Today's column deals with what a lousy job networks, and even many mainstream newspapers, do in conveying why they make decisions to cancel programs like "Harry's Law" or discontinue the "Jesse Stone" movies because of their older audience profile.
For the past week or two, I've been saving emails and comments from readers -- many of them random folk who found my name or article about "Jesse Stone" online -- expressing their displeasure. And yes, they apparently have access to (gasp) email.
"What can us 'old folks' do about [networks] canceling shows like 'Jesse Stone?' And 'Harry's Law?'" one of them asked.
It's a fair question. For starters, if there's a program you like and you can remember seeing Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, ask your kids to watch too.
Networks can dismiss this all they want, but it does feel -- particularly given the growing divide between some shows in terms of 2-plus viewers and key demos this season -- that something is happening here, with more friction likely to occur as the network audience keeps graying. And I think broadcasters and newspapers -- especially consumer outlets with a large portion of subscribers who wouldn't know a rating point from a Rutabaga -- need to be more sophisticated about addressing these concerns.
It's also false to assume talent completely gets demos. Yes, it's a business, but performers are wired to want people to see their work, and it's difficult to persuade them 5 million people are better than nearly 13 million for the latest "Jesse Stone" just because too many aren't the people advertisers want to reach.
Here's a smattering of those voices. The first comes from someone with ties to the industry, but the rest -- like the letter above -- are completely random. While the prose isn't always scintillating, the feelings sound pretty genuine:
"I have never been more shocked at the blatant disregard for those outside of 18-49, it completely blows me away -- first with 'Harry's Law' and now this. I never believed that total viewers meant so little to networks nowadays if they don't also fall into a higher rating for the desired demo. And it is very strange that there has been of all seasons more shows that had higher total viewers but low demos -- 'Missing,' 'Body of Proof' and 'Harry's Law.'
"This is very troubling and I wonder if the people over 50 know that they are being discriminated against -- do advertisers really believe the old adage that those over 50 won't try anything new or don't buy anything -- or is it really the Nielsen system that is outdated, not tracking correctly who is watching what. It really is a shame that such high quality television like 'Harry's Law' gets cancelled with 8 million viewers, yet 'Community' gets 3 million viewers with a difference of .3 in the demo (1.0 vs 1.3 for community) and gets renewed.
"Getting rid of 'Jesse Stone' because some of us are old is pathetic. We are people too!"
"The acting [in 'Harry's Law'] is outstanding, the plots pertinent, and the characters unforgettable. Please tell me it will be back soon."
"It is shameful that 'Harry’s Law' is being cancelled. It may not appeal to the younger people however it is the seniors who have all the money these days. To cancel a show that has such wit and intelligence is deplorable."
"That had to be the saddest story I've read lately. Most television shows either question our integrity or are just plain stupid. Reality shows really aren't reality and the rest are too sleazy. So, so sorry to hear the series is ending. Tom Selleck is better as Jesse Stone than Frank in 'Blue Bloods.'"