'Cougar Town' Showrunners Attempt to Destigmatize the 'Spoiler' in Season 3

Co-creators Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel tell THR about the long delay, unconventional promotion and increased transparency leading up to the show's return -- and how they expect it to translate to ratings.

If you're at all aware that Cougar Town returns to ABC after nearly nine months off the air, you may also know more than a few key plot points from the upcoming 15-episode run.

And the reason behind that might surprise you. Co-creators Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel, clearly a bit addled by the network's decision to hold the veteran comedy for so late in the season, have been putting it all out there on their own.

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Needless to say, spoilers follow...

"To me, it's a survival battle, and the reality is that surprising people with an engagement is not as good, promotion-wise, as telling people there is going to be an engagement," Lawrence told The Hollywood Reporter before the show's recent panel at Paley Center for Media. "The way TV works, there are 25,000 households, that's it, that make up the Nielsen [families] for the entire country. So I need as many people possible to see this show just go out there. If they like it, if that the word of mouth spreads, I can get a couple more watching."

That strategy has involved self-financed mixers for journalists, fan screenings and parties across the country and releasing revealing highlight reels online -- all of which have given away the rather significant development that this season begins with an engagement and ends with a wedding for lead couple Jules (Courteney Cox) and Grayson (Josh Hopkins).

"Hell, if I had my druthers I'd release all 15 episodes right now, put them on Pirate Bay and let everyone go hog wild and watch them," said Biegel. "Maybe that would get the ball rolling."

For Biegel, spoilers are also a non-issue. "We don't gain anything by being vague and nebulous about what the show is going to be for those almost-fans," he told THR. "That's not going to bring them into the show."

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It's not as if Cougar Town has ever been particularly anemic in ratings. The last season averaged 7.33 million viewers, finishing its run with a 2.0 rating among the sought-after adults 18-49. Lawrence seems confident that a similar showing will give the show more than a fighting chance at renewal, though he also recognizes the series enters a much different landscape without Modern Family as a lead-in.

"If we can deliver the same audience we delivered last year, the show can be on for six years," he said. "So that's why I said, 'Screw it, everybody can see everything.'"

Judging their methods based purely on reactions thus far, they may be on to something. The screenings, however exhaustive and expensive, united the co-creators and their cast behind a series they're all clearly quite fond of.

"The coolest thing is that every time you get there to actually see 200, 300 or 400 people that are so passionate about the show, that they aren't really there for the free drinks -- even if they are," he said. "They are actually there to tell you that they like the show and to play penny can, and they know more about the show than you do. As a writer, you never get to do that stuff."

Cougar Town premieres Tuesday, at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT, on ABC.

Email: Michael.OConnell@THR.com; Twitter: @MikeyLikesTV