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Demographic Idiocy

by Julia Sneden

A few days ago, the Associated Press reported that Harvey Weinstein, producer of the new movie Mrs. Henderson Presents, claimed that the morning network television shows (ABC, NBC, and CBS) had not responded to the offer of an interview with the movie’s star, Dame Judith Dench.

Weinstein is quoted as saying: “They said she didn’t fit their demographic.” The implication, of course, is that their demographic doesn’t include women of a certain age.

The networks immediately fell all over themselves issuing statements designed to appease.

Bill Geddie, Executive Producer for ABC’s The View denies that a pitch for the interview was ever made, and notes that the show would welcome her “any time we have an opening.” (italics mine)

Bridgette Maney, spokesperson for “Good Morning America” (also ABC) notes that “Dame Judith has been a guest...in the past. Unfortunately, this time around, the show was unable to accommodate an appearance (italics again mine). We would warmly welcome her back again.”

Lauren Kapp of NBC’S Today noted that Dame Judi had been on “countless times over the years. In this case, we weren’t able to offer coverage (again, my italics) of her new movie. We look forward to seeing her on Today soon.”

It’s possible that there is more going on here than the ageism that first strikes the reader. Harvey Weinstein and his brother have recently broken away from their Miramax/Disney association in order to start their own, new production company. It may be that the networks are engaging in some sort of anti-Weinstein politics about which the general public knows nothing.

However, it seems to me far more likely that the problem lies with that “doesn’t fit the demographic” explanation offered by Mr. Weinstein.

Television shows live and die by their ratings. Back when I worked for a major television producer, I was stunned by the weight given to the letters of praise or complaint written by viewers. It wasn’t only the production company that blanched or crowed when people wrote to them, either: the network bigwigs and the advertisers were every bit as sensitive to public acclaim or criticism.

This is a good thing. If you are offended or thrilled by what you see on television, get out your pen and write to the creators, networks, and advertisers. What you say will, I assure you, be taken seriously.

These days, advertisers push for shows that will capture young adults, seeking to build brand loyalty at an early age. The demographic makes sense: what sponsor wouldn’t want to create customers who will stick with its products for years and years.

This concept explains many of the series that are shown in the early evening hours, when young adults are home from the office and sprawled in front of the TV, wanting only to escape and relax. Shows like Sex & the City or Everybody Loves Raymond are aimed at young adults, and probably hit their target audience dead on.

But lately, the morning shows on the networks seem to me to be aiming at the same audience. NBC’s Today has added a couple of young women who may or may not be in line for Katie Couric’s job. At present, they handle things like fashions, makeovers, and soft news. The last third of the show has dwindled into material that is almost pure fluff.

What I’d like to know is, who do they think is watching TV at 9:30 in the morning? It surely isn’t the young professionals who have long since left for work. Nor, probably, is it stay-at-home mothers, who are likely to be too busy to sit and watch. And if they do, does anyone out there really believe they’re the ones with disposable income?

More than likely it’s people in Dame Judi’s generation who are watching Today or Good Morning America or The View. Most of us are no longer interested in thousand-dollar handbags or gauzy mini skirts, never mind spiky heels with tiny straps cutting across them, or tall, skinny boots with 8-inch heels. We’re a great, loyal audience, with time and money to spend. Advertisers ought to doing cartwheels to reach us.

I’m someone who will sit through any number of commercials in order to see interviews with intelligent people, no matter what their ages. I’m also a big fan of Judi Dench, and have been for many years. It makes me angry that the morning shows keep interviewing the stars of their network’s other shows (for instance, Today has promoted Donald Trump and his failed apprentices ad nauseam) at the expense of someone like Dame Judith.

No doubt the Baby Boomers’ arrival at old age will change all this, on down the road. I wish I were going to be around to see it. But while I am still able to snarl a bit, I’ll keep writing letters of outrage whenever demographic idiocy offends me. Seniors may indeed die off at a fairly even rate, but face it: the re-supply of old people is endless. Devising ads and shows with interviews that appeal to people over 60 would make great good sense, and the sooner the networks/advertisers/producers realize that, the better their profits will be.

In the meantime, thank you, Mr. Weinstein, for speaking up. Your mother must be very proud of you

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