Playing the waiting game
ABC decided to hold ''Cougar Town'' off the air until midseason. Now show co-creator Bill Lawrence shares his thoughts on what it's like having to wait until 2012
EW asked me to write about how it feels when your TV show is a midseason replacement in 700 words. Since I can’t write ”it sucks” 350 times, here goes: Schadenfreude is a German word that means ”pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.” It is also the slippery slope you find yourself on if you’re a midseason replacement.
See, you want shows to do poorly so you get back on television. You want the network to realize that, for instance, it’s hard for any show (even one titled after massage-parlor sex acts) to hold on to Modern Family‘s ratings. The dicey part? Sometimes the very shows you should root against are shows you actually, well, like. Shows written by friends and starring former co-workers. See how it sucks? In those situations, you just have to pray that the networks also put on a few soul-crushing crap bombs that no one likes. But that rarely happens (except always).
And then you wait. But you can’t just wait and do nothing. You’re not a politician, after all. Your show hasn’t been on for six months. You have to somehow keep it in the public consciousness. On Cougar Town (worst title ever), we’ve decided to do two things. First, since we aren’t on TV — which seems to be a prerequisite for being a television show — we’ve smuggled our cast onto as many other shows as we can. Whoever spots them all at the end gets a houseboat and their own NBC comedy (they need a little help). Second, almost everyone involved with our show has made themselves available to our fans (@VDOOZER, @ChristaBMiller, @Busyphilipps25, @MrJoshHopkins, @Samlaybourne, @greggmet, @JessicaGoldSt, @cpietrosh, @mcdonaldcomedy, @heysanjay, @kbiegel, @CougarTownRoom, and @TheLarmy on Twitter — we will all talk to you). This is especially fun because it gives us a chance to interact with people who really like what we do. More importantly, we also get to hear from hundreds of people who think we ”suck balls” and ”your show is a crime against humanity.” Hey, thanks, @TVNERDGUY. I read those with my kids, and we all hugged after.
So where am I right now? I’m directing an episode written by co-creator Kevin Biegel that will be on who-the-hell-knows-when. It’s 1 a.m., and I’m out on the street, listening to an a cappella group warm up for a weird scene, wondering where we screwed up. Because that’s the harsh truth — shows that are hits aren’t midseason replacements. They’re, well…hits. We think our show wasn’t all that great at first, but we love where we are now. And yes, we hate our title. We write a show about wine drinking and adult friendship, and it’s — for no reason whatsoever — called Cougar Town. An older woman has not had sex or flirted with a younger man on this show for two-plus years. To this day, we wish we could go back and change our title to Friends Part II or Cougar City, or even Stay Tuned for More Modern Family. The point of this? You can’t help but blame yourselves. I blame Kevin. That’s why I mentioned his name earlier.
Midseason isn’t always a death blow. Scrubs was a midseason show for 13 of its 28 seasons. If you’re lucky enough to have a loyal fan base, they will wait for you. Still, you can’t escape the thought that this is all just wishful thinking. That when Cougar Town comes back on, the people who hate it, thank God, will still be there, but the people who loved it will be…gone. Moved on to another, cooler, sexier show without even coming by to get their clothes and penny cans. So, to sum up, how does it feel to be a midseason replacement? Well, since I’ve only written 692 words so far: It sucks, sucks, sucks, sucks, sucks, sucks, sucks.
P.S. If you counted the number of words in this article to check on my math, you have too much free time.