Thanks to streaming, TV is celebrating its senior moment more than ever

The nominations recognized Martin Short and Steve Martin for Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building”, Michael Douglas in the comedy that ran for Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method”, and Jean Smart a three-time nominee, individually for HBO Max’s “Hacks” and HBO’s “Mare of Easttown,” and along with the cast for the first.
“Yellowstone,” a show anchored by Kevin Costner’s steely presence, also broke through, as did Brian Cox as another mighty patriarch in “Succession” and Michael Keaton for “Dopesick,” the fact-based limited series about the opioid epidemic.

It’s no secret that Hollywood has faced allegations of ageism, seeking younger audiences at the expense of older players, both in front of and behind the camera. Still, streaming’s priorities and business model, and the plethora of content it’s created, seem to be tinkering with that math.

Unlike ad-supported networks that have prioritized reaching more youthful demographics, streaming relies on subscriptions and offers high-profile talent in part as a means of generating the kind of attention that will inspire people to be anticipatory. While advertisers pay a premium to reach adults under 50, their parents’ and grandparents’ money is just as green when handed over directly.

While this trend may be most prevalent in streaming, it’s not unique to it. Chuck Lorre, the producer of hit comedies like “The Big Bang Theory”, the prequel “Young Sheldon” and the aforementioned “Kominsky Method”, has filled his shows with older regulars.

Hector Elizondo is one of the new cast members in this season of "B Positive."

On “Young Sheldon,” that added to the cast alongside Annie Potts as the grandmother with Craig T. Nelson, Ed Begley Jr., Reba McEntire and Wallace Shawn.

“B Positive”, another Lorre production, took an even more striking turn in its second season, with a major makeover where the lead character, played by Annaleigh Ashford, was put in charge of an assisted living facility, with the addition of several experienced performers – – Héctor Elizondo, Jane Seymour, Ben Vereen and Jim Beaver – as the residents.

All of this has a practicality, including data indicating that streaming audiences have aged during the pandemic. Last year, the research firm Ampere Analysis released a report suggesting that Netflix’s subscriber base has aged as those viewers seek more entertainment options at home.

The appetite for streaming content has not gone unnoticed by artists, especially as certain types of films have seen their viability decline significantly in theaters – a dynamic that predated Covid-19 and has only become more pronounced in the past two years.

In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Sandra Bullock — who starred in two films for Netflix — referred to Hollywood’s brutal history in terms of “putting it out” of actresses once they reach a certain age.

“They’re good for artists. They’re good for filmmakers. Without Netflix, a lot of people wouldn’t be working,” said Bullock, who is 57. “Their stories would not be told. Who would think that I, as a woman, would still be working right now?’

Michael Douglas, Sarah Baker and Kathleen Turner in Season 3 of "The Kominsky Method."
Of course, Bullock is a knockout compared to Rita Moreno and William Shatner, both 90, with the former playing prominent roles in Steven Spielberg’s new take on “West Side Story,” and the latter making headlines by traveling into space aboard. from Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. . (Shatner also starred in a movie released last year, “Senior Moment,” opposite the ubiquitous Smart.)

Some caveats apply. While there have been shows like “Kominsky Method” and “Grace and Frankie,” starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, juicier roles for actors in that age range—in addition to the usual wacky grandparent roles—still generally come in series featuring several generations.

In addition, recent signs of progress follow a long period where actors — especially women — saw opportunities fall off a cliff as they got older from the demo. Geena Davis, an outspoken advocate on the subject, recently discussed those challenges in a podcast interview, citing the long-standing practice of male actors insisting on casting much younger women as their romantic interests, a situation she claimed personally. to have experienced.
At the same time, the increasingly niche nature of entertainment has enabled breakthroughs even in movies. At last year’s Oscars, then 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins became the oldest ever best actor winner for “The Father,” with two performers in their 60s and 70s, Frances McDormand and Youn Yuh-jung, joining him. in the winners circle.
In a 2019 interview, Lorre mentioned the narrative potential in writing about growing old, including “losing loved ones, endless health problems, [and] feeling alienated from the culture – which is very much a youth dominated culture.”

Television was and remains in most respects a medium dominated by young people. But thanks to this and other shows, the terms of that alienation are starting to look at least a little more welcoming.

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