Successful Shows Cater to Older Crowds

I found this in the Detroit News.

Successful Shows Cater to Older Crowds

November 18, 1999
by Brian Lowry

HOLLYWOOD — Attention, old people. In television parlance, this means anyone 55 and up. Wake up, locate your glasses and, if necessary, pop in your teeth. For once, here’s a TV-related story with your interests at heart.
This was supposed to be the year of the teen-ager, as the major networks chased the audience that turned the WB’s Dawson’s Creek and Felicity into media darlings and the Scream films into box-office hits.
“Adolescence is a great period of time to write about,” Jason Katims, creator of the WB’s sci-fi drama Roswell, told Time magazine in September.
To write about, yes. But to watch? Based on results for the new TV season, the evidence suggests the appetite for such fare is more limited than executives anticipated, or at least the portions were too large. Youth-oriented shows such as Freaks and Geeks, Get Real and Wasteland are struggling ratings-wise. Fox canceled another, Manchester Prep, without ever airing it.
Look around, meanwhile, at what’s working. There’s Judging Amy, succeeding in no small measure due to the presence of Tyne Daly; and The West Wing, anchored by Martin Sheen’s principled commander in chief. ER has received an injection from Alan Alda, and former tentmate Mike Farrell can be found in Providence.
At 56, Holland Taylor has given sex appeal a new look on The Practice, the only possible crime in her supporting actress Emmy being that it came at the expense of Nancy Marchand’s scheming matriarch in The Sopranos. Della Reese is a workhorse for CBS, from TV movies to Touched By an Angel, and James Whitmore was recently featured in a stunning guest shot on The Practice as a legendary barrister who kills his wife.
Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts provide regular hilarity on Everybody Loves Raymond, as do Susan Sullivan’s starched blueblood mother and Mitchell Ryan’s daft dad on Dharma & Greg. And if Fox’s That ’70s Show is thriving this fall, one shouldn’t overlook the parents played by Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp.
Still, if anyone is waiting for Hollywood to stop celebrating youth, don’t hold your breath. The Hollywood Reporter just published its “next generation” issue, profiling executives age 35 and under, who offered such insights as their favorite “power spot.” The gym and the tennis court received votes.
While part of the problem is this exultation of youth, the main culprit continues to be callous economic factors that govern television.
The vast majority of advertising is aimed at adults ages 18 through 54. As reasons, experts cite their greater willingness to try out different brands; more residents per household (few 70-year-olds have three kids at home), which equals more volume in terms of what’s purchased; and the desire to catch people when they’re young, hopefully turning them into loyal customers for decades to come.
Put simply, this means millions of older folks watching Diagnosis Murder aren’t worth nearly as much to CBS as their kids and grandchildren viewing NBC’s Friends. That’s primarily why network TV has been a place where seniors range from invisibility to derision, comically dismissed as old coots or horny grandmas.
Small wonder that Monika White, president of the Center for Healthy Aging in Santa Monica, says that when it comes to the media, “Age discrimination is pretty blatant. … It feeds into a lot of myths — that older people can’t do anything, that they’re doddering. The most damage that happens is it (fosters) an unspoken fear of aging, when most people 65 and older are really just fine.”
If nothing else, the actors mentioned should inspire producers to consider taking better advantage of the seasoned talent twiddling its thumbs out there. Seeing more vibrant characters with a little gray in their hair may not entice more young adults to watch, but it will provide a more accurate vision of what awaits them and maybe even result in more entertaining shows.

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