CBS drew an estimated 12.7 million viewers Sunday with its latest Jesse Stone movie, starring Tom Selleck, which on its face ought to be cause for cartwheels.
Drill a little deeper, though, and the movie's geriatric skew -- with adults over 50 accounting for the vast majority of its audience -- underscores the problem the major networks are wrestling with as their profiles keep getting older.
This was put into rather stark relief over the weekend, when a number of Los Angeles Times readers expressed their dismay over the cancellation of "Harry's Law," the NBC drama starring Kathy Bates. This makes sense, since about the only cohort approximating the age of "Harry's" viewers would be those who still read the print edition of the Los Angeles Times.
As my colleague Rick Kissell points out, "Jesse Stone: Benefit of the Doubt" drew a 1.2 rating among adults 18-49, and an 11.4 rating among those 50 and older. In other words, if you called mom on Sunday night, there was a pretty good chance she said, "I can't talk right now! I'm watching that nice young Tom Selleck!"
Yet because 18-49 and 25-54 are TV's currency of the realm, very little of that additional audience goes toward CBS' bottom line -- the same drawback that made NBC not-so-wild about Harry, even though the legal series qualified as its most-watched drama.
Networks are still grappling with issues surrounding DVR viewing, trying to get more credit for delayed replays of their shows. Frankly, though, nothing would be more helpful to a bunch of channels with a median age around 50 than convincing media buyers there was some value to be unlocked among those old enough to receive AARP magazine.
For now, though, the audience that tuned in to "Jesse Stone" might have watched with the sound cranked up really loud, but in media terms, they simply don't make much noise.