'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.

3 comments about "'Saturday Night Live' Jumps On The Boomer Bandwagon ".
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  1. Brent Green from Brent Green & Associates, Inc., April 11, 2011 at 12:13 p.m.

    A recent article in the "Wall Street Journal" railed against a dearth of programming targeting Boomers on network TV. I disagreed with the writer’s underlying premise that Boomer actors and age-targeted programming are irrelevant on network TV today, an industry historically obsessed with “the demo”: adults 18 to 49, skewing 18 to 34. Although I was unable to convince the WSJ reporter otherwise, and the article reflected her inaccurate theory, another article then appeared on "Deadline: Hollywood" within weeks entitled "PILOT SEASON: The End of Ageism." Here’s an excerpt:

    “Is it a question of acting chops, charisma and star power, something some of the older actors have in spades? Or the broadcast networks are looking to relive their glory days with some of their signature stars of the past (Allen, Johnson and Lahti are all returning to the networks where they became household names with hits 'Home Improvement,' 'Miami Vice' and 'Chicago Hope,' respectively). Or the Baby Boomers are turning out in droves to support shows fronted by actors of their generation? Or maybe the broadcast networks are simply taking a page out of the cable playbook. HBO's biggest new show, 'Boardwalk Empire,' stars the 53-year-old Steve Buscemi. And the biggest comedy star on TV at the moment, broadcast or cable, is 'Hot in Cleveland's' Betty White, 89.”

    Contrary to the theory proposed in the "Journal" article, during this next season networks are evolving to include Boomers in starring roles. (Since I went to college with Don Johnson, I’m particularly pleased to see him emerge in another starring role.)

    As I emphasize throughout my newest book, "Generation Reinvention" is changing the lifestage past 50 and its hegemony will transform popular and media culture, even historically ageist network TV. It is one consequence of 10,000+ boomers turning 65 daily for the next 19 years.

  2. Chuck Nyren from Advertising to Baby Boomers, April 11, 2011 at 12:27 p.m.

    True about the new shows with Kathy Bates, Tom Selleck - but older SNL hosts is not a good barometer. The series has always had an eclectic mix of hosts - ones that are supposed to surprise you. Agewise, the first season hosts included Buck Henry, Peter Boyle, Anthony Perkins, Desi Arnaz. The second season: Norman Lear, Ralph Nader, Ruth Gordon, Broderick Crawford, Jack Burns. Through the years: Milton Berle, Charlton Heston, Bob Newhart, John McCain.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 11, 2011 at 2:07 p.m.

    Those who are too young (and not wise enough yet) to listen, won't be paid boomer rates either. Great article and well said.

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