News flash to TV execs: Kids aren't watching

From the May 31, 2012, Deseret News

A few months ago my wife and I went into a department store to look at new televisions, finally having decided to abandon our old living-room set in favor of a new high-definition flat screen that could take full advantage of our Blu-ray player.

We made a couple of trips to the store, looked at several models, discussed them with a couple of salespeople and found that everyone was more than happy to take our money. No one suggested we were too old to buy such a big-ticket item.

Last year, we bought a new car, and the dealership would have been delighted to set up our financing, but we had already taken care of that. And our credit union didn't balk, either. In fact, we were offered more than we asked for.

My wife and I are also talking about the impending need to replace our refrigerator and possibly our oven, another couple of high-end expenditures. And we're pretty confident we won't be turned away by the store when we are ready to put up the cash.

I hasten to add that my wife has a cellphone, we both have iPods and we spend as much time surfing the Internet (or "the interweb," as my 13-year-old granddaughter insists on joking about it) on our respective computers as any of our children and grandchildren — though there is admittedly not nearly as much texting going on.

But because we are both now in our 60s, we are officially off the grid — and have been for more than a decade. At least as far as television programmers and advertisers are concerned.

Think that's an exaggeration?

Exhibit A: The bold admission of ageism by NBC executives a couple of weeks ago when the courtroom procedural "Harry's Law" was canceled. The reason for the cancellation, which they openly offered, was that the audience was too old. Specifically, most viewers were over 50.

Mind you, the show was not canceled due to low ratings. In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, after the musical "Smash," "Harry's Law" was the network's second most-watched program. But most of those watching were old. (The fact that "Harry's Law" had the audacity to star a woman in her 60s, Academy Award-winner Kathy Bates, probably didn't help.)

In the eyes of the people who run TV networks, once you hit 50, you stop buying stuff and save all your money for retirement. And then, when you get into your 60s and finally retire, you're, what, letting it earn interest in an account labeled: "to be opened upon our death?"

That wouldn't work for us; we have too many kids. After we're gone and it's divvied up, they'll be lucky to come away with lunch money.

Speaking for most baby boomers, that old jokey bumper sticker is our mantra: "I'm spending my children's inheritance." Hey, we gotta eat, too.

So, really, why is it that entertainment movers and shakers are all in hot pursuit of "young" dollars, of the almighty 18-to-34-year-olds or the 18-to-49-year-olds (depending on your source)? Do people in that youth-market demographic really spend more money than people in their 50s and 60s, or for that matter, people in their 70s and 80s?

When I was young, beginning my career on the bottom rung, newly married and having children, I spent a lot less money than I do now. I HAD a lot less money than I do now.

Another factor in all of this is that people in the 18-49 demo today don't actually watch the commercials that have the networks so worked up. Just polling our own adult children, and some of our older grandchildren — they never see the commercials that sponsor their favorite shows. And I mean never. They fast-forward through them or watch shows on Hulu or through Netflix or other streaming devices that use different and fewer commercials, or no commercials at all, or they wait for the home-video releases on iTunes or DVDs or whatever.

So why do TV advertisers want that demographic so badly when they aren't even watching their ads? And since, I would submit, most of them don't really have that much disposable income? Contrary to the apparent thinking in the hallowed halls of Hollywood, every young person across the country is not like the characters on "Friends" or "Seinfeld" or "How I Met Your Mother" or "The Big Bang Theory" or "New Girl." They aren't all single, happy-go-lucky 20-somethings with cash to blow on whatever impulse-purchase strikes their fancy.

On the other hand, older folks — over 49 — although they may be more frugal than the young and single, are still enjoying life and spending money. On cars and appliances and furniture and techie gadgets and cellphones and cable TV/satellite dishes and toothpaste and deodorant and laundry detergent and whatever else is being advertised during primetime broadcasting.

Oh, and here's a news flash for NBC and other mainstream-network bigwigs: A lot of those kids aren't even watching your shows. Many of them are migrating to cable channels, where they can find programming for grown-ups. Contrary to what is shown in your sitcoms, not everyone remains in stunted man-child mode forever. Some of them mature and begin to look for more challenging TV.

And here's news flash No. 2: Just like younger consumers, we 60-somethings are also using the remote to take us to cable shows because we're as tired as your favorite demographic of all the idiocy on the "regular" channels. Original programming on TNT and USA and FX and others are also getting OUR attention. And the more shows you dumb down as you strive for those youth numbers, the more you will continue to see those numbers drop.

Getting rid of a high-rated program like "Harry's Law" just to meet your own skewed, unrealistic, prejudiced view of who buys the advertisers' products is not just class discrimination, it's antithetical to your primary directive, which is, of course, to make money.

My guess is that if everyone over 50 decided to protest, to stop buying the specific brand of products advertised on your shows, it wouldn't take long for the manufacturers to notice.