While I love every station that carries our show, WNET , Channel 13 in New York, which begins airing Life (Part 2) on Sunday, Nov. 1, at 3PM ET, has a special place on my dial.
Until I started hosting LP2, the most fun I ever had on air was on a show called The Eleventh Hour. It was on Channel 13 in 1989 and 1990. Great staff, engaged guests, important topics, new information.
What a thrill it's been to have all that evoked again. Talk about a second act!
Twenty-one years ago, while I was covering the Seoul Olympics for NBC News, I got a call from WNET. They had decided to start a nightly public affairs broadcast. It would be an intensely local show and they wanted a host with a local voice, someone who sounded like he was born in the Bronx, grew up in Queens, went to college in Manhattan, and raised his kids in New Jersey. Me. (As my friend Howard Cosell so often told me, affectionately I hope, I had a face for radio and a voice for print.)
I was thrilled, and if it hadn't been for the drug scandals and Greg Louganis' bloody high dive, it would have been impossible to keep my mind on the 1988 Games.
But then I got back to New York, and earth. No way out of my long-term contract with NBC. I went to see Tim Russert, then an NBC vice-president, and the network's rising star. This was the job I always wanted, I told him. A chance to do smart journalism in a place that could support and appreciate it.
Tim just gave me that grin. Go for it, he said. How could NBC sue you for going to PBS? I've got your back. Just don't expect a goodbye party.
I've always been grateful to Tim, although it has occurred to me that maybe NBC wanted to get rid of me. And years later he told me he didn't actually have the authority to set me free. And there was a party.
I loved the Eleventh Hour, a nightly parade of engaged, passionate guests dealing with a city in crisis. There was a superb young staff. We staged mayoral debates, we had everyone on from Trump to Tutu, and we even broke a story or two.
But after two seasons, Channel 13 decided to become more of a national presence. We were eventually replaced by a wider-ranging nightly talk show hosted by a national-sounding voice, a guy with a flower-sounding name, something like Charlie Tulip.
I wonder what happened to him. Maybe we could have him on our show someday and find out how his Life (Part 2) panned out.
A few weeks ago, I visited the Minnesota birthplace of Life (Part 2) and received a happy lesson on Generation Gaps, which also happened to be the topic of the show airing on TPT, our producing station.
The round-table discussion on the show tended to emphasize the differences among Geezers, Boomers, Gen X'ers and Millennials, as a way, I hope, of promoting the need for sensitivity and understanding, particularly in the workplace. But it also could be taken as cautionary - different ages can equal clashing approaches and sensibilities.
Toward the end of the discussion, the panelists seemed to agree that people of different generations working together could be more than the sum of their parts if they contributed their special qualities, be it experience, energy, unbounded confidence, prudence, technological savvy, etc. in a group effort.
And then I got to see two snapshots of how that could work.
At TPT, in St. Paul, I finally got to meet, face-to-face, 28-year-old Nick Watts, the web producer who promotes and manages our online presence, from this wonderful site to Facebook and Twitter. We had been communicating entirely by e-mail. After the dire warnings of our Gap show guests, I wondered if Nick would be a stereotypical Millennial, self-centered, ethically-challenged, unable to look me in the eye when we met. Would he have any empathy for a codger host.
Turns out, Nick is a tall, handsome, genial musician (he plays bass in a band called "Mines") who looks you right in the eye and sees his enormous tech skills less as an end unto themselves than as tools to spread the word and the picture on the show. He immediately felt like a colleague. My only regret was that I couldn't get to his band's gig that night.
And that was because I was off to Minnetonka, outside Minneapolis, to a fund-raising party for the show at The Marsh, a lovely spa and wellness retreat. Our host was the owner, 75-year-old Ruth Stricker Dayton. I knew she was married to Bruce Dayton, 91, a leading businessman, art collector and philanthropist in the state. Would they be stereotypical Geezers, frozen in their ways, which could include a flinty old take on everything, including our show?
Turns out, Ruth, fit and beautiful, filled the room with her energy and enthusiasm. She has been dealing with lupus for 30 years, which has led her seeking nature into explorations of Eastern movement and medicine which inform the spa. She's a booster of the show, as is, and an obvious role model for Boomers.
This is no Yankelovich sampling, I admit, and maybe it's the air out there or two remarkable people, but I came away encouraged. We need all generations working on a project, even if not directly working together, to make something worthwhile happen.
After inventing the lightning rod, bifocals and the Franklin stove - this was why he was too busy to be on Life (Part 2) - Benjamin Franklin invented what would come to be known three centuries later as the "Cougar," a middle-aged woman who dates younger men, usually in their twenties.
In 1967, the quintessential Cougar (although the term had yet to be coined) was Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson, who seduced Dustin Hoffman, as "The Graduate." In this century, the actress Demi Moore was often portrayed as a fabulous feline who hunted down Ashton Kutcher, some 15 years younger. They married in 2005.
The movie and the marriage seem to be the main evidence that lots of Cougar and Cub coupling is going on. Women of a certain age and women's magazines of a certain sensibility spin this coupling into proof of a new female freedom and empowerment. While some shrink at calling women who date younger men "predators," they love the conceit that women control these relationships. They also see this as flipping the bird at all those middle-aged Old Lions who are chasing Kittens.
It's a nourishing fantasy for magazines, novels and TV shows, but I don't see that it does much for women in the long run, and it certainly is nothing new. In fact, the Cougar-Cub model was framed in Benjamin Franklin's famous 1745 letter to a young friend who was apparently afraid of commitment. He wants to be free to hang out with his friends, drink ale and watch sports on the colonial green. Franklin urges him to become a "complete Being" and get married.
"But if you will not take this Counsel," writes Franklin, "and persist in thinking that Commerce with the Sex is inevitable, then I repeat my former Advice that in your Amours you should prefer old Women to young ones."
Franklin outlines compelling reasons, including the superior conversation, sexual experience, amiability, and discretion of older women. And then his most famous reason: "They are so grateful!!"
If women want to think that Cougars are a 21st Century phenomenon growing out of their new social, financial and psychological muscle, that's cool with me. If women can feel younger, prettier and more powerful playing with a boy toy the way men play with girl dolls, what's wrong? Especially if the Cubs learn some moves for when they grow up and take Franklin's advice and become complete.
I only hope those Cougars aren't aping the Old Lions in their pathetic posturing, aren't fooling themselves into thinking that Cubs and Kittens are naïve pets, instead of savvy predators themselves. The Cubs I know are avoiding commitment and responsibility so they can hang out with their friends, drink ale and watch ESPN, and still have sex. Because they think, as Franklin wrote, "in the dark all cats are grey."