By Frank Barron
The Madison Avenue men — those who buy commercial time on television and other media — insist that the best market for sales is the 18-49 age group. And Hollywood producers strive to present shows for that segment of the population.
Despite that myopic mindset, the entertainment industry is also aware of the drawing power of its veteran performers. So it is no surprise that “seniors” have a starring role on some of the most popular and acclaimed shows on TV.
Let’s call them seasoned stars instead of seniors, and point out some of them who make the age “50-plus” boomer generation look darn good. Of course there are the obvious Hot in Cleveland stars on TV Land, with the wonderful Betty White, 89, enjoying the hottest streak in her enduring career. But you have to admit her cast mates Jane Leeves, 50, Valerie Bertinelli, 51, and Wendy Malick, 60, are also enjoying success in youth obsessed showbiz. White says they are “redefining what it is to be a vibrant, beautiful woman.”
It was Leeves who talked about what makes them as “senior babes” so hot. “I think it’s growing into your fabulous self and becoming confident women,” Leeves says. Malick points out, “My notion of real beauty is being comfortable in your own skin. I think more women are accepting who they are, and all the experience they have, and celebrating that.”
Someone else who fits that category is Dana Delany, 55. She first grabbed attention as a young actress in China Beach in 1988, and recently enjoyed a successful three-year stint on Desperate Housewives. Now Delany is showcasing her talents as the crime-solving medical examiner on the ABC drama Body of Proof. She says, “I like to play complicated characters, and I’m always up for the next adventure, and this show has given me that. But what’s different from my China Beach days is that I have learned to eat right and sleep.” That wisdom comes with age.
Glenn Close, 64, star of the series Damages (season four premiered July 13 on DirecTV), says that she was told early in her career that if she accepted television roles it would ruin her film career. Instead she praises the meaty roles that women are offered on TV. “I have always been seduced by good writing, and I go where the writing is,” Close says. Meanwhile, Katey Sagal, 57, has also moved on from her ditzy Married… with Children days, to play the matriarch in the gritty Sons of Anarchy FX series (returning Sept. 6).
Cable is especially receptive to older actresses, but Oscar-winner Kathy Bates (Misery), at 63 became the star of Harry’s Law, and will be back for a second season in prime time on NBC. Bates likes her character and says she’s relieved about playing someone her age “and reflective of our society. I identify where she is in life, and that she has lived a certain amount of her life a bit disillusioned, which makes her a bit crabby.”
Among the guys, the drawing power of Tom Selleck, 66, has helped the CBS series Blue Bloods become a hit last season. And he turns the Jesse Stone TV movies into a successful franchise. And nobody will question the appeal of rock star Steven Tyler, 63, after he has delighted all generations doing his duties as judge on American Idol. Hugh Laurie, 52, also gets young viewers tuning in Fox to see him as the curmudgeonly doctor on House. Gary Sinise, 56, is the stoic star of CSI:NY. And TV’s top-rated drama NCIS had Mark Harmon, 59, in the lead. In his youth Harmon was an All-American football star at UCLA.
Can anyone forget how good Ed O’Neill in his role as the beleaguered Al Bundy on Married… with Children? Well now O’Neill at 65 is a lot wiser as the patriarch of the ABC sitcom Modern Family, but still knows how to get the laughs. So does Saturday Night Live alumni Chevy Chase, 67, who is a key ingredient in the clever comedy ensemble for NBC’s Community. Chase says he enjoys being around all the “brash young kids, who are all fine actors and make it fun to go to work every day.”
It all goes to reinforce the notion that there is no expiration date for great talent.