Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Tv: Increasingly Leaving Older Actors, Audiences Behind

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Tv: Increasingly Leaving Older Actors, Audiences Behind

Article excerpt

For evidence of how ambivalent television can be about baby boomers, consider the story of "Hot in Cleveland" star Wendie Malick.

At 61, she's at the heart of the boom generation, defined as those born between the mid-1940s and the early '60s. And she's a bona-fide TV veteran, with key roles in sitcoms ranging from HBO's "Dream On" in 1990 to NBC's "Seinfeld," "Frasier" and "Just Shoot Me!"

Before she landed in the oasis of "Cleveland's" success in 2010, her agent advised her to look through scripts for male roles she might want to play, figuring they could ask writers to change the gender.

Because, for women of her certain age in Hollywood, pickings were seriously slim.

"It was getting to be a very bleak landscape," said Ms. Malick, who started in the early '70s as a model for the Wilhelmina agency. "We're talking, no characters over age 40. Which is why we feel vindicated (by 'Cleveland's' success). It reminded people of all ages how interesting women of a certain age truly are."

Even as some celebrate the success of certain boomer icons on TV - - 63-year-old Steven Tyler captivating the kids on "American Idol" or 60-year-old Mark Harmon leading TV's highest-rated scripted show, "NCIS" -- there's evidence the story is more complex.

While some older stars have found new, visible roles on television, there's also evidence that TV is turning away from baby boomers as the youngest of them begin to age out of the typical group television always has focused on: viewers 18 to 49.

According to figures from the performers' union AFTRA, from 2009 to 2011, just 36 percent of TV roles covered by their contracts were filled by a character over age 40 (AFTRA contracts cover about 80 percent of TV productions). For female characters over age 40, that number dipped to 12 percent.

It's worse for women this TV season. Among the shows airing on network TV as the new season started last fall, AFTRA found just 8 percent of roles went to women older than 40.

This occurred in the year the youngest boomers turned 47. How could perception and reality be so different? The 2010 U.S. Census lists those over age 40 at 46 percent of the population; women over 40 are 24 percent.

Besides Ms. Malick -- who now appears in a show featuring 90- year-old Betty White, 51-year-old Valerie Bertinelli and 50-year- old Jane Leeves -- there seem to be few big names available to discuss the issue openly.

"Normally, we get the adjunct roles: friends, judges, whatever," she said of boomer actors. "On this show, we get to be the center of the universe; the young people come visit and they have to leave. …

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