The Ombudsman's Mailbag
By Michael Getler
May 15, 2006
Ranch for Sale, Needs Work
Welcome to another Ombudsman's Mailbag. This is one that I did not expect to be posting, but two weeks after that eight-part, eight-hour, four-night "Texas Ranch House — 1867" series ran from May 1 through May 4, large numbers of viewers are still writing to me about it.
Last week's column, which was headlined "Cowboys 49, Ranchers 0," contained dozens of letters from viewers with their initial reactions to the series. As the headline suggested, almost all were critical of the ranch-owner family — Bill and Lisa Cooke, their three teenage daughters and their maid, or "girl of all work" — and of the introduction of "modern day" views, especially by the ranch's "21st century women," into this effort to recreate life on a hardscrabble Texas ranch almost 140 years ago.
The mail this past week has been, if anything, even heavier than the initial round. That the outpouring of viewer commentary continues seems to testify that this series was a grabber and touched lots of nerves. It has generated more mail — hundreds of responses — than any other program that I have encountered during my first six months here, other than those that engaged advocacy groups and write-in campaigns.
The tone of the mail is still highly critical of the ranch family and the failure, in the mind of viewers, to remain true to the historical concept of the program. I agreed with that criticism but also said that I found the conflicts and personal relationships under very tough conditions to be very raw, real and compelling. So I think that more was going on here, and surfaced, in terms of contemporary relationships than perhaps what PBS intended or viewers expected. Whatever the case, and however one feels, it seems to have engaged, as well as enraged, a great many viewers.
Last week's column also ended with a response from PBS's William R. Grant, the New York-based executive at Thirteen/WNET in charge of all the "House" programs that have been part of this "experimental history" series. Some of the following letters are in response to his comments.
So, for those of you who can't seem to get enough of this series and the controversy surrounding it, what follows is another large sampling of letters.
Sorry, Mr. Grant
Seldom do I take the time to write about my feelings on a TV program and when I read the viewer's comments about Texas House, I expected it was now not necessary to write. Then, I read the producer's comments. Sorry! This program is a waste of money. We've enjoyed all the past House programs, but TX House stinks as much as the manure near the family house.
If you are going to produce another House, please vet the people you place in the house and before spending any more money on production, properly assess that the family has some understanding of the time period and is willing to attempt to live in the time period of the show. I understand that there will always be conflict in adjusting to the time and role, but TX House is absolutely ruined by nothing but conflict primarily caused by the Cookes and their total inability to adapt. I fault the producer for allowing this production to continue on with this family.
Okay, Cowboys 49, Ranchers 0, add one more for the cowboys. After reading all the critical remarks from viewers and a wishy-washy excuse from William Grant, I had to respond. Yes, Mr. Grant, your show proved that the 21st century family you chose for the Texas Ranch House (The Cookes) could not be successful at ranching. Even using the guidelines you talk about, the Cooke family was a poor choice. They were not the type of people who would attempt to start a ranch in 1867, or 2006, and would not succeed in any century. The women did not understand their responsibilities despite what century they were from or reliving. Mr. Cooke was not a good leader let alone a good businessman. Mrs. Cooke ran the ranch and she ran it down. The bit about the Indians buying cattle was a farce, as they would have just taken what they wanted. Yes, the cowboys were immature also, and spoiled. Getting up and starting their day long after sunrise. This is one series our family will not watch again, but hope for better ones in the future.
M. V., Spokane Valley, WA
Regarding the Texas Ranch House series, I have viewed the series and the letters on the series that you placed on your website. I am writing to express annoyance with William Grant's response to the letters of viewers. He accepted no responsibility for the faults with the series commonly expressed by the writers and seemed to imply that the fault lies with the viewers. Moreover, he seems to have not even understood the most common criticism of the writers. As I read these letters, and as I felt myself, the problem was not that the participants were not able to set aside their 21st century selves (and I think no one would expect that they could do this completely) but that they did not even try. The drama that is of educational interest in a show likes this lies in the difficulty of trying to make a historical transition, and no such drama can occur when the participants do not make the effort.
I just finished watching the last tape. I was shocked to hear Maura say, "we were asked to be our 21st century selves trying to exist in a 19th century space . . . " At that, I got a whole new perspective on why the women acted as they did. Based on this new knowledge, the criticism they received was unfounded. Any such criticism belongs on the shoulders of the producers and/or whoever told them NOT to adopt the manners and mores of 18th century women. Because of the criticism I read in your mailbag toward the women, those responsible owe each and every woman an apology.
I have been fascinated with all the productions by PBS and BBC where people of the 21st century are asked to survive in a different world from that which they know. I have never been sure of the underlying premise concerning how much of the 21st century the participants were allowed to take with them including knowledge and values and outlook. I appreciate the clarification provided that asserting 21st century values did not violate the underlying premise of this program.
This same tension between 21st century values and outlook has been present in each one of the "House" presentations. It was just more irritating to viewers in Ranch house because: a) they failed to understand that asserting 21st century values was not contrary to the spirit of the program, and b) the participants complained of were so irritating. Also, I am not sure the cowboy participants understood that Maura's desire to see if a woman could withstand the rigors of being a ranch hand was considered appropriate. Question: why didn't PBS cast Maura originally as a ranch hand if this is what she wanted? I would be fascinated to know, in this regard, whether or not there were Hispanic ranch foremen on Anglo ranches in 1867 in Texas. This was never an issue on this program.
I consider myself a liberated woman, grateful that it is no longer illegal for a woman to be a member of the State Bar of Texas as it would have been in 1867. However, there is a huge difference between being independent and being lazy!!!! Not washing dishes for eight days has nothing to do with being a liberated woman. Me, I would have been working with Sean to provide nutritious meals to the ranch hands, as liberated as I consider myself.
Just as in the 21st century, employee loyalty was earned in 1867, and Mr. Cooke's failure to understand that fundamental concept was the deciding blow to the sustainability of the Texas ranch house. What was not made clear in the program was that Mr. Cooke's treatment of the ranch hands would have been known throughout that area of Texas. The next year, he would have only had the dregs of the labor market trying to get jobs on the ranch.
I do want to thank you, many times over, for the fascinating, informative hours of pleasure which you have given me through these programs.
Karen Beverly, Duncanville, TX
Did Mr. Grant read all of those comments from viewers about Texas Ranch House? Could all of us misunderstand so thoroughly what the premise and purpose of these great reality-type shows are? Mr. Grant seems to think so. It looked like he was whining a bit, just as most of the participants of the show were doing most of the time. Must have been contagious.
Robert Warner, Keeseville, NY
Regarding "Texas Ranch House" — I almost fell out of my chair at the column heading: "Cowboys 49, Ranchers 0."
I couldn't agree more! First, I was "dumbstruck" after watching the entire series, then having Mr. Cooke, "blow everything" — with his petty, self-serving, mean-spirited "settlements" with the ranch hands! Further, the "Historical Report" was terrific — and told it like it was — in that the Cookes BLEW IT! Finally, hats off to PBS, who I imagine were as dumbstruck as the rest of us, at this last hour "back-stabbing" by the Cookes — and the on-site crew probably said some four-letter words about having their entire production ruined! However, PBS could have EASILY yelled "CUT!" And forced ALL CONCERNED TO REEANACT THE ENDING, MAKING IT ALL "KISSY-POO" — and everyone riding off into the sunset happy as larks! Great job!
P.S. This production was filmed in our "back door" so to speak, and we recognized the entire areas shown as well as some of the local people — e.g. Sheriff Ronnie Dodson, Dr. Warnock, et. als.
Larry Mitchell, Alpine, TX
Even PBS's William Grant doesn't "get it"!
Ed Kertz, Ballwin, MO
Napkins for the Indians?
My wife and I just completed watching the "Texas Ranch House" series and, as many other viewers, found it to be a low point in this historical series. This ranch owner and his family did not stay "in character" with respect to the time period and the antics and excuses continuously made by members of the family became difficult to stomach. Come on — setting a table with china and cloth napkins for the Indians! Obviously these characters did not do their homework. It is also a bit of a concern that the producer did not see the issues brought by many of the viewers. Every other period series has been more accurate and watchable than this one!
Here is what I wrote to customer feedback two days ago at KVIE, concerning the Ranch House program — a failure, in my opinion. And as to William Grant's "proudness" of the show, if there were more of 1867 in the show, and less 2005/6, I think he could have been more proud.
I'm so glad the Texas Ranch House thing is over . . . at least, I hope it's over! I'm a devoted KVIE fan, have been for years. But this one was hard to watch. In fact, I couldn't really watch it. Even the "trailers" (or whatever you call them) didn't look very interesting. Then, every time I turned it on (I tried to watch it, I really did), the program was so obnoxious, and so negative, and so whiney, I couldn't watch more than 5 minutes at a time. The ranch owner and boss both were so obnoxious, unappealing, negative, and irritating. And some of the participants were so idiotic. Did they know it was supposed to be 1867? Obviously, these real life shows are getting more popular, and in fact, I watched your two previous ones. The one about Edwardian England, and the homesteaders in Canada . . . both were great shows. But this one stunk.
The thing is . . . this kind of show partly is trying to show what life was like in the West in the late 1800s, except that the people recruited to be in it have absolutely no skills or "drive" to do what people would have done back then — skills people would have already had for the most part. Like riding horses, or handling animals, or working in the heat, or taking orders from a boss, or having the desire to succeed (i.e., survive). And granted, a lot of "greenhorns" just left the East to come out West . . . and didn't know how to do all those things either, so they had to learn too.
But having a bunch of modern guys sleep in until 9 a.m. is just so contrived . . . it's not even realistic at all. All these shows do is to set up "modern-day" conflicts between the participants, and then we get to watch them hash it out. I don't find that very entertaining, UNLESS there is a very interesting historical component to it (as in the Edwardian England one) and people that aren't too obnoxious.
That's my feedback. But my question is: why did you give it a prime time program slot four nights in a row???????? I don't get it. Did you expect it to be wildly popular? (And if it was . . . I'll be quiet . . . I promise.). Thanks for listening (and answering that one question).
P.S. My father and grandfather were cattle ranchers from Idaho . . . and my other grandfather was a farmer from Scotland. All my ancestors walked across the plains to come out West, and helped settle the West. It's possible I didn't enjoy the "Ranch House" show as much as some genetically-encoded city folks might have . . . do you think?
As for Those Cowboys . . .
I watched the better part of 7 episodes of Texas Ranch House last week. As an historian I have had concerns in the past with the way that people have filled their roles on these shows. Particularly distressing to me is the blatant disregard for standards of dress of the day — neither the family nor the cowboys were regularly fully clothed by the standards of 1867. While much of the vitriol has focused on the Cooke family, no one seems to recognize that the cowboys hardly held to standards for manners or decorum for the day. Watching them enjoy the Cooke girls' difficulties with the goats was like watching grade school boys enjoying the torment of girls in their class.
I had a number of problems with the way people on the show dealt with their difficulties, but after hearing commentary from one of the consultants who worked with the participants I am completely disgusted with the PBS producers who created Survivor Texas rather than a show with real meaning. Comments posted here and in other forums prove not only that misogyny is alive and well in America, but that some of those involved with producing this show have no concern for accuracy in programming. Based on this consultant's comments it would seem that the producers were more than willing to participate in character assassination so long as it benefited the drama of their show. I imagine that the Cooke family is horrified at the way they were portrayed by the editors and truly regret their participation in this project. It has certainly convinced me that you really cannot believe what you see on television.
A. Dealy, Rochester, NY
Out of all your great series this program was a shame. It was silly and frustrating. Did Mrs. Cooke think she was going to host a "Thanksgiving" — she is tacky and inconsiderate. Her daughters were lazy and not invested in the project. Mr. Cooke . . . his inability to stand up to his wife is its own punishment. Maura made this project stupid. Your producers should have stepped in and dismissed Maura from the show. Her vanity had no place on the range. She is not a hero for women rights like she wants to think . . . but a joke. If she didn't care enough about the project to keep in time period frame of mind she should have quit . . . or you COULD HAVE FIRED HER!!! Which is what I would have done. The cowboys couldn't use a post hole digger cause it was not period correct but the maid can totally ignore her role? All she was trying to prove was she was better than women who lived in that time.
B. Baxter, Killeen, TX
Texas Ranch house was a huge disappointment. It seems like the minimum requirements for the show should be that the participants play the part.
The daughters ran around not properly dressed mocking the clothing style. The "woman of all work" was unwilling to even consider playing her part. She is not a "hero" to women because she pushed herself into a "cowboy" position. Women have come a long way and to suggest that if women had just stood up and demanded to be equal in that time period we could have easily been one of the guys . . . Maura's actions were disgraceful. As a feminist I am disgusted. She had a chance to show what our female ancestors endured . . . but her own selfish vanity wouldn't let her . . . your producers should have stepped in and fired her . . . I expected more from PBS.
K. Schradder, San Antonio, TX
Pants and Skirt Reversals
You seem to be in denial, as were the Cooke clan, as to the failure of this show. The Cookes should not have been cast in these roles. They must have really pulled the wool over your people's eyes when they were applying for their parts. I was extremely irritated by Mrs. Cooke's meddling in all affairs of the ranch. It was all about her, as it seemed to be with Maura as well. Mr. Cooke was a lazy idiot. He was more interested in HIS bottom line than being a good all around manager of people and resources. His wife wore the pants and he wore her skirt. I was disgusted by their behavior on the series and in their attitude of denial in their home, reading the evaluation. Mrs. Cooke didn't like the scathing review and didn't want to continue reading it . . . TRUTH HURTS! Mr. Cooke talked about being honorable on the ranch. Where's the honor in screwing your help to pad your profit margin? The way he tried to make Jared pay for his horse after they shook on a previous deal as gentlemen really enraged me. How dare he try to cover his butt when he was the one duped by the Comanches on the trade, not Jarred . . . then, his wife telling him she's so proud of him . . . what a witch! I hope in the future you stringently screen people for these projects so that the participants are there for the integrity of the show and not playing to their own agendas.
I enjoyed the series and found no fault with how PBS produced the programs. The "problems" were generated by the Cooke family, and this was accurately and objectively recognized and detailed by the historical evaluators. An informative and entertaining program.
I was a little disappointed when the Comanches didn't slaughter the Cooke family. I was in Houston last week and watched the entire series over four nights with my 89-year-old Texan mother, my siblings, and my Norwegian "sister" of 43 years. I can't remember any time yelling back at the television as much as we did during "Ranch House." I enjoyed the show, but at the same time I think PBS and the participants failed in the substance of living in 1867.
John Ringland, Hillsborough, NC
In my opinion, one of the problems with ALL the historical re-enactment series has been the resistance of so many of the participants to committing to living their role as much as possible. In may be far more difficult for a 21st century person to fit into the skin of a servant in a Regency household, or a woman on the Texas frontier, among others than it was for the originals of these roles. But while I have no problem with us seeing the struggle to fit into an alien context, the participants should not so easily reject or ignore the restrictions of their role. In the case of the "Texas Ranch House" these problems were especially egregious.
Jerry Aurand, Warren, OH
I was very upset about "Texas Ranch" miniseries. I could not stand the rancher's wife policies. Was she playing the part of a 19th century or 21st century woman? Making a pizza, give me a break.
James Chaperlo, Saint Charles, MO
Clueless About Ranchers
I am a woman and a cattle rancher in Montana. My husband & I just finished watching TX Ranch House. We had to pre-record it because we are very busy calving right now. I grew up in a small town & the city. My husband has lived his whole life on the ranch. Mr. Cooke could not make a ranch work in 1867 or now. He couldn't make a move without his wife and didn't know the meaning of leadership that was not from behind a desk. Failure starts at the top. The women put out the least effort to live in the times. Their lazing around and not doing anything for 8 days was an embarrassment to women of the past and present.
Ranching is a completely different world onto itself, even today. People don't have a clue to what we do, how we do it, or why we do it! We work 7 days a week and always more than 8 hours a day. I would challenge anyone to come and do what we do. I hope that you will do this again but find a better family to run the ranch and try to stick to the 1867 theme more closely.
PBS is my primary entertainment. I have really enjoyed the "period" shows in the past, but . . . this Texas Ranch show does not live up to the standards of those productions. It smacks of the total crap filled reality shows on network TV. Idiotic female drama can be seen on soaps — Mrs. Cooke is a jerk!
MT Sidoli, Salisbury, NC
I truly was disgusted with the Cookes. He — for allowing his wife to tell him what to do, which would have never happened in 1867 — and her for all her meddling. I doubt he could have run the place anyway, but she certainly didn't help things. I was happy tho' when "tall and lanky" took his horse anyway, and sure pleased that all the men left with him. That was a frustrating show, but I still watched it all.
Frank Tatum, Winston Salem, NC
I looked forward to each installment of "TX Ranch House," but with the hopes that the Cookes and the supposed "maid of all work" would actually get with the program. How disappointing. I'd love to watch a TX ranch house series where the participants are actually trying to be true to the time period.
S. W., Rockwall, TX
I, too, was disappointed in Texas Ranch House, for all of the reasons that already have been stated. I think you should have stopped the project when you saw how bad it was going and started over. You had a reserve of applications. I know it would have screwed up the schedule, but better putting it on a year later, than putting on what you did.
"Survivor" for Viewers Like You
Why is PBS pandering to the masses by showing programs a la Texas Ranch House that are nothing more than upscale versions of the insipid and fatuous survivor shows? If the network were parodying this type of nonsense as a reflection of our times, then I could see the point. Alas, has PBS gone south and become as irrelevant as its commercial counterparts?
Grant Smithson, Charlotte, NC
This is an addition to my previous email about "Texas Ranch House." I wrote my previous opinion of the show before the final episodes aired. I'd just like to add that I, too, thought that the final evaluation was dead on. It almost made the pain of watching better. And one last thought. If you don't wash dishes for 8 days and loll around in period underwear like working women (not of the ranching variety if you understand my meaning) you can pretty much expect flies. As far as manure goes, it doesn't bite and I'm sure there were implements on the ranch for the little darlings to do a little outside work with. Shoveling a little poop never hurt anyone. Thanks again for listening.
Beth Long, Toccoa, GA
My wife and I have watched every historical reenactment show PBS has produced and have enjoyed all but Texas Ranch House. For the money spent, you could have done a better job finding participants. The Cooke family in general was embarrassing to watch. It struck us that they were classist and selfish. Mrs. Cooke could have embraced the role of rancher's wife and done everything in her power to see that the hands were well fed and taken care of. Instead she selfishly kept the garden for her family, even to the point of letting vegetables rot. It seemed that she and her daughters did not work very hard. Would a real rancher's wife leave dishes dirty for 8 days? Why would you not do something about the fly problem? How could you live like that? What did the girls do? In the Montana series, everyone including the children worked very hard. It seems these girls did very little. Should they have been making soap, candles etc. preparing for the winter months?
Mr. Cooke never acted like a rancher. Even today, small ranchers are out working on the ranch, checking the stock, pastures, water, etc. not doing their wife's bidding. We were offended by the fact that Mr. Cooke couldn't seem to keep his word, not something that would keep hands on a ranch even today. Our hearts go out to the ranch hands for tolerating the Cooke family and their lack of respect for the work they did. In general the fact that the women would not set aside their 21st century ideas and really live in 1867 distracted from the show. Can PBS not do a better job screening the applicants? We wanted to see life on Texas Ranch in 1867 not Desperate Ranch Wife.
Glenn & Susan Creed, San Antonio, TX
Politics Is Spotted
I expect better of PBS! The recent offering in the "House" series, "Texas Ranch House" was extremely disappointing. The production company started with a great premise and gave you something better suited to Fox "reality" TV. Some conflict can be engaging, but all conflict all the time distracts from the educational experience. The political agenda of the series producers was a little too heavy handed. I would like to see PBS & WNET apply some semblance of journalistic ethics to future history-based programming. Think fair, accurate and balanced portrayal of the participant's experience. It would be interesting to see how other editors would piece together the raw footage from the filming at the Texas ranch. You should consider offering the opportunity to create better, more educational programs from all the hard work that went into this disappointing series.
Kirk Bunke, St. Charles, IL
You have had some wonderful shows going back in time and I have enjoyed most of them. But, the Texas Ranch House was the worst. It seems that the more "wealthy" people that are chosen cannot accept their role and do not like defeat, as in the Cooke family. The Cooke's came across as having "family values," but didn't seem to take it with them to 1867. I didn't see a lot of compassion coming from them. I, like many others, found myself getting upset with the family and could not enjoy the show. For future shows it would be better if there was more evaluation of the people you choose.
S. Williams, Sandy, UT
I am commenting on your program Texas Ranch House. I found the show interesting and very watchable.
I am the great-granddaughter of homesteaders and own a ranch myself. It was a pity the Cooke women did not understand how essential women were to pioneer families. Without them there were no families. They nursed the sick, both animal and human. They made sure everyone was fed and clothed. They kept yards, homes gardens, and chicken houses as clean and productive as possible. I remember my grandmother and mother cooking and serving meals to hired men during summer harvest season. This was done well in to the 1960s until more machines meant fewer hands. Therefore the distain that Lisa Cooke showed the hands was very false to me.
Maybe it is just my soft spot for cowboys but I thought Robby was a man. I would have liked to have seen Cooke rope a running steer. Cooke should have given him the cowpony and a raise. At the end of the day it only matters how much work was done. The girls did little. Lisa Cooke not much more, and I never did figure out what Maura was supposed to be doing. Also I think wrangling the horses was a good use of her skills. She was a good enough rider but she had no knowledge of working cattle. At least the hands had some learning in that area. From my own experiences herding cattle I can tell you it is mostly boring, possibly dangerous and well depicted in your production.
The young fellow that did the cooking was quite a treat also. There is so much more I could say. Ranch life was tough but there was a need for their product and hard working people (with a bit of luck) were successful. Not too much different from the TV business I'll bet. Thanks for working at your jobs so well.
Ladies, Man Your Brooms
I would like to know how participants are actually chosen for the living history programs such as Texas Ranch House. Do you deliberately choose people who have little knowledge and little interest in gaining knowledge about the period in which they are to live? The ranch by Texas standards is the equivalent of the family farm in the East, not the ante-bellum plantation supported by the backs of slave labor. And on family farms, everybody worked. There was no leisured class who could hide in the parlor seeking refuge from the flies. There was no historical reason that the Cooke women and Maura could not have moved the manure from near the front door except for their innate slatternly behavior. This behavior is also apparent in the dirty dishes and the serving bowls of rotting food left after the fandango. No woman of whatever century would risk the health and well being of her family by not attending to basic sanitary requirements. It verged on the sinful that the lovely garden full of wonderful produce which not only could have fed the Cooke family but could have been shared with the cowboys, was allowed to become overgrown and left filled with over-mature and rotting produce. And then for one of the Cooke daughters to remark that they didn't know that there was anything they could eat in that garden was nauseating.
What a horrid family! Surely when you choose the participants you could make more judicious choices. Find someone who is willing to do a bit of research into the lives of people in the period. There will still be lots of interesting things to be shown.
Rebecca B. Kaufman, Gastonia, NC
I rather enjoyed Texas Ranch House as I have all the other historical re-creations you have done, differing with some of your other viewers in that I see the tensions between modern life and the good old days very much the reason I watch something like this. In this case, it wasn't the period inappropriateness of the Cooke women's modern femininity-no doubt there have always been strong minded women who challenged and rebelled against the roles they were confined to. It was more that the Cookes, as a family and as individuals, were exceedingly unappealing people. Mr. Cooke seemed almost a stereotype of the spineless corporate lickspittle, toadying up to those (like his wife) he saw as powerful, and bullying anyone else, his daughters included. The women were almost ciphers. Other than being generally surly and lazy, they seemed to have virtually no curiosity-about history, about the other people involved in the project, about the land around them.
I seem to recall a mention early on that in real life the Cookes home schooled their children. If I am right, it might explain much. It seems that many who choose home schooling, whether for religious or personal reasons, often do so out of a profound sense of distrust about society in general, a fear of the "others" infecting their lives and family structure. Though the ranch hands could certainly act like annoying frat boys at times, the Cooke family, from day one, treated them with such profound disrespect and distrust that it makes their own juvenile retaliatory actions understandable.
The view we got of people like Robby and Jared were of flawed but exceedingly hardworking, conscientious individuals who truly bonded with one another. The Cookes seemed to view the hands as not only beneath their station in life, but as a dark, scheming, malignant cabal. One would think that with the presence of a number of young men and women in an isolated situation there would be some level of flirting and attraction going on, but the Cookes saw the ranch hands as dangerous aliens — Mr. Cooke often referred to his need to "protect" his wife and children from them. No wonder they didn't get asked to dance!!
Daniel Hostetler, Tucson, AZ
You be more PBS! The Texas Ranch House series was so much like regular "reality shows" on the other networks it was hardly being PBS. Totally contrived, predictable, designed for "drama." You must choose the cast most likely to get into conflict, then make sure it takes up most of the episode. PBS viewers want historical interest not 2006 petty clashes among the players. The first one, 1900 House, was the only one that was more history, less personality. Since then it's been all down hill. Please make the next more up to PBS standards, or leave the drama to commercial networks. Thanks for listening.
J. McGillicuddy, Sarasota, FL
The Birth of Kosher Franks
I watched the entire series of "Texas Ranch House." I enjoyed it, but there were serious mistakes or problems. Did the ranch owners (Mr. Cooke and family) ever do research on the time period (1867) and subject matter, ranching? I question the period clothing of Mrs. Cooke and her daily activities. Even with some domestic help in this situation the women of the ranch would have been doing more than what Mrs. Cooke and her daughters did in this series even if the heat and flies were a major problem. The interaction of the family unit was too 21st century.
The cattle buyer for the military, I believe would never have used the term "kosher" in his negotiation of the sale to the owner of the cattle. While that word can mean fair, correct, or legitimate, this is too much a late 20th century term in language usage. Please do more of these types of program series, but screen the people better.
David Tomlin, Mason City, IL
While I fully understood the concept of modern day people trying to live the life of 1867 Ranchers/Ranch Hands in your series Texas Ranch House, I have to agree with some of the points made in response to your program. As viewers, we do expect to see the difficulties of such a transition for your participants. That's what gives the history lesson so much impact. But the Cooke family was sooooo unwilling to participate in the authenticity of the project on most levels that it was more distracting and annoying than interesting. It would have helped if Mrs. Cooke had discussed how, as a "21st century woman" with her current ideas and experience, was having a really hard time living the life of a 19th century ranch wife. But it was she, her husband, their family and Maura, who seemed the most clueless as to the concept of the program. It seemed to us, that they were trying to be 21st century people living in a time warp.
Jodie Gebhard, Killingworth, CT
I loved Texas Ranch House — hated the Cooke Family. Do they know they are supposed to "pretend" to make a go of it? What happened with the Mrs? What a total failure and disappointment! What a great opportunity to experience history! Oh my gosh! Please do a better job — next time. Choose a family that has a husband — that wears the pants and is competent to make decisions. A wife who is confident in herself as a person — not a whiney, liberal feminist who feels personally challenged all the time! Yikes! Please continue to do a great job a bringing historical shows — my family really enjoyed most of it — just not the Cookes! Thanks!
Beth Ann Marlowe, Auburn, IN
Why in the world would your producers allow whiny, overbearing, pushy women to ruin what was a great idea? When they made their ridiculous feminist statements, they should have been kicked out immediately. They not only ruined your original idea, but turned your program into a forum for their own psycho-feministic babble. If you're doing a program on 1867 and the participants refuse to live in that era, why would you continue to spend money on them, simply so they can ruin the whole premise? Unbelievable! Mr. Cooke was not the only one with "no balls."
I have to tell you how much I enjoyed the "theory" of a Texas ranch house of the 1800s. I know right off that life is not for me. I did become very frustrated at the attitudes of the Cooke family and even the ranch hands, for different reasons. Mrs. Cooke came in with the belief that the blood that was coursing through her veins included that of an ancestor that had lived this very experience as a widow with 7 children and that this "blood" should be enough to get her through this experience. Wrong! She was, as many have already stated, manipulative and spoiled by the 21st century. However, in her defense, she stated that they had been instructed by PBS producers to bring the 21st century female to the 1860s and, if that is true, then Mrs. Cooke and the other ladies were set up to fail as well as failing Mr. Cooke and the entire ranch. The 19th and the 21st centuries are worlds apart even though it's only been 140 years. In that case, this was a disaster waiting to happen, a "setup" to make good TV as other reality shows with all its manipulations. Those of us who watch and appreciate PBS deserve better.
Mr. Cooke is definitely a whipped husband. His management skills are not keeping up with those of the best Fortune 500 companies, if we are to go by what we saw when he met with his employees. It seemed he was feeling a little big for his britches when he disrespected his workers on payday by trying to rip them off during negotiations for their horses. That's not how you reward honest labor. They worked hard to get the steers to market. And his dealing with Jared was down right dirty. It wasn't Jared's fault the Comanches held him for ransom and then sneakily shorted Mr. Cooke a horse. Jared was on the clock. He was on Mr. Cooke's time and should have been compensated for spending the night with the Comanches and not done the way he was by Mr. Cooke. But, Mr. Cooke apparently doesn't do well on his own and his top advisor (Mrs. Cooke) had a hidden agenda as well as ulterior motives which caused a lot of friction for everyone. Maybe the ladies should have spent more time doing women's work, keeping home and hearth clean, than getting involved with business traditionally left to the men. Apparently someone (Mrs. Cooke?) has a control issue.
The young men responded to how they were treated, which was poorly as of the beginning. Robby Cabezuela, the ranch foreman, was totally disrespected by the Cookes even though he was the one who kept the ranch going as he had more knowledge and experience, but they never acknowledged that probably due to their own arrogance.
Maura started with the attitude, "I am woman, what are you going to do about that?" She apparently has a chip on her shoulder but that is more than likely due to her youth and inexperience of life. Hopefully, she will settle down. My advice to her is not to allow other people's attitudes to affect who you are. Their attitudes are their problems. I ended up screaming at the TV but found myself fascinated by the show and watch reruns of the episodes, several times, and screamed some more. I am looking forward to more of these "reality" shows, a la PBS. Thank you for great TV.
Louise Perez, Jacksonville, FL
I can't understand why people who cannot or will not give up their 21st century ideas would be chosen to be on these programs. The Cookes were horrible people. Mr. Cooke was totally ineffective and couldn't make a decision without consulting with his wife. I am amazed that he can hold down any job, and Mrs. Cooke was an insecure woman who felt the need to interject herself into matters that did not concern her. The daughters were lazy and useless. All the problems, ranch hands, lack of food, fly infestation, and everything else was caused by the Cookes.
I am currently watching Texas Ranch House. I am in the 5th hour. My enjoyment of this program is being marred by a slight the size of, well, 30 million African-Americans. During the program, the narrator stated fully 1/4 of all cowboys were black. Yet we see one 15 minute(?) INSERT (as they did in the 1920-50s in motion pix with black stars) of a black rodeo bronc buster. The narrator starts every segment with 15 men and women . . . Shouldn't at least ONE of the 10 cowboys be black? That would be 10% rather than the actual 25% cowboy representation of blacks in the 1800s, but it would have been better than the INSERTED bronc buster. 15 minutes of an 8 hour show is even less true representation. 1/4 were black? 2 HOURS should have been representative of the black cowboy presence. I would not have been moved to write except that Indians just came into the pix. So, we have white families, white cowboys and Indians — with 4 Buffalo soldiers making another 15 (minute) appearance, although this time a factual, integral part of the story. But where are the black cowboys? You have a "girl of all work" turning into a cowgirl, even though the narrator freely admits such a thing was so rare, she would have been an anomaly. But you have no problem omitting the contributions of the black 25% of cowboys? As a woman I feel for the women in this film. Feeling for the women means I feel the mean-spirited SEXISM they are enduring. With the deliberate (you wouldn't have put in the bronc buster if it were not deliberate) omission of black cowboys, I also get to feel the RACISM of them being wiped out from THIS pseudo-historical re-creation (pseudo — no black cowboys, it's false). If your target audience is AMERICANS, please re-create using modern day duplicates of historical figures. If your target audience is white Americans, please let us know at the beginning of the series so that I not watch and spare myself the double whammy feelings of rage at Sexism and Racism that I now feel.
The Difference Between Bulls and Steers
I applied to be a part of the "Texas Ranch House" and was very disappointed when I was not chosen. I watched every minute of the show and almost cried because I wanted to be there so badly. By the third part I began to change my mind. Mrs. Cooke was so out of place in her actions and attitude that she took all the fun out of the whole show. When the people were given instruction on the theme of the story, the producers forgot one important part. They didn't give Mr. Cooke any "balls." Robby said it very well when he noted the difference between bulls and steers. I'll look forward to the next series but I hope the producers are more careful in their selections.
Nelda Wagner, El Campo, TX
I usually enjoy these series, all of the previous ones had a real historical authenticity. This one failed & it was really hard to understand why. Then I understood it was a disconnect w/ the family. They're a good family with themselves. They didn't connect w/ their employees. In previous series this didn't matter as much, but living as isolated as they were it painted a very unflattering picture of early 1800s life. I watched the whole series & I believe the historians who evaluated the series were absolutely correct in their final assessment. Keep up the good work. We love PBS here in Dayton, OH.
Ivory W., Dayton, OH
Your Texas Ranch House and the other shows in the series, for the most part, are lacking in believability. Regardless of what Michael says, we watch these shows to see how these people can stand up to "the way things were back then." The fact that they can't follow the simple rules says a lot.
At least the cowboys wanted to do things they way they should have been done. It was the owners fault for not keeping them busy and it was the owners fault for not making his wife stick to the way of life. She should not have been involved the way she was. She should have been tending the house and gardens. Her daughters and the girl worker should have been working to that end. They weren't going to be there long enough to "make it their home." I'm a lousy housekeeper but even I would have done a better job than they did.
So far the only one I have liked is the 1940s House. No matter what you threw at them, they followed the rules. They didn't try to cheat or use 2000 sensibilities and morals to change the experience. They complained, but it was because they WERE living the experience. 1910 House was similarly good, but things happened that shouldn't have there as well. The downstairs people got out of hand, thinking they had rights that they didn't have. They, too, didn't want to follow the rules and we saw what happened to them.
The Colonial House was just as bad as Texas Ranch because no one followed the rules. Moral codes weren't followed. There was no continuity. Everyone did pretty much whatever they wanted to instead of working as a group. So shame on you. If you want to make another GOOD show, with less letters of complaint, then try sticking with the rules. We want to see people ACTUALLY LIVING AS THEY LIVED BACK THEN, not trying to rewrite history. It's more educational when the adults set the example for the children, instead of acting like children themselves.
It may be a little late for comments but did truly enjoy Texas Ranch House. Like others I did not appreciate the attitudes expressed by Mrs. Cooke & Ms. (Maura) Finklestein. I do believe that even in contemporary society they have a problem. Mrs. Cooke's weak explanation that it was just the editing was "barf." How about considering an on air discussion re: these programs at end of presentation using both the public & students of the period? In meantime do some more of these!
Phyllis Koch, Portland, OR
I sent an e-mail the other day stating some things I did not like about the Texas Ranch House series.
I did watch the whole series, and am glad I did. I really like the west even though I live in the Midwest. I realize this was a program where 21st century people were playing the part of a 1867 person. It would be difficult to take the present time period and speech/way of thinking out of oneself, I think unless you were very familiar with living history which is used at many historic sites, state parks and museums.
David Tomlin, Mason City, IL
I was interested in Texas Ranch House, because my family lived much of that type of life in 1867. I feel that it is difficult for 21st century women to go back and live as women of that time did. I can tell you that the women of that time worked as hard as any of the men, and were the backbone of the ranch, if the ranch was to succeed. I felt that none of the participants' behavior reflected how they would have behaved in 1867.
The ranch hands and first cook were immature and self-centered, and very disrespectful, and the Cooke family may have been like some of the people who tried and failed at ranching. They were not hard working, or caring about their hands. They were just out of their depth. This certainly happened in 1867, and many people lost everything and went back East or elsewhere. Not everyone as successful. Perhaps we should view this experiment as an example of people who were unprepared and not right for this type of life. It was hard to watch the whole lot of them act so poorly.
My favorite parts of the entire program were the Indians, and the Buffalo soldiers. The Indians weren't historically correct, but "boy, were they cool." The Buffalo soldiers behaved in a way that would have made the soldiers in 1867 proud. Thank you for offering these programs, and please continue to do so.
Janice Wells, Statesville, NC
Everyone else is just plain trying to be too nice. The show was good, the Cookes were not. It would take a world class wimp to put up with that 'witch' in 2006, let alone 1867. My wife and I have owned several businesses together. The way she acted would not, and did not work, then or now.
Kevin V., Tucson, AZ
I have to agree with most of the comments I have read. Mrs. Cooke was a controlling woman and her husband was totally whipped. I can't imagine how he does his real job without her by his side. As for the roles they played, it was very disappointing that they were unable to actually get into the 1860s. The cowboys did a great job. Don't Mr. and Mrs. Cooke know that if you are constantly whining about who is boss and who has authority, that it isn't you? A true authority figure can command without all the posturing they had to do.
Jean Clark, Pinellas Park, FL
Your explanations are all well and good, Mr. Getler, but when you choose a family such as the Cookes to be the centerpiece of a series, their "unlikability quotient" dooms the program to failure right out of the box. After we watched the first hour, I told my husband I didn't think I could stand to watch any more of it because of Mrs. Cooke's constant bickering, arrogance, and troublemaking, although my husband was sucked in for the duration. Mrs. Cooke, in particular, added nothing but venom to every single interaction. Others have described the Cookes as "lazy." I concur. Do a better job of screening participants, and you'll have a more watchable program next time you venture into the past. If your participants aren't likable by the standards of any era in history, you turn off your viewers. I know it must be very hard for you to admit you might have made a mistake in putting this series together, especially in casting, but you really missed the boat this time. And for the benefit of one misguided viewer, our complaints about failings of this particular series have nothing to do with "liberals." Some folks' propensity to blame everything they don't like on "liberals" is tiresome and ignorant. Last time I checked the dictionary, liberal was not a dirty word. In fact the definition speaks very favorably of that particular point of view.
Janet Peters, West Branch, IA
Yes, I Can. Even Two More
I hope you can stand one more letter about Texas Ranch House. I think every aspect of the program was excellent on the PBS side of the production, but obviously there were some severe weaknesses on the part of the chosen participants, especially the Cooke family and their maid. It seems that in order to protect all the work, time and money that PSB invests in these programs, one more staff person is needed — a sort of historical chaperone, someone with a knowledge of the period who offers guidance in problem solving (i.e. give suggestions on how things may have been done in that particular era) but who will also have the authority to put a stop to any anachronistic solutions that participants may want to implement. For example, the Cooke women roamed freely about the ranch in their chemises and corsets, with their hair loose. At one point the daughters even displayed all of the period clothing that they had given up wearing, and one had cut up her drawers for another purpose. The historical chaperone would be tasked with stopping such behavior before it interferes with the authenticity of the experiment. There should be someone empowered to stop such things as the Cookes offering Maura a job as a cowhand, or the cowboys taking girls into the bunkhouse. If these things would not have happened in 1867, then the chaperone makes sure that everyone complies with the agreement that was made when they were each selected for the program. This is not the first time such "cheating" has happened. In Frontier House, there was a concealed set of box springs in one couple's loft, girls sneaking in mascara and also running about in their historic underwear. It was much more blatant in Texas Ranch House, and it threatens the integrity of the entire program. Perhaps understudies should be on hand so that uncooperative participants can be easily replaced.
Debra Stevenson, Fairfax, VA
I have nothing but the utmost respect for Mrs. Cooke — as a modern day woman. She is a woman of character, strong in her convictions and in her dedication to her husband and daughters. It is women like Mrs. Cooke who helped to settle the West. Often times, women did "wear the pants." Women were often better educated, and took an active role in making business decisions. Our history is rich with strong women who worked with their husbands in taming the wilderness, and also those who lost their mate due to illness, accident or tragedy. These women all thrived in their "non-traditional" roles.
The criticisms viewers are expressing regarding Mrs. Cooke are also correct. Throughout the series, she was portrayed as a woman who humbled her husband and belittled the hands. She seemed either ignorant of the fact, or forgetful of the fact that the success of the ranch depended upon the contentment of the cowboys. Every woman knows that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach! I also believed that she could have better used her strengths; whether as a 21st century woman, or as a historically correct rancher's wife, a quiet sense of dignity and grace would be in order. However, I must question the producer's editing in this regards. Was Mrs. Cooke purposely made to look like a tyrant?
As "The Girl of all Work," I did not see Ms. Finkelstein doing much work. Were there not floors to scrub, pigs to slop, or mending to do? As a student of gender studies, I had higher hopes of Ms. Finkelstein than of any other on the show. I believe she failed miserably in her experience by insisting she take an active role as a ranch hand rather than the role for which she was chosen.
The daughters' sense of duty and loyalty to their parents was not only endearing, but probably the most historically correct as far as the Cooke family roles. Mr. Cooke on the other hand, struggled. He was constantly wishy-washy on a variety of issues, and rarely firm in his convictions. He is lucky to have a wife like Mrs. Cooke to help in making decisions.
The cowboys all worked hard and played hard. Jared was the shining star of all the hands, and I appreciated the producers spotlight on him. Yes, he received a raw deal in the end regarding his horse. Although Mr. Cooke had to "buy back the horse," he was ultimately responsible for loosing it. Not only did he fail to post guard, but he failed to check the fine print in his verbal contract during the exchange — extremely poor management practices. He should have also recognized the contributions Jared made in keeping the rest of the cowboys happy, and therefore, in the success of the ranch. Instead, Mr. Cooke should have offered to reimburse Jared for the purchase price as a gift for not being properly protected while in his employ, or as a bonus for work well done.
Why don't we see anything about Nacho on the Texas Ranch House Web page? Again, from what we saw on camera, Nacho was true to character and attempted to make do with what was handed to him. Historically, the cook was an integral part of the ranch, and again, its success. Nacho demonstrated a non-confrontational, gentlemanly attitude, and the producers do him a great discredit by not including him and his insights along with the rest of the cast.
Finally, where can we read the entire unedited assessment by the independent experts? Again, this is a failure on the part of the producer. By excluding a more complete on-film coverage of the assessment, PBS denied their viewers an invaluable tool.
Yvonne Brinkman, Keweenaw County, MI