Promising Wednesday Premieres for ABC

Rash Report: 'Cougar Town' Roars, along with 'Modern Family', 'Eastwick'

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- ABC's "Cougar Town" and "Modern Family" may be contemporary comedies, but they used a traditional template of excellent reviews (for "Modern Family") and extensive promotion and press (for both) to launch last night to ratings 30% higher in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic than "Private Practice," the program in their timeslot last fall.

And "Cougar Town," reflecting viewers' curiosity of Courteney Cox's return to primetime, achieved a ratings rarity, as it built upon its "Modern Family" lead in 4.2/11 rating and share to deliver a 4.4/11, which tied it with CBS's "Criminal Minds" season premiere as the highest-rated show of the night.

'Cougar Town'
'Cougar Town' Credit: ABC
This led to a good night for ABC, which delivered a second place 3.5/10, which was just below the 3.6/10 for first place CBS.

And overall it was a good night for network TV, just as it's been a good fortnight, starting with the big bow for Jay Leno last week, Emmy demo increases for CBS on Sunday, a strong start for Fox's "House" on Monday and then Tuesday's record ratings for CBS's "NCIS," which led to great starts for new series "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "The Good Wife."

So Wednesday was just the latest indication that viewers haven't abandoned network TV, they've just rejected the summer schedules replete with repeats and reality. Indeed, after "Modern Family" and "Cougar Town," "Eastwick" premiered to a 3.0/8, which was 25% higher than "Dirty Sexy Money" in the timeslot last year.

The one slight dip for ABC was the 8% drop for the first fall Wednesday of "Dancing with the Stars," although the 3.3/10 was still enough to easily win the 8-9 p.m. hour. Viewers, however, haven't tired of dancing, but some may have picked up the tempo on Fox, whose upbeat "So You Think You Can Dance" (2.5/8) cut in to CBS, which often finishes higher than third in the timeslot, as it did with the season premieres of "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (2.2/7) and "Gary Unmarried" (2.3/7). Not that these sitcoms slipped, however, as "Christine" was up 5% and "Gary" declined a scant 4% from last year's first shows. And both basically tied with the program premiere of NBC's "Mercy" (2.3/7), which was slightly lower than last year's first drive for "Knight Rider."

Hurt worse was the switch of "Law and Order: SVU" to the 9 p.m. hour, as opposed to last year's regularly scheduled slot of Tuesdays at 10 p.m. "SVU" only grabbed a 2.5/7, which is a third less than last year's Tuesday season premiere. The earlier scheduling is due, of course, to the 10 p.m. "Jay Leno Show" (2.0/5), which was down 43% from last Wednesday's version. For the night, NBC finished fourth with a 2.3/6. The show that actually beat "Leno" and "Eastwick" was CBS's "CSI: NY" (4.0/11), which matched last fall's first episode rating.

Despite big opening numbers for "Modern Family" and "Cougar Town," they barely budged the ratings for "Glee" (3.0/8), which was only down a tenth of a ratings point from last week. Combined with lead-in "So You Think You Can Dance?" Fox finished third with a 2.8/8.

Rash gridsEnlarge
See how all the shows did in the ratings.

Of course, the promising premiere ratings only indicate show sampling. The coming weeks will show whether viewers liked what they watched, and how loyal they will be. Some shows, for instance, are already beginning to fade fast, even from smaller starts, like the CW's "The Beautiful Life," which fell 17% to a series low .5/1. And even the CW's top hit, "America's Next Top Model," slipped 7% to a season low 1.3/4, as the CW, drowned out by the din of its bigger broadcast brethren, only averaged a fifth place .9/3.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: Whether "Flash Forward" becomes ABC's next "Lost" remains to be seen, but the ambitious storytelling is a good first step in trying to create the network's next great drama.
Friday: Compared to catching a pass right before getting smacked by a linebacker, comedy is easy. Or so Michael Strahan makes it appear, although it would be even be better with an improved script for "Brothers," the new Fox sitcom in which he stars.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Perhaps no show got hit harder by the summer repeat pattern than "Grey's Anatomy," as the serialized drama seemed stale months later. How strong will its return be tonight, especially since its second hour will run up against CBS's "The Mentalist," which was switched from its Wednesday timeslot once it became a hit?

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.

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