It's hardly unreasonable to approach with suspicion a new TV interview program starring a show-biz psychologist, and if the shrink is named Tom Cottle and the program titled "The Tom Cottle Show," misgivings tend to multiply. Perhaps the highest praise one can heap on a project like this is to say it isn't nearly as excruciating as it might be.
Cottle, whose Boston-based PBS program premieres at 1 p.m. today on Channel 26, aspires to a level of bald, deep probe beyond even Phil Donahue. Fortunately, the guests on this first show are forthright, sensible and remarkable enough to withstand his raid on their innermost feelings.
The subject of the first program, Cottle announces, will be "surviving the loss of one of your body parts." The guests are "Karen," who lost a leg at the age of 11 to cancer, and "Judy," who six years ago underwent a mastectomy. tThe two women talk as candidly as anyone could want them to talk on television about the trauma and adjustment that were part of their experience.
Judy remembers her mother's reaction: "My beautiful baby is ruined." And she recalls having such vagrant thoughts as the notion that losing a breast was punishment for having taken pride in her body's appearance earlier in life. She also remembers that "my husband passed out cold when he first saw me" with her left breast removed.
Until three years ago, Karen "always wore a prosthetic leg and tried to deny to herself that she was any different after the surgery than she had been before. Eventually she reached a state of self-awareness that made it possible for her to appear in public without the artificial leg, and it is unquestionably heartening to hear her discuss this emotional odyssey.
Among Cottle's previous TV gigs was a stint on NBC's short-lived innovation in children's programming, "Hot Hero Sandwich," heartlessly canceled after 11 episodes. In a demonstration of gall appalling even for a TV network, NBC later included a clip from the axed program, as evidence of network reform in children's fare, as part of a report on NBC Nightly News.
Cottle's questioning technique occasionally gets self-conscious in its hip bluntness. He's so insistent on the women owning up to feelings of despair that he almost drives them to despair; to Karen he badgers, "Can you be attractive with one leg? . . . You sure? . . . To men?" It is indeed unfortunate that when he runs out of time, he says to his guests, "I have to cut you off."
Future programs will be devoted to homosexuals, children of divorced parents, living with cancer and discovering one is a psychic -- a lineup that could be the bill of fare on any of commercial TV's ever-mewling chit-chat sessions. It remains to be seen whether Cottle's approach differs appreciably from that of the competition, and whether "The Tom Cottle Show" -- marred by bad camera work and poorly framed shots -- is a justifiable addition to TV's surplus of Sensitive Talk.