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'Cougar Town': A sitcom by any other name...

Ever since ABC's Courteney Cox-starring comedy "Cougar Town" debuted last fall, there have been critics who objected to the show's name.

Among them: show creator Bill Lawrence.

Lawrence will tell pretty much anyone who will listen that he'd like to change the name of the show. That's because some people in focus groups told the studio they would never watch a show called "Cougar Town," because they don't think a show about a 40-something woman shagging younger men is appropriate for prime-time TV. (We're guessing they also don't allow Balzac novels to pollute their houses.)

But once these name-haters were forced to watch an episode as part of the focus-group gag, they said they would watch it. Yeah, uh huh -- until they saw the episode in which Andy, the neighbor of Jules (Courteney Cox), whines that his new baby, Stan, doesn't look like him. Whereupon Andy's wife whips off Stan's diaper to reveal private parts described by one bystander as "elephant trunk"-like which, Andy's wife says coyly, proves Stan is Andy's child.

Or how about that episode in which Jules, a divorced real estate agent, finally shags her handsome womanizing divorced neighbor, and he pulled on a chord and dozens of balloons fall from the ceiling because, he explains, she is his millionth customer.

If you're a prude, this show's name is the least of your worries.

Still, Lawrence thinks the name should be changed because it will cause the show to grow a larger audience ("Cougar Town" averaged 7.4 million viewers this season though, in fairness, it played in a very tough timeslot against CBS's "Criminal Minds" and Fox's "Glee"/"American Idol" combo).

Kind of like how when ABC changed the name of the comedy "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place" to "Two Guys and a Girl" back in the fall of 1999 when that show was heading into its second full season, and it totally took off in the ratings.

Not.

In May, when the last two "Cougar Town" episodes saw Jules getting romantically involved with her age-appropriate neighbor, the name-haters went on the warpath again.

That group, which included some professional TV critics and fanboy/girl bloggers, argued that the show's premise had now undergone a major change, and the name should also be changed to reflect that new direction. Jules simply wasn't Cougarizing anymore, they argued.

This was somewhat surprising, given that even casual students of television know that romances of lead characters on sitcoms seldom last more than two ratings sweep periods. It's kind of a rule. Take CBS's "The Big Bang Theory," for example: Penny and Leonard finally got together at the start of the fall TV season, and they were broken up by mid-April. Their romance had survived the November and February sweeps.

Of course there are exceptions. Jennifer Bini Taylor played Chelsea played the girlfriend of Charlie Sheen's womanizing character on a CBS sitcom for most of its sixth season, though they finally broke up during the February sweep of the seventh season. This was a major change in direction for that show, which had until then focused heavily on the escapades of Sheen's commitment-phobic rake character and his relationship with his live-in brother and nephew.

Bet CBS feels pretty silly now for having changed the name of that show from "Two and a Half Men" to "Charlie Loves Chelsea," to more accurately reflect that comedy series's major change in direction.

Getting back to "Cougar Town" creator Lawrence: He also has said he thinks the ABC Decency Police come down harder on this show than, say, its new hit comedy "Modern Family," simply because it's called "Cougar Town." At the Paleyfest TV festival in Beverly Hills a few months ago, Lawrence whined about censorship to some 2,000 ardent fans of the show.

But, of course, that's complete hooey -- we refer you to the "elephant trunk" reference, above.

And, there are many compelling reason not to change the name -- confused viewers, confused DVD-boxed set buyers, confused network marketing campaigns being among them.

But, first and foremost: the name "Cougar Town" is snappy and distinctive. And you remember it, which is no small feat in this age of TV programming overload -- unlike lame show names like "Better Together," the new ABC comedy joining "Cougar Town" on Wednesday nights in the fall -- and which we have already forgotten.


By Lisa de Moraes  |  June 23, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  TV News  
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Comments

Leave it alone. It's a great show. Witty, funny and sardonic. AND, it's wideley known throughout Hollywood that "Andy" (Ian Gomez) is today's "Milton Berle". Not for his comedic wit, but for his...well..you know. It was first professed on an episode of The Drew Carey Show (the "Full Monty" episode - courtroom scene).

Posted by: Bebunk | June 23, 2010 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Collagen & Tonic. I'd watch it even if it had Scott Baio.

Posted by: pookiefan | June 23, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I thought it was going to be changed to "Family Jules," seriously.

Posted by: wmsiii | June 23, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

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