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TV shows should make better use of older actresses

April 10, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
TV execs have probably paid no notice, but I have been deliberately boycotting the show "The Finder."

Last year I liked the concept when the characters from the new show appeared on FOX's "Bones," but FOX lost me as soon as they ditched actress Saffron Burrows, for what I had suspected was in part due to them wanting a younger actress, though I may have been mistaken.

Still, Hollywood has developed a bad habit of ignoring the talents of actresses who are much over 35 to the point that on some shows female actresses who are at best six or eight years older than a male lead are cast as the man's mother. ABC's new fairy tale "Once Upon a Time," which I generally like, neatly avoided having any older women on their show with the gimmick that all of the fairy tale characters have been frozen in time. As a result, the 28-year-old lead character can have a long-lost mother and father who are still in her peer group, as is the evil queen.

One reason they do this is to attract younger viewers. TV viewers over 50 are much less valued because they are seen as set in their ways and less likely to buy new products that are advertised. That's a dated notion, but one that still holds sway in the industry. It's also likely that male TV execs, who in real life seem to often have trophy wives 25 or 30 years their junior, can't imagine anyone wanting to watch an actress in her 50s or 60s.

CBS's "NCIS" is still on the the air after nine or 10 years for a good reason and I would guess it's mainly because people really like Mark Harmon playing grouchy 50-something NCIS agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Gibbs has a new potential girlfriend this season, played by guest star Jamie Lee Curtis, who appears in tonight's episode. Curtis plays well off Harmon and seems to be having a lot of fun with the role of a prickly psychologist. It is also nice to see Harmon paired with a graying 50-something actress as his love interest instead of a woman 20 years his junior.

"NCIS" takes some hits for having such a large portion of its audience over age 50, but one reason it does so well with people of all ages is that it showcases the talents of actors and actresses in that age range and makes them multidimensional characters.

I have made a point of deliberately watching "NCIS" when Curtis is on. For the record, I am still in the coveted 18-49 demographic.

Addendum

Richard Greener, author of the books that "The Finder" was based on, e-mailed me to let me know that he believes I am mistaken in my comments in the original blog entry about "The Finder" and my criticism is misplaced. He says the female characters that replaced Burrows' character were "long before the character of Ike, played by Ms. Burrows, ever appeared in the pilot and disappeared afterward." He also points out that even in Hollywood, an actress of Burrows' age and talent would not be considered "older." I have decided to amend the blog.

I had based my original comments on some of the stories I had read months ago about the casting of "The Finder." To be fair, the stories indicated that there were other reasons for changing the casting, among them that Burrows did not test well with audiences and they had decided to go in a different direction. I didn't share that criticism, having enjoyed her performance in the "Bones" episode, and was sorry to see that she was not included in the series.

 
 

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