Cougar Town returns with disappointingly low ratings

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When Cougar Town was benched by ABC until midseason in favor of dreck like Man Up and Last Man Standing and Man-equin! (a sitcom about an unemployed man who finds work as a clothes dummy), fans of the critically under-watched show couldn't help but see the move as a sign of the end. The show suffered gamely on despite a small audience and the weight of a terrible (and terribly misleading) title for two seasons, and even though ABC promised it would return, no one really believes network promises all that much. During the hiatus, creator Bill Lawrence and his cast really worked the pavement: hosting screenings around the country, showing up in other sitcoms, and even handing out business cards to people telling them to watch the show. (That is 100% true. Like, really.) Meanwhile, the fan base hoped and prayed that when Cougar Town returned, all the work would bump up its standing.

Well, the truncated third season premiered last night — on Valentine's Day, which kind of seems like an automatic handicap? — and things don't look too good. The show came back it its lowest ratings ever:

In its new (and much tougher) time period, Cougar Town delivered 4.8 million viewers and a 1.8 adults 18-49 rating Tuesday night. This is a series low for the show…

It’s arguably unfair to compare Cougar Town to its own 3.4 premiere last year (from which it’s down 47 percent). The show debuted in the fall on Wednesday nights with a lead-in from top-rated Modern Family.

Ouch. It's not all bad news, though; despite following a shitty show with a totally different target audience — really, ABC? Why not just air it at 3:30 a.m. on a Wednesday? — Cougar Town managed to retain around 80% of adults under fifty from its lead-in. Lawrence is staying strong, saying that his last show, Scrubs, often premiered weak but gained as the season went on. As a fan, I can only hope he's right. (Seriously: please watch this show.)