Even though TV series “Cougar Town” has been renewed for a third season, co-creator Bill Lawrence is seriously considering changing the show’s title. With two seasons already aired, positive critical buzz and good enough ratings to earn a third season, why mess with a winner? It turns out Lawrence has a few compelling reasons to change the name, but would altering the series title this late in the game do more harm than good?
It Seemed Funny at the Time
The original idea behind the title “Cougar Town” was as a play on words. Read the initial 2009 summary for the series, and you’ll discover the name referred to: “a small Florida town completely devoted to its high school football team.” The fact that Courteney Cox was playing a 40-something recently divorced mom who might hook up with some younger guys on the singles scene was the secondary meaning for the term “cougar.”
It’s probably one of those things that seemed really funny in the writers’ room, and gave the show a catchy title that people would remember. Now the show has nothing to do with the high school football team, and is mostly about a group of friends who drink a lot of wine, trade barbs, share zany little life adventures and ultimately support one another. The title no longer fits the show. “It’s such a played-out joke,” Lawrence confessed to TVLine, speaking for himself and co-creator Kevin Biegel, “and we just feel dumb in retrospect.”
People Judge a Show By Its Title
Believe it or not, despite the shift in the show’s focus, countless previews on ABC, and increasingly positive critical reviews, many potential viewers won’t tune in because of the title. Lawrence tweeted questions about the “Cougar Town” name to his followers, and has been retweeting many of the responses. A definite pattern has emerged:
ekim110575: “My wife and I own every season of Scrubs. CT’s title made us not watch. Saw a few min of CT via Tivo runover and laughed a lot!”
TheH1tman: “Honestly, Ive never given it a chance because the title indicates its for a demographic I dont fit in. Title change sounds good.”
smacmillan: “the name is a big problem. I’ve busted out ‘but that’s not what it’s about now’ several times and people just won’t believe me.”
ej_eaks “I tell people to watch all the time but they always say ‘isn’t it all about her dating younger guys?’ for the millionth time NOOOO!”
Lawrence isn’t just wallowing in his own mistake, however. The fact that so many people refuse to watch a show with the word “cougar” in the title means that the TV series will have trouble gaining new viewers. That’s bad news for the show’s future, as Lawrence tweets: “ABC knows this: if only the ‘core’ audience watches next year (2.0 in the demo last two weeks) the show will be…over.”
While it’s shocking enough that the average TV watcher can be so judgmental about a show’s title, it’s even more shocking that writer Lawrence’s own fans refuse to watch one of his works. As Daniel Fienberg from HitFix tweets: “I want a psychological profile for somebody who respects you, follows you and won’t watch 5 seconds of your show cuz of the TITLE.”
Sexism Is Alive and Well
While “cougar” doesn’t always have the most flattering connotation, TV watchers who refuse to tune in aren’t objecting to negative stereotypes of women. They’re protesting the “icky” premise. Many of the complaints online about the title are that no one wants to watch a show about “old women” or “desperate women chasing after young guys.” Many men claimed to be embarrassed even saying the title of the show aloud.
Contrast this with the comedy series “Two and a Half Men,” which until star Charlie Sheen’s recent meltdown, was at the top of the ratings heap for years. Here was a show about a 40-something old guy going after tons of women–often much younger than him–and no one had a problem with it. Reverse the genders, and suddenly the show is unwatchable. The fact that “Cougar Town” isn’t even about “cougars” anymore is irrelevant–just the very mention of a woman dating a younger guy is enough to turn many TV watchers off.
There’s no need to single one successful sitcom out, however. Male characters have been with women half their age, intellect and weight for decades. No one even bats an eyelash at a May/December onscreen romance, so long as the “December” is male.
What Should The New Title Be?
Though many fans were disappointed at the thought of changing the series title, the thought of the show being canceled was more upsetting. Suggestions have been pouring in to Lawrence’s Twitter account, and on all sites covering the story. Some top picks include: “Friends with Beverages,” “The Cul de Sac Crew,” “Friends and Neighbors,” and “It’s 5pm Somewhere.” While anything with “Friends” in the title is an amusing nod to Cox’s former sitcom, it’s this sort of jokey title that got the creators in trouble in the first place. Better to let “Cougar Town” stand on its own merits, rather than trying to tie it in with former sitcom glory.
The title “Happy Hour” works well as a standard sitcom title, and suits the show’s focus on social drinking. There’s already a show called “Happy Endings,” however, which might cause some confusion. As Lawrence states, ABC already turned down “Sunshine State” and “Grown-Ups” due to similarities with other TV series and movie titles.
While a title change could finally draw in some new viewers, there’s always the risk that it could confuse the people already watching. It’s been proven time and again that a time slot change often kills a struggling show, so a double hit of time and title shift for “Cougar Town” could prove disastrous. That’s why a proposed name change to “The Courteney Cox Show” is one of the wiser choices–it removes the “cougar” reference and will be easily identifiable by longtime viewers.
What do you think, Yahoo! TV readers? Should “Cougar Town” change its name, and if so, to what? Do you watch the show, and if not, is it because of the title?
Season 3 of “Cougar Town” is set to return next spring, on Tuesdays at 9 pm ET.
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