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TV Network’s Last Best Hope: Boomers

This coming week, as the network begins the fall television season, ABC will begin airing “The Golden Bachelor,” a spinoff of “The Bachelor” that focuses on a strange twist: The main contestant is a 72-year-old man. , and the 22 women competing for his affection range in age from 60 to 75.

On Sunday nights, the network will devote three hours to “The Wonderful World of Disney,” a television tradition dating back to the 1950s. On Tuesdays, “Dancing with the Stars” takes place. On Wednesdays, “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” Just like there will be special prime-time episodes of decades-old standbys.

It’s no secret that network television ratings have declined in recent years as viewers have fled prime-time lineups in favor of stream-at-your-leisure outlets like Netflix and Hulu.

But there is one notable exception, a segment of the audience that has effectively become the broadcast networks’ core constituency: people over 60.

The average age of viewers of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox has increased in recent years. This has left executives looking for ways to acknowledge and nurture an audience that still watches television reliably and the old-fashioned way in prime time.

“The boomers are keeping it afloat,” Kevin Reilly, a veteran programming executive who held top positions at Fox and NBC, said of network TV. He said, “This generation grew up organizing their worldview around it – the TV was the center of the living room, and we watched TV day after day.”

This is an important time for the network. They are a shell of what they used to be, and are no longer the reliable hit factories and cultural forces of old.

The strike by Hollywood writers and actors has made matters worse. The strikes halted production for several months, forcing the network to program a piecemeal lineup of reality series, sports, game shows, and repeats for the next several months.

Entertainment executives are privately worrying about a decline in ratings – not to mention further migration to streaming, without significant help from new scripted original programs.

Just nine years ago, the average age of most top-rated network entertainment shows was in the mid-40s to mid-50s — it was 45 for the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” and 45 for “The Big Bang Theory.” Was 52. To Nielsen. Some shows, such as “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”, had viewers an average of 39 years younger.

But in the most recent network television season, which ended in May, the average viewership for most entertainment shows, including “The Voice” (64.8), “The Masked Singer” (60.6), “Grey’s Anatomy” (64.1) was over 60. Were of age. ) and “Young Sheldon” (“65+,” the highest range provided by Nielsen).

Local television stations have seen similar trends.

According to a recent report by TVRev, a research group, “There is a completely different generational split in watching local broadcasts at age 45.” “Generation

Executives said in interviews that many of these series had lower average viewership when measured on network-affiliated streaming services like Hulu, Peacock and Paramount+. He said that the average age of some shows is 20 or 25 years younger than the average age of their broadcast. The ABC hit “Abbott Elementary”, which has an average viewer age of 60.5 when it airs, is also popular among younger viewers when it streams on Hulu.

Some executives also point out that youth audiences are not adequately measured by existing viewership tools.

“Anyone we’re not capturing on a linear device, we’re capturing on streaming,” said Radha Subramaniam, CBS’s chief research officer.

Still, he added: “At CBS, we love the older audience. They watch a lot of television. And advertisers love them because they have a lot of spending power.”

Nevertheless, advertisers still value television viewers under the age of 50. David Zaslav, chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, said this month that 75 percent of his cable network’s viewers were over the age of 54 and, as a result, the company was not earning as much from advertising as it could.

Dick Wolf, the leading provider of one of television’s classic genres, the procedural, features in CBS’s usual lineup (“FBI,” “FBI: Most Wanted,” “FBI: International”) as well as NBC (“Law & Order”). There is a large presence for. :SVU,” “Chicago Med,” “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago PD”). Last year, NBC revived the original “Law & Order,” which starred 82-year-old Sam Waterston.

Other scripted series also come from earlier times, including NBC’s “Quantum Leap” and “Magnum, P.I.” — which, unlike most of the network’s competitors, will have new episodes this season because they were taped before the strike. Was. CBS is reviving “Matlock,” the show that used to be based on “The Simpsons.” Tease To his old fan base. (The new version of “Matlock” will star Kathy Bates and will air on “60 Minutes”, sometime after the strikes are resolved.)

Last year, NBC had a surprise hit in “Night Court,” the sitcom that debuted nearly four decades ago. (“Night Court” and “Quantum Leap” first appeared on the same night on NBC’s schedule in 1989.) A producer of “Night Court” said this year The courtroom for the new show “wasn’t filled with lots of computer screens or modern trappings of life – we really deliberately wanted ‘Night Court’ to feel like a place slightly frozen in time.”

At ABC, executives decided to move “The Golden Bachelor” to the Thursday 8 p.m. slot, after the network had originally scheduled it for Mondays at 10 p.m. One of the reasons: widespread enthusiasm for the show as well as a strong lead-in to “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!”

“We have an affiliate lead-in whose average age is about 67 or 68, which is right in the middle of the traditional definition of a baby boomer,” said Ari Goldman, senior vice president of content strategy. and scheduling at ABC Entertainment. “We’re going to lean toward the abundance of viewers that we have in prime time.”

And, of course, “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” They will have their own night to shine, with special prime-time celebrity editions on Wednesdays.

“These are shows that have been the main draw for older audiences for four or five decades — I think ‘Jeopardy!’ The 60-year-old is going to be hit in some way this coming year,” Mr. Goldman said. “These are the shows that our audience grew up with, and they’re going to be comforting and throwback to that audience. There are programming.”

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