Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bridging the Generations On Saturday Nights

I was a teenager when Saturday Night Live debuted in the 1970's on NBC. That's my senior pic.

SNL was never consistently good.

Sorry Lorne Michaels but you knew that before I said it.

I'd sit through one bad skit waiting for the next skit, hoping for something in the 90 minutes that would make me laugh.

Probably Weekend Update was the most consistent in providing humor each week.

Besides the network newscasts, SNL has the longest tenure of a network program with the exception of the Tonight Show, also on NBC.

Mediapost featured this yesterday:

'Saturday Night Live' Jumps On The Boomer Bandwagon
In the 1970s and early '80s, teenagers were stumbling upon a new show called "Saturday Night Live." The edgy comedy of the Not-Ready-for-Primetime Players spoke to everybody, and they were drawn in by the show's hosts, a group of hot young up-and-comers like Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, and Madonna.

Watching the show many years later, I can't help but notice that, while the show still connects with teens and 20somethings, "SNL" has apparently recognized who is controlling the younger generation's purse strings. The hosts are increasingly in my age demo -- a parade of Baby Boomers -- and older.

What began last year as a Facebook-driven movement to bring octogenarian "Golden Girl" Betty White to the famed "SNL" stage has now become a full-fledged trend. Consider the following:

  • "Glee" villain Jane Lynch hosted last October only a few months after hitting the magic 50.
  • Jim Carrey had just turned 49 when he hosted in January.
  • 55-year-old "SNL" vet Dana Carvey made a comeback appearance in February.
  • "AARP Movies For Grown-Ups" award-winners Robert DeNiro (67) and "True Grit" star Jeff Bridges (65) took December spots.

This month, it showed no signs of stopping, with another over-60 double whammy: Sir Elton John (64) and Dame Helen Mirren (65).

What cultural Kool-Aid have the "SNL" producers and creator Lorne Michaels been drinking?

It turns out the sugary beverage they've been sipping is cold hard reality: the over 75 million boomers who will turn 47 to 65 this year not only control half of U.S. consumer spending, the average age of a primetime TV viewer this season is 51.

NBC-TV, where "SNL" lives, made a presentation last November to advertisers stating that, when it comes to spending, the 55-64 demo is just as important as the traditional 18-34 year-old media darlings.

As a matter of fact, all of the major television networks know what side the bread is buttered on, as evidenced by the host of 50+ stars who, no longer relegated to supporting roles as crotchety in-laws, now carry their own series as shrewd, commanding leads. Tom Selleck (66) and Kathy Bates (62) are TV's newest primetime series stars, and who can avoid 63-year-old rocker Steven Tyler judging each week on "American Idol," replacing 50-year-old Simon Cowell as fan favorite?

Boomers have the money and are becoming increasingly prominent in TV programming, yet the networks still charge far more to advertise on shows with younger viewers than ones that skew older.

While the networks have progressed, responding to the demographic shift in population, advertisers and marketers still have to be weaned off of the idea that recent college grads carrying a mountain of school debt somehow have more in their wallets than their parents and grandparents do.

With demand for accountability, advertisers will eventually get on the same page as the networks when it comes to catering to Boomers, their appeal and their spending. If it's imperative for marketers to "follow the money," they should look no further than who is turning on the television sets and paying the cable bills.

Mark Bradbury is research director for AARP Media Sales.

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