LOS ANGELES — ABC's "Modern Family" may not have to worry about a sophomore slump.
The single-camera sitcom, which last month took home the Emmy for best comedy, got off to a strong start Wednesday night, hitting highs in viewers and key demographics. Alas, the solid performance of "Modern Family" wasn't enough to help the shows that follow it; the second-year comedy "Cougar Town" premiered to disappointing numbers as even a special appearance by Jennifer Aniston wasn't enough to juice the ratings.
At 10 p.m., "The Whole Truth," a new legal drama starring Maura Tierney and Rob Morrow as a prosecutor and defense attorney, was thrown out of court. According to Nielsen, 12.6 million people tuned in for "Modern Family." Unfortunately, only 8.3 million stuck around for "Cougar Town" and just 4.9 million made it all the way through "The Whole Truth."
ABC could breathe a little sigh of relief that its other new Wednesday show, the 8:30 p.m. romantic comedy "Better With You," retained much of its lead-in from "The Middle," a family sitcom that is ABC's 8 p.m. show. About 8 million watched "Better With You," a 9 percent drop in viewers, which in television-land is not considered a disaster.
NBC's new spy show "Undercovers" from J.J. Abrams ("Lost") did not break out in its 8 p.m. debut. Launching shows at 8 p.m., the first hour of prime time, is daunting. Although "Undercovers" finished third with viewers (8.6 million), NBC can find encouragement in that the number of adults 18-49 went up slightly in the show's second half-hour, an audience bigger than "Mercy," a since-canceled hospital drama, got in that same slot in its premiere a year ago.
CBS was the big winner for the night, taking first place in both viewers and adults 18-49. Its only new show for the night, the 10 p.m. drama "The Defenders," starring Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell as shady Las Vegas lawyers, was the highest-rated new show for the night, with 12.1 million viewers.
But its appeal was to older viewers; the show did not do as well in the 18-49 demographic as "CSI: New York" in that time slot last year. With Jay Leno now back in late night and out of prime time, the 10 p.m. hour has become more competitive, which ABC learned the hard way with "The Whole Truth."
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