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Would Ned Stark Or Viserys Targaryen Win In A Game Of Penny Can?

By Seth Freilich (with a special appearance by TK) | Industry | April 19, 2011 |

By Seth Freilich (with a special appearance by TK) | Industry | April 19, 2011 |

Today’s one of those rare days where I stumbled upon back-to-back bits of good TV news, the kind of news that gives me just a smattering of hope that our country may not fall into an abyss of Top Models, Housewives, and Crime Scene Investigators.

First, HBO finally released the numbers for its highly-anticipated “Game of Thrones” debut — while folks expected the numbers yesterday, HBO told everyone to hold their horses because it wanted to account for both coasts and the repeat airings into the wee hours. And the numbers were surprisingly good, as a gross audience of 4.2 million viewers tuned in to watch a show that. I say that it’s surprising because, if we’re honest, no matter awesome the trailers were, we all know that a genre show like this generally has a limited reach, even when it’s an HBO show. But I guess Dustin wasn’t the only one pulled in by the show’s quality despite his genre misgivings. HBO was happy enough with the numbers that it’s already ordered up a second season, and as our resident “Game of Thrones” expert, TK, puts it:

The premiere broadcast drew in 2.2 million viewers, and when factoring in the repeat broadcasts, it almost doubled that. It’s not “Two And A Half Men” numbers (no Tyrion jokes, please. That was painful enough to type), but for cable shows it’s damn good. So good, in fact, that HBO has gone ahead and ordered a second batch of 10 episodes, which I can only assume will be based on “A Clash Of Kings” (though there’s no word on whether “Clash” will be the title of the next season). There’s no word on when they’ll start filming or when it’ll air, but it’s good to know that solid TV shows, particularly in this genre, can pay off. Of course, the bad news is that there’ll likely be a sizable gap between the two seasons. We’ve got 9 more episodes of “Game Of Thrones,” though. So let’s enjoy that, shall we?

TK’s review of “Winter is Coming” really covers everything that needs to be said about the show’s premiere (and I can’t wait to read his weekly recaps), but I’ll add one just one thing in response to his question about how effective the show was for folks who have never read the books. I’m one of those folks — while I’ve heard insanely good things about George R.R. Martin’s series for over a decade, I’ve just never gotten around to pick up one of the monster tomes (they’re in my ever-stacked-higher To Read pile). So I came into this show cold, with nothing more than a general background understanding of sword and sorcery genre from my days reading many a Forgotten Realms series. And I didn’t feel at a loss in the slightest. I thought the show did a great job, albeit with exposition that was sometimes a little clunky, of explaining who these characters were, what their relationships are, and starting to explore the different power dynamics at play. It has me really excited to see where things go, and while I still want to read Martin’s series, I think I’m going to keep them in the To Read pile until the series has run its course so I can remain entirely spoiler-free about where things are headed.

All of which is to say, if you didn’t watch “Game of Thrones” only because you’ve never read the books or aren’t sure if you can get into a medieval-ish genre show, hop on board — you’ll be just fine. It’s a smart and beautifully-shot show, and now we know that HBO is in it for at least a bit of the long haul (whether HBO will still be a network, or whether we’ll still even have “TV” by the time Martin finally finishes his series is a question we’ll leave for another day).

In news that’s entirely unrelated but for having to do with ratings, “Cougar Town” came back to us last night after a much-too-long hiatus and posted spectacular ratings, pulling in 8.5 million viewers, making it the third-highest broadcast the show has had, and the most-watched one since September ‘09. I’m sure this had everything to do with its “Dancing with the Stars” lead-in, and I’m pessimistic that the ratings will carry over to Wednesday night when the show returns to its regular time slot, but it gives me hope.

Are you watching this show? If you’re not, and it’s because you still think it’s about Monica Geller trolling for young men, know this — the show gave that terrible premise up a long time ago. Now, it’s about a bunch of friends who have too much time on their hands so they drink (a lot) and do stupid stuff like play Penny Can. It’s a really simple comedy, but it’s loaded with great characters and smart writing, and it’s just a comfortable show. There are better comedies on TV right now, but much as I love “Parks & Rec” and “Community,” I think “Cougar Town” is the one I’m most happy to watch each week. Anyway, I suspect the ratings will not hold on Wednesday, and who knows where ABC plants the show next season (it already has a Season Three renewal) but for now, I’m just happy that it’s back and at least has a chance to gain some new viewers after last night’s solid return.

…Did you know ABC has an online Penny Can game? It’s not as much fun as I imagine playing real Penny Can (with a vase-sized glass full of wine) would be, but it’s a great way to kill five minutes in the office. Penny can!

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Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.