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'Age of Love,' a Twist on Boy-Meets-Girl

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY. It wouldn't be summer without a tawdry new reality TV show. That distinction belongs to "Age of Love," a new NBC series starting tonight. TV critic Andrew Wallenstein says the show is part of a refreshing trend.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: At first glance, "Age of Love" seems like just another rip-off of the ABC hit, "The Bachelor." There's the requisite eligible playboy - here it's 30-year-old tennis player Mark Philippoussis - and there's the usual gaggle of gals ready to fall in love. But there's a twist. They're divided into two age groups, one in their twenties and one in their forties. In this scene, one contestant makes Mark guess how old she is.

(Soundbite of "Age of Love")

Mr. MARK PHILIPPOUSSIS (Bachelor; Tennis Player): Uh, 37. Thirty-six?

Unidentified Woman: I'm 48.

Mr. PHILIPPOUSSIS: Wow.

Unidentified Woman: Yeah.

Mr. PHILIPPOUSSIS: You look incredible.

Unidentified Woman: Thank you.

Mr. PHILIPPOUSSIS: Incredible.

Unidentified Woman: I'm looking forward to getting to know you better.

Mr. PHILIPPOUSSIS: Well, I've never dated an old woman, so...

Unidentified Woman: Would you like to?

Mr. PHILIPPOUSSIS: Yes.

Unidentified Woman: Okay.

Mr. PHILIPPOUSSIS: I'd like to.

WALLENSTEIN: Okay, titillating enough. But what really shocked me came in a promo for "Age of Love." The commercial referred to the girls in their twenties as the kittens while referring to the forty-something women as cougars. Now if you're not familiar with the latter term, it's Internet slang for an older woman who aggressively pursues younger men. So it made me wonder: should NBC really be using such an ageist pejorative?

(Soundbite of roar)

WALLENSTEIN: But here's the thing. If there's a corner of pop culture that has earned the right to declaw the term cougar, it's television. While movies, music and fashion fixate on the youthfulness of female beauty, credit contemporary TV for not desexualizing women of a certain age; think "Desperate Housewives," "Real Housewives of Orange County," "The Closer," "The New Adventures of Old Christine." These shows all feature beautiful forty-something women with actual romantic lives. The trend probably got its start with "Sex and the City," which remains influential.

Next season, the networks are introducing two blatant copycat shows boasting non-kittens in their casts, like Brooke Shields, now 42, and Lucy Liu, 39. My personal favorite cougar, 42-year-old Mary-Louise Parker, who plays a pot-dealing suburban mom on the Showtime series "Weeds." In this scene she gets a lesson on her profession from some fellow dealers.

(Soundbite of "Weeds")

Ms. MARY-LOUISE PARKER (Actress): (As Nancy Botwin) Threw me in his car and let me off of with the warning but he confiscated all my pot - everything I have. I'm screwed.

Unidentified Man (Actor): (As character) You didn't get busted; you just got jacked.

Ms. PARKER: (As Nancy Botwin) What are you talking about?

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) Did you go down to the police station?

Ms. PARKER: (As Nancy Botwin) No.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) Hmm.

Unidentified Man: (As character) Did you get fingerprinted?

Ms. PARKER: (As Nancy Botwin) No.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) Damn, girl, you look gullible as Colby's(ph) wife. You think a cop's gonna let a drug dealer go just on a warning, even a pretty little white one like you?

WALLENSTEIN: In fact, TV is doing such a good job representing forty-somethings, they're edging out the youngsters. Outside MTV, how many current TV shows can you name that have a sexy young female as the central character? There's "Ugly Betty," of course, but she's ugly.

Feminists might object to regarding a woman of any age as a sex object. But are forty-somethings better served playing only matronly moms or teachers? Casting them as romantic rivals to women half their age may be a bit cheesy, but at least they're still on camera.

BRAND: TV critic Andrew Wallenstein is an editor with the Hollywood Reporter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Wallenstein
Andrew Wallenstein is the television critic for NPR's Day to Day. He is also an editor at The Hollywood Reporter, where he covers television and digital media out of Los Angeles. Wallenstein is also the co-host of the weekly TV Guide Channel series Square Off. His essay on Holocaust films was published in Best Jewish Writing 2003 (Jossey-Bass), and he has also written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Business Week. He has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.