You’re Dead to Us…TV Shows For and Starring Old People
In which we look at once common curiosities of pop culture that don’t exist anymore, be it because of changing tastes, the fragmentation of culture, or merely the fickle nature of fads
Old people fucking love television. I mean, what are they going to do, go out at night, and mingle amongst the young people, and the minorities, and the young minorities people? No thank you, says America’s olds, clutching their change purses and hiking up their pants, settling in for an evening of terrifying crime-dramas on CBS.
Nielsen measures TV ratings according to several different metrics, but the most widely reported ones measure total audience, and the 18-to-49 demographic, which is the age group most lucrative and attractive to advertisers. They don’t care what the old people buy so much, because they don’t have as much disposal income. This is why it’s very, very easy to tell what the intended audience is for Wheel of Fortune or the nightly network news, because all the ads are for back pills, heating pads, adult diapers, and supplemental Medicare.
The 18-to-49 top 20 is a lot different than the overall top 20, which greatly reflects the 50+ demographic. The young people watch a lot of young people comedies, like New Girl, 2 Broke Girls, and How I Met Your Mother. The olds prefer crime dramas on CBS, such as The Mentalist, Unforgettable, CSI, as well as something called Castle and a show that apparently features former celebrities dancing badly on an old ’70s variety show’s set.
You would think old people, who are terrified of everything, would not like these grisly murder shows because they are terrifying and full of grisly murders. But they love them. Why? Because they’re familiar, and, because of that, in a way, oddly comforting. Yeah, people get shot on Blue Bloods, but they are reliably locked up by TV stalwart Tom Selleck. Yeah, there’s blood and semen everywhere on CSI, but that show follows a comforting formula and it has been on the air for 145 years. These shows are more or less modern-day rehashes of Mannix, Columbo, and Barnaby Jones.
Except maybe not Barnaby Jones. Because that show was around before the advertisers catered to the younger demographic. Shows were not only geared to old people, they starred old people. Barnaby Jones was an old guy who solved crimes. Matlock was about an old guy who was a lawyer. Murder, She Wrote was about a retired English teacher/mystery novelist and her retired platonic life-mate (much love, Jessica and Seth) solving murders. Father Dowling Mysteries was basically Murder, She Wrote, but with slightly more Tom Bosley and a priest instead of a writer. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, NBC had an unbeatable hour on the now desolate Saturday night consisting of The Golden Girls and Empty Nest.
I’m pretty sure the only grey-haired lead on TV these days is Mark Harmon on NCIS, and salt and pepper just doesn’t count. He’s fake-old, and everybody knows it.