By Paula Hendrickson
It’s mid-season, the time of year when networks unveil new series and bring back old favorites. A couple weeks ago, Alcatraz premiered on Fox and 30 Rock returned to NBC. Last week, NBC’s much-ballyhooed Smash — an ambitious and entertaining series (with more sudsy drama than you might expect in a musical) debuted, with ABC’s unique drama The River kicking off with a two-hour premiere the very next night.
Between these new shows, Fox’s recent sneak preview of Keifer Sutherland’s new show Touch, and NBC’s mind-bending series Awake (which doesn’t air until March 1), it’s a wonder why networks chose anemic shows like Whitney, Man Up and The Playboy Club to launch the 2011 fall season.
An even greater mystery is why ABC waited so unbelievably long to bring back the critically-acclaimed Cougar Town — which series creator Bill Lawrence openly admits is perhaps the worst name for a TV series, ever. The season two finale of this strong ensemble comedy aired last May. Mad Men is the only other series I can think of with such a lag time between seasons (without a writers’ or actors’ strike to be found). That was delayed because of a contract dispute, but even so, we’ve known about its upcoming March 25 return for some time now.
As far back as Thanksgiving, family members were asking me if and when Cougar Town was returning. Back then, I knew it was coming back, but rumors were it might be March before that happened. ABC only recently announced a firm date for its return. Get your penny cans ready, the unfortunately-titled but incredibly funny Cougar Town returns Tuesday, Feb. 14, like a wine-soaked Valentine for its fans.
During its lengthy absence, Lawrence and the cast and crew worked hard to keep the show in viewers’ minds, even in a subliminal way. Cast members made cameos and guest appearances on several ABC shows including Courteney Cox and Christa Miller on Private Practice, Busy Philipps on Happy Endings, Dan Byrd on Suburgatory, Josh Hopkins on Castle, Brian Van Holt on The Middle, and Ian Gomez on The Middle and Grey’s Anatomy.
Lawrence gained attention for his creative use of social media to keep Cougar Town in fans’ minds and blitz the news of the show’s return, encouraging fans to tweet and re-tweet comments about the show or help write new title cards (“Welcome to Cougartown Abbey,” for example — which I think will be the title card for episode 11). Giveaways abounded, too. Lawrence will do just about anything to let people know Cougar Town is coming back — even host viewing parties across the country where cast members mingle with fans while watching new episodes.
Just over a year ago, I talked to Lawrence for an Emmy article and even back then — when the series was actually airing on a fairly regular basis — he said he loved checking online after an episode aired to see viewer feedback. So, tune in Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m. and tweet your support or comments to Lawrence @VDOOZER. Or, better yet, use your own social media network to let ABC know you want more episodes of Cougar Town.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Feb. 8-14, 2012, issue