You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

New Series Zero in on the Gap Separating Older, Younger Viewers

One seldom-discussed aspect of ad-supported entertainment is its generational divide, and the fact top power brokers and creative masterminds — usually in their 50s and 60s — are tasked with determining what young adults will want to watch. Yet despite this obvious tension, the issue rarely finds its way onto the screen.

Given that, it’s noteworthy to see two series premiering that deal with how different generations don’t communicate very well regarding matters of culture and commerce — a gap that risks becoming more of a chasm, one could argue, thanks to the self-selecting and like-minded communities that spring up via social media.

The Comedians,” an FX comedy set in Hollywood, tackles the issue pretty directly, chronicling the arranged professional marriage of Billy Crystal and Josh Gad. Playing versions of themselves, the two are thrown together to co-star in a fictional variety show. Beyond the meta aspects, the fact they can’t seem to agree on anything has quite a lot to do with Crystal being stunned Gad doesn’t know who Ernie Kovacs is, and Gad suggesting working with Crystal will excite his grandparents.

Younger,” meanwhile, strikes a more glancing blow but a no less enlightening one. Created by Darren Star, the TV Land series casts Sutton Foster as a 40-year-old woman who lies about her age to land an assistant’s job for which she’s over-qualified. Perpetuating the ruse makes the character privy to sniping from each side — hearing twentysomethings deride older colleagues and disdain their more sedentary lives, while her fortysomething boss treats her with condescension and resentment.

Admittedly, this division is hardly a new one. The entertainment industry has long been characterized by younger development executives sending projects up the food chain.

Still, there are several factors, from the cultural to the political, that have potentially exacerbated the generational rift, including younger voters’ role in what’s known as the Obama coalition — a group regularly mocked for its flakiness in not consistently turning out for elections. Small wonder the older, more conservative Fox News Channel audience is regularly treated to finger-wagging segments about spring break and pieces mocking millennials for being ill-informed regarding world events.

As for the cultural component, a central conflict pertains to comedy, where it’s not unusual for generations to harbor markedly different views about what’s funny, which might explain those older viewers who lament not having laughed at “Saturday Night Live” this century.

In hindsight, a key moment came in 2010, when “The Tonight Show” openly divided its audience into two camps, devoted to either Jay Leno or Conan O’Brien. While fans didn’t break down strictly by age, as cultural observer and author Neal Gabler noted, “O’Brien and Leno stood across a cultural and generational divide: young vs. old, cool vs. uncool.” The situation was created by the network’s eagerness to keep O’Brien, even if that meant forcing Leno out. “NBC, like an aging suitor, was addled by youth,” Gabler concluded.

Although one would think there are enough options for various demographics to peacefully coexist, because of the financial imperative to reach a younger audience that’s not always true. Media institutions older viewers embrace, from TV news to award shows, face constant pressure to enhance their youth appeal.

Framed that way, young adults aren’t just off watching shows aimed at them; they’re also part of the reason their parents can’t have nice things.

Such media stereotypes are blunt instruments, broadly lumping people into demographic baskets. But as long as youth commands a premium with ad buyers, this generation gap is going to persist.

That doesn’t mean disparate constituencies must sing “Kumbaya,” or even watch “Girls” and “Blue Bloods” together. But it is perhaps overdue, as these new series suggest, to begin recognizing the new wrinkles on an age-old problem.

More Voices

  • Contract Placeholder Business

    WGA, Agents Face Tough Issues on New Franchise Pact (Column)

    The Writers Guild of America and the major talent agencies are seven weeks away from a deadline that could force film and TV writers to choose between their agents and their union. This is a battle that has been brewing for a year but few in the industry saw coming until a few weeks ago. [...]

  • FX Confronts Streaming Thanks to Disney

    Kicking and Screaming, FX Is Forced to Confront Future in the Stream (Column)

    During his network’s presentation at the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour, FX chief John Landgraf made waves — and headlines — by mounting perhaps his most direct criticism yet of Netflix. Landgraf, whose briefings to the press tend to rely heavily on data about the volume of shows with which FX’s competitors flood the [...]

  • Longtime TV Editor Recalls Working for

    How a Bad Director Can Spoil the Show (Guest Column)

    I have been blessed with editing some of TV’s greatest shows, working with some of the industry’s greatest minds. “The Wonder Years,” “Arrested Development,” “The Office,” “Scrubs,” “Pushing Daisies” and, most recently, “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” I have earned an Emmy, ACE Eddie Awards, and many nominations. But whatever kudos I’ve received, over my [...]

  • Stock market Stock buyback

    Stock Buybacks Leave Firms Without Funds to Invest in Future (Column)

    Corporate giants on the S&P 500 have spent more than $720 billion during the past year on stock buybacks. Media and entertainment firms account for only a fraction of that spending, but even $1 million spent on share repurchases seems a foolhardy expenditure at this transformational moment for the industry. The record level of spending [...]

  • Hollywood Has Come Far With Diversity

    An Insider's Look at Hollywood's Diversity Efforts and How Far It Still Needs to Go

    I am a white man working in Hollywood. I grew up in Beverlywood, an all-white, predominantly Jewish, Los Angeles neighborhood sandwiched between 20th Century Fox Studios and MGM, where my elementary school had only one black student. I am compelled to write about diversity in Hollywood because “diversity” — in front of and behind the camera [...]

  • Venice Film Festival A Star is

    How Venice, Toronto and Telluride Festivals Stole Cannes' Luster (Column)

    In all the years I’ve been attending film festivals, I have never seen a lineup that looked as good on paper as Venice’s did this fall, boasting new films by Alfonso Cuarón (“Roma”), Damien Chazelle (“First Man”), Paul Greengrass (“22 July”), Mike Leigh (“Peterloo”) and the Coen brothers (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”) in competition, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content