Every spring, it seems, I'm writing one of these columns. A pre-post-mortem, if you will, for a television show that I enjoy which is in trouble ratings-wise and has the odds stacked against it for renewal.
A couple years ago, I wrote an early obit for the wonderfully silly satiric sitcom "Better Off Ted." Last year, I wished a fond goodbye to the solid cop drama "Detroit 1-8-7." And in 2012, my heavy-hearted attention goes to the sweet-and-salty ensemble comedy "Cougar Town."
Now in its third season, the show is hitting its storytelling stride; "Cougar Town" is as delightful as ever. The adventures (and misadventures) of the show's "Cul-de-Sac Crew," led by Courteney Cox in her career-best work, are a heady concoction of goofy character-based comedy and surprising emotional depth. Unfortunately, the show's quality isn't translating to great ratings. In fact, they are lower than ever.
Part of that might be blamed on the network's scheduling decisions. ABC kept the series off the fall schedule, entrusting the cushy post-"Modern Family" Wednesday night spot to another sitcom, "Happy Endings." "Cougar Town," at one point, was to return to the network on Tuesday nights immediately after the conclusion of the fall run of "Dancing with the Stars," but that plan was scrapped.
Near the end of 2011, word trickled out that that the show would return, but not until after the new year had begun -- and perhaps as late as March. A little salt was sprinkled in to the fans' wounds when ABC decided to cut 7 episodes from the season order, dropping the amount from 22 to 15. The almost instant crash-and-burn of the wretched "Work It" left a half-hour crater in the 7:30 p.m. spot on ABC's Tuesday night schedule, so that's where "Cougar Town" landed this past Valentine's Day.
To say that this isn't exactly the best slot for the show might just be one of the bigger understatements of this season. Sandwiched between the decently-rated, but not exactly world-igniting, Tim Allen-led "Last Man Standing" and the disappointingly little-watched thriller "The River," the viewership for "Cougar Town" seems to be limited to the show's hardest-core fans.
Is "Cougar Town" doomed? There is a small part of me that holds out hope. By my count, the 15 episodes from this season, added to the 46 from the first two years of the show, equals 61. If "Cougar Town" was picked up for another season of 22 episodes, they'd hit a total of 83, which would likely make it a viable option for the afterlife of television network programming -- syndication. In that marketplace, due to a lack of product, a significant number of lower-rated sitcoms have raked in money for their studios, but there has to be inventory to sell. The show is owned by ABC, meaning they have a vested interest, but the question is, does ABC keep producing a show that has seen its ratings slip significantly this year and isn't likely to turn that ship around next season (especially with the larger financial investment that a full-season order requires)?
Before the show premiered, I would have thought that the network would be willing to take the chance. After four weeks of not-so-hot ratings, I am decidedly less sure. Add in the fact that two of the show's regulars (Josh Hopkins and Dan Byrd) have been cast as leads in pilots for other networks, and my confidence shrinks even further.
Which leads me to today, writing about another show I'm going to miss. Thankfully, "Cougar Town" isn't over yet; there are still 11 episodes yet to air, and barring a catastrophe, they will. So my plan isn't merely to watch them all, it's to savor every last one, and be thankful that I have the chance to do just that. If we're coming to the end of the road for one of TV's best comedies, I certainly plan on enjoying the ride.
But pardon me if I get a little misty-eyed once and a while.