Anyone who has thumbed through the pages of my book or heard me speak soon realizes that I’m passionate about correcting misperceptions of Boomers, thwarting the pervasive influence of ageism, and creating a more balanced portrayal of older adults in media.
In fact, it’s my primary focus. I’ve written a 325-page book that addresses, in part, disenfranchisement of the Boomer generation in contemporary media and marketing.
It might surprise those who think they now know me that I have taken some umbrage to a recent announcement by TV Land, the cable network focused on classic television programming. Recent media news have led to a plethora of articles, such as this AP flag: “Study says Boomers don’t like what’s on TV.”
This thoughtful article by David Bauder found numerous versions and permutations in newspapers across the country, as evidenced by my colleague Chuck Nyren's amusing blog entry.
Chuck, ever vigilant about cyberspace developments, is particularly resourceful in finding this anti-Boomer, ageist headline tweak on MSNBC.
The study in question, conducted by Harris Interactive, suggests, among other things, that 37% of Boomers are not happy with what’s on television. I do not doubt the veracity or accuracy of this survey finding. In this survey, around 40% of Boomers claim they are not being targeted or served by television programmers.
What Harris does not share with us is the survey design, the actual questions posed to survey respondents, the order in which the questions were posed, or how the questions were framed by interviewers. There are many ways that surveys can be designed and scripted to create self-fulfilling prophesies, particularly considering the overt agenda of TV Land and its goal to position as THE Baby Boomer programming service.
The conjecture that Boomers believe television today does not reach them with appropriate programming is a questionable assertion.
Boomers have for years found and followed substantive TV programming offered by CNN, PBS, The Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, The History Channel, The National Geographic Channel, HBO and AMC. Just look at the demographic ratings for these cable services as a measure of behavior, not survey-manipulated “self report.”
While this sense of marginalization is clearly a perceptual fact — Boomers are increasingly aware of and sensitive to ageism — it’s just not the earth-shattering revelation that TV Land would like reporters to assume. TV Land is not the only media organization to recognize today’s demographic reality.
David Poltrack with CBS (chief research officer) has done a very good job of articulating and addressing this issue. The CBS solution right now is to create programming with Boomers as leaders and mentors to the younger cast of characters.
Past programming includes:
–NCIS, Mark Harmon
–CSI, Billy Peterson/Marg Helgenberger
–CSI: MIAMI, David Caruso
–CRIMINAL MIND, Mandy Patinkin
–CSI: NY, Gary Sinise –THE UNIT, Dennis Haysbert
–WITHOUT A TRACE, Anthony LaPaglia
Newer programming includes:
–SHARK, James Woods
–SMITH, Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen
–JERICHO, Gerald McRaney, Pamela Reed
Clearly, there is further room for development of the Boomer market, especially with respect to advertising message creation and occasional programming. And part of me applauds the aggressive move by TV Land and Larry Jones to claim a stake in the future of TV programming.
However, the world is moving on from the dark ages of just a few years ago.
Boomers are now getting a lot of attention in middle age, with new products, services and marketing initiatives rolling out daily. A collective consciousness around aging is gathering.
So I’m calling for the beginning of common sense to offset the zealotry that’s replacing honest and well-placed calls for national awareness of demographic reality.
Nobody, including TV Land, deserves to proclaim superior insights either into the marketplace or social mores governing media policies and practices. Now is the time for the leaders of this nascent Boomer-aging-midlife marketing movement to cultivate a new perspective about aging.
FLASH: Boomers are not at the center of the known universe nor should the generation be. This is a time for our society to truly mature and embrace a multigenerational perspective – a nation that honors all generations and fosters intergenerational communication and cooperation.
The big problems out there – future funding of entitlement programs, global warming and worsening international relations, especially with the Muslim world – can only be solved by cooperation between generations.
I’m all for better, more realistic, and pervasive portrayals of mature Boomers in media (TV programming, advertising, etc.) but not to the extent that other generations become undermined by the long and wide shadow of the Boomer cohort.
It's time to be inclusive, yet vigilant, folks.