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"The Cougar" on TV Land: What's Wrong with This Picture?
April 14, 2009  | By David Bianculli
cougar.jpgPosted Wednesday:

Tonight at 10 ET, TV Land presents the premiere of a new reality dating show called The Cougar, starring a 40-year-old single mother of four who works her way through a gaggle of guys in their 20s, searching for true love.


On TV Land? As Seth Meyers might ask, "Really?!?"

If the question is "When, exactly, did TV Land fall out of love with television, and completely lose its mission statement and its way?" -- well, the answer is tonight, with The Cougar...


The Cougar is no more appropriate a show for TV Land than it would be for Animal Planet. There, at least, the title would fit in, even if the content would not.

TV Land was created to cherish and celebrate quality TV -- to keep video memories and legacies alive and have fun with how much fun TV can be. It wasn't created to add to the pile of instantly forgettable TV flotsam and jetsam.

Perhaps it's more irony than coincidence that at the very same time on satellite TV tonight, DirecTV 101 Network is presenting old and never-before-televised episodes of Smith, a 2006 TV series canceled prematurely by CBS.

DirecTV is the network that has helped keep NBC's Friday Night Lights alive with a co-production deal, and has begun to collect and present other underappreciated quality TV series from recent years: Wonderland, Eyes, and so on. Clearly, DirecTV is banking on quality as a lure for viewers, just as Trio used to.

Why is DirecTV going where TV Land no longer cares to tread?

It's astounding how little TV is doing to preserve and present its own glorious history. TV Land barely counts these days -- in prime time, it's pretty much Andy Griffith and Bill Cosby, period (great talents, and great shows, but not to the exclusion of all else) -- and Nick at Nite's idea of vintage quality TV is George Lopez. No kidding.

Well, if anyone out there in TV land -- the larger cable and satellite universe, not just that network -- wants to take TV seriously, here's a free suggestion:

Do it right.

Think along the lines of Masterpiece Theatre, with a well-informed host to present each program, or Inside the Actors Studio, with a guest who can shed light on the shows by providing personal memories and anecdotes.

Ideally, run the programs unedited and uninterrupted, the way Turner Classic Movies does with its films. And run them without speeding them up or chopping them up, as Nick at Nite, TBS and TV Land do ad infinitum, and ad nauseum. Or, if you must retain ads within as well as between offerings, do so in their original act-break placements, and expand time slots so you don't have to trim content from the programs.


Present the shows in imaginative ways. Showcase, for example, an entire evening's content from a given year, including a network newscast. Or showcase recently unearthed TV treasures -- for example, why hasn't the original, just-rediscovered Studio One production of 12 Angry Men, starring Robert Cummings, been shown yet on television, for the first time in half a century?

Where, oh where, are such hard-to-find TV series as The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, with Blair Brown and David Strathairn? Where are He & She and Ernie Kovacs? The Defenders and Hal Holbrook's The Senator?

From public TV, where are The Great American Dream Machine, American Short Story and American Playhouse?


Where's That Was the Week That Was? Or East Side, West Side, with George C. Scott? And where are the classic TV movies and miniseries, such as Duel, Trilogy of Terror and Danger UXB?

You, I;'m sure, haver your own wish lists, and I'd love to hear them.

But for now, regarding vintage television on TV as we now know it, where is the quality? Where is the taste? Where is the perspective?

Who cares? Who needs it?

Here comes The Cougar!



Ken said:

Used to love "Car 54 Where Are You" when I was a kid. Would love to watch some of those episodes again. (Me, too! -- David B.)

Comment posted on April 15, 2009 11:02 AM

Noelle said:

I would love to see Cagney and Lacey again. I was so excited when the first season with Sharon Gless as Cagney was put on DVD. It had great extras with interviews with the cast and creators of the series. But so far, no other seasons have been put on DVD and no one plays them on TV.

Comment posted on April 15, 2009 12:23 PM

Eileen said:

Where are "Holocaust", "The Winds of War", "Rich Man Poor Man", "Roots", et al. The 1970's had some of the most amazing made-for-tv movies; they were actually better than some of the theatrically-released films.

In NYC, TWC has a channel, "ION" which used to be "PAX" tv. I'm not an expert on the origins of this station, but I believe it was originally started to air "family friendly" shows, i.e., "Dr. Quinn", etc. I was overjoyed the other night to see they have back-to-back reruns of "Mash" (with the wonderful Harry Morgan as Col. Potter -- the best "Mash" cast). Now, my friends, that was quality tv.

Enough, already, with "Real Housewives", "Cougars", "Bad Girls", "Women in Prison"...

Comment posted on April 15, 2009 12:45 PM

maggie in NJ said:

David, it's time to start your own TV Worth Watching cable channel, now that your book is done and you have some time on your hands!

maggie in NJ (Dear, Dear Maggie -- The book's not QUITE done. But close. And as for starting my own cable channel, I'm afraid that would require either a venture capitalist or a TV-loving sugar mommy. I'm open to offers on both counts, but not overly optimistic. But you're right: TV Worth Watching WOULD be a damned good name for a channel... Or a TV program ON a channel. -- David B.)

Comment posted on April 15, 2009 12:53 PM

Sam Tomaino said:

GSN recently stopped showing its 3AM showings of "What's My Line?" and "To Tell the Truth". Sigh. WML?, especially was a time capsule of the Fifties & Sixties.

You mention a number of shows I'd like to see again. "Car 54" is one of my all-time favorites. I'd like to see "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" for another run , too.

"He and She" is one of those lost little gems that I haven't seen since its original broadcast.

I have seen a few odd episodes of "I'm Dickens, He's Fenster" and they hold up real well.

TVLand, like many specialty channels seems to get tired of showing classic stuff and just stops. The same happened to Nick at Nite. TVLand has been in trouble since it started showing theatrical movies (?). SoapNet is doing that, too.

Remember when SciFi showed old "Thriller" episodes? They, too, are one of those specialty channels that is abandoning its original base, not to mention its name.

Comment posted on April 15, 2009 1:27 PM

Marlark said:

Put me down for a retro block of 70s Saturday nights:

CBS: Mary Tyler Moore; Bob Newhart; Carol Burnett

NBC: Emergency!

ABC: Love Boat, Fantasy Island

If my parents were out at a fondue party at least we had Saturday night TV to share with our baby sitters.

"The Cougar?" Are you kidding me?

Comment posted on April 15, 2009 1:29 PM

Tom said:

I don't know how many markets American Life Network is in, but it caught my attention when I discovered it was playing "St. Elsewhere" episodes sequentially, And there are many other series one hasn't seen for a long time and won't see anywhere else.
The schedule is at this link:
http://www.americanlifetv.com/programs.php (Annoyingly, I don't get American Life Network on any of my cable or satellite systems -- which has annoyed me ever since they started showing, sigh, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E... Okay, so it's not always about quality. Sometimes, it's about coming of age at the right time. -- David B.)

Comment posted on April 15, 2009 8:03 PM

Miles said:

Hi Dave,

Once upon a time, when I wore a younger man's clothes, you were our (fantastic) Monday Morning Television Man on WBAL radio when I was an optimistic 21 year old producer. I love your blog and read it every day.

It's amazing how cable networks designed to narrow-cast and play to specific audiences get greedy after a few years and begin to abandon their core audience. Sci-Fi Channel running pro wrestling? TLC, Bravo and TV Land trotting out reality show after reality show? Ack!

I'm still on the young-ish side, so there are some 90's series that I would love to see pop up on cable. The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. was ahead of its time, although Fox was kind enough to give it a full season run leading into X-Files.

80's cult-comedy/cop spoof Sledge Hammer is out on DVD, but I think it would find a broader audience if re-introduced on cable.

And why does E! have the rights to SNL reruns, but only runs about one episode a week, usually from the last couple of years? That's a criminal disservice to the likes of Aykroyd, Belushi, Murphy, and even Hartman and Myers.

(Miles -- How cool to hear from you! Geez, my BAL days were, what, 25 years ago? Sigh. Anyway, stay in touch -- and you have GREAT taste in TV. Burn Notice and Boston Legal fans, especially, would love to see what Bruce Campbell and Christian Clemenson, respectively, did as co-stars of Brisco. -- David B.)

Comment posted on April 16, 2009 9:06 AM

jeffrey_bartoletti said:

...and cartoon network is planning more and more live action programs. (That about says it all, doesn't it? -- David B.)

Comment posted on April 16, 2009 1:41 PM

Denise said:

I would like to see the movie 'The Girl, the gold watch and Everything' with Pam Dawber.

The old shows like Emergency and Love Boat. I agree would be great.

Get rid of this "R" type movies and put something worth while on! Quit being like other stations. (Bianculli here: Can't believe anyone even remembers that old telemovie... It was an Operation Prime Time syndicated made-for-TV movie I remember reviewing, as a young TV critic, in what might have been the late 70s. With Robert Hays, too, I think. Wow. Good for you. I think. -- David B.)

Comment posted on May 5, 2009 10:47 PM
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