Media Is Us
There’s nothing I like better than crawling into bed with a good book. Relaxing at night in front of the television to watch a well-constructed drama or comedy ratchets in as a close second.
Only a few years ago there was often nothing that I cared to watch on the tube. After clicking through the universe of channels, I’d throw up my hands in defeat and find something better to do.
Today television has changed radically—and for the better. One of the most astonishing differences between the old TV and the new TV is that high-content series are aimed at us, the boomers, who are approaching retirement or already living the life. For the first time in decades, there’s a good selection of viewing that speaks directly to older adults and it’s not Coronation Street, re-runs of documentaries about the Royal Family or lavish British costume dramas on PBS.
It all started with The Sopranos, which aired on HBO and ran for 86 episodes, ending in June 2010. Tony Soprano, the New Jersey mafia boss with a heart of gold and debilitating anxiety issues, wasn’t exactly targeted at young hipsters sporting the trendiest designer outfits while sipping a Negroni in Greenwich Village.
Tony was overweight, unfashionable, worn out by his peculiar demons and visibly past his prime. Played with immense depth by the late James Gandolofini, Tony Soprano became the most renowned anti-hero in television history because he was street-smart, world-weary and gloriously complicated. The show didn’t skirt the issues that adults face during a long marriage such as infidelity, isolation, the tribulations of parenthood and the eventual grappling with mortality.
Next came the hyper-intelligent series The Wire, in which David Simon’s major characters struggled to maintain their dignity in decaying inner-city Baltimore, where just about everyone was engulfed in the corruption of a crime-infested city on the verge of collapse. Segments of the six-season series were focused on journalists whose daily newspaper had been scaled down to the size of an advertising flyer and where the long-time city editor was plagued by inane management and plagiarizing writers. Anyone who has worked in or near the media recognizes the scene.
Recently, I’ve been watching Grace and Frankie, a new series produced and streaming on Netflix and starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. It’s next to impossible to not recall Fonda in Klute, or Tomlin on Laugh-in or both actors in the 1980 Nine to Five. That’s what the writers and producers are hoping you’ll remember. The bold, “look at me now” presentation of Grace and Frankie treats aging as normal and desirable. In fact, Fonda has been disarmingly sexy in recent episodes.
The four main characters are sixty or seventy-somethings, attractive and wealthy, but they also encounter the bumps that many boomers face in their later years: marriage break-up, loneliness, conflicting feelings about a new romance, unsettled grown-up children, coupled with the raw day-to-day adversity of being an older adult in this youth–obsessed culture.
Fonda and Tomlin’s depictions of two women recovering from the break up of long-standing marriages couldn’t be braver. It’s not about two women on the brink of melodramatic disaster, either. What they encounter happens to real people when they least expect it.
The characters in this half-hour series are intelligent, financially secure, and accomplished. The set look like it comes straight from a Nancy Myers’ film. San Diego is where the newly separated Grace and Frankie reside in a gorgeously appointed beach house overlooking the Pacific.
But the fall-out from the change in status from successfully married to unhappily divorced is catastrophic –at first. The new story is how Grace and Frankie and their former husbands, played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, rebuild their lives. It makes you think, how you would survive such an earth-shattering change coming late in life.
Since the success of the great television dramas, The Sopranos, The Wire and Madmen, it makes artistic sense for cable and online streaming executives to pitch their stories to a mature audience. And it makes business sense as well.
After all, we hold the purse strings to billions of dollars. According to StrategyOnline.ca, there are 9.6 million Boomers in Canada and simply put we account for 46% of all income earned here. Our purchasing power is enormous and with it comes our new found power to shift taste, to escalate the quality of popular culture and to demand stories that speak directly to our interests.
Over a 30-day period in 2014, 366,000 boomers engaged in blogging, 5.8- million sent an email, 2.3-million sent a text, 1.3 million sent an instant message, 2-million were busy social networking, while 3.9- million went searching. Meanwhile, 982,000 watched a TV show, 1.4 million watched a video and 890,000 watched a movie.
It’s summer time, so kick back and tune in. Unlike the old summer season of reruns and depressing made-for TV movies, there’s more than enough on TV (or your laptop) to keep the lights burning late into a heat-soaked night.