For many Boomers and, I suppose, some Gen Xers, it was a Very Important Week in Television. The May 17 series finale of “Mad Men” and David Letterman’s final bow on “The Late Show” on May 20 marked #TheEndofanEra. I know this because Very Influential Media peeps that I follow on Twitter told me so. Meanwhile, when I talked to, like, actual peeps IRL about these two Very Important Television Milestones, most of them were kinda sorta meh about the whole thing. I guess some of us have had more than our fill of “Mad Men”’s incessant white whine and Letterman’s tired old-white-guy snark, amirite?
Despite ratings highs for both “The Late Show With David Letterman,” which drew 13.7 million viewers, and “Mad Men,” which drew 3.3 million same-day viewers and reportedly earned respectable ratings among the ever-so-coveted 18 - 49 demographic, the media and cultural importance of these two Very Important Television Milestones didn’t seem to register much for Gen Y viewers. I know this because I asked a coupla Millennials that I know (i.e., my nephew, who’s a junior in college; a few former work colleagues in their mid- and late-20s; and my neighbor, a 30-something stay-at-home mom) what they thought about #TheEndofanEra and #ThanksDave, and they mostly shrugged or replied by texting me random emojis.
While “Mad Men” was undoubtedly a brilliantly crafted period piece and David Letterman’s subversive brand of humor was arguably groundbreaking back in the day, these two Very Important Television Milestones failed to capture the attention and imagination of Gen Y in the same way that they did for Boomers and Gen Xers because a) Millennials don’t watch TV on TV like the olds did and still do and b) media on-demand and mobile have transformed the meaning of Very Important Television Milestones for Millennials, who more often than not consume time-shifted “television” programming online, via mobile devices, and in bite-sized chunks, instead of watching appointment television like older generations, who generally watch more traditionally programmed television.
Which brings us back to this week’s Very Important Television Milestones. I asked my Millennial nephew if he planned to watch the final episodes of either “Mad Men” (“maybe when it’s on Netflix”) or “The Late Show” (“probably only clips on YouTube”), and his responses were typical for his generation. The sense of urgency to view programming while it first airs or even in its entirety doesn’t seem to exist for Millennials. Access to programming on Gen Y’s own terms trumps the need to acquire next-day water-cooler fodder. Why bother slogging through an entire episode when you can simply look at the best scenes from the “Mad Men” finale in a series of animated GIFs on BuzzFeed? And why waste a night watching “The Late Show” on TV when you can look back at when David Letterman gave zero f***s via Reddit?
For Millennials, the idea of “being there” when Very Important Television Milestones occur may seem somewhat quaint. I asked my nephew what television milestone he thought his generation would wax nostalgic about in 20 or 30 years and he said, “It’ll probably be something that was created by an ordinary person not by a celebrity, it’ll probably be something online or mobile, and it definitely won’t be something on TV.”