get to see Neil Goldman anymore because we're both so busy, but I can talk to him (as should everyone, his twitter is @neilskee and for that matter Garrett Donovan's is ... shoot, what's Garret's?)

Q: Is there ever a chance of a Twitter war - such as the one between @ShawnRyanTV of "The Chicago Code," and "White Collar's" @JeffEastin, a competition to get followers for charity, interspersed with elaborate practical jokes - with any other shows?

A: Shawn Ryan is a lying, dirty, cheating son of a bitch. I've never met Shawn Ryan, I'm just trying to start a Twitter war with him. Honestly, though, I'd do something like that if it was a) fun, or more importantly, b) could benefit some charity. They really did something that benefitted a charity? Through Twitter? That's amazing. That makes me realize that Shawn Ryan is the most kind, caring, loving, honest man in Hollywood. 

The only drawback of your question? It sounds like more work! But I do love practical jokes. Where does Shawn Ryan live? I'm going to have 600 pounds of Chicago hot dogs dumped in his pool.

(HCTV: BTW, we hear the next salvo in the Ryan/Eastin Twar is at hand. Click here for the last volley; watch this space for future news.)

Q: Any surprises in store before the end of the season?

A: A lot, yes.  What can I say ...? An issue comes up between Jules and Grayson that forces them to question whether they really should be together. That sounds like the DirectTV info-guide episode description ... that sucks. There's a lot more Lou Diamond Phillips, that's one. And we do the best "Children of the Corn" (set in suburbia) homage that's ever been on TV. See, I told you we had stuff in common with "Community."