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Michele Willens

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Face It: Our Demo Doesn't Matter

Posted: 05/16/2012 9:08 am

So, in one day I heard that Harry's Law -- a show I enjoyed for its wit and intelligence as much as the fact that its lead character was a 63-year-old woman -- was being canceled, and I gave Girls on HBO one more chance. I say "ugh" to both.

Understand, Harry's Law did not have bad ratings, and was certainly higher on those lists than many other shows on NBC's schedule. But it didn't have the right kind of ratings; network executives said the show attracted a "very old" audience that advertisers do not like, according to the L.A. Times. I know I am beating a dead horse here. It is hardly a new television truism that the desired demo is the pre-40 set which, supposedly, is more likely to be influenced by products and open to change.

To which I say, find me one Baby Boomer who isn't richer than his or her kids (okay, Mrs. Zuckerberg excepted) that doesn't still crave change and hope and isn't receptive to any product that makes one look or feel younger. Alas, it is obviously a losing argument, despite the fact that we are 70 million strong, hanging around a long time and probably the last generation to actually watch TV shows on TV.

Kathy Bates, as Harry, was surrounded by younger, more beautiful and certainly slimmer co-stars on the NBC legal series. But she was its heart and a complex woman at that. Did I like it just because, as a television exec once said to me, I "skew old"? (To which I, of course, replied, "skew you.") I never once sat there cheering Bates simply for being older and well, normal, but for being thoroughly entertaining and fighting the good fights. Maybe CBS will put her on the hugely successful 60 Minuteswhere she would immediately be its youngest contributor.

Now, I am well aware that Girls is not a show for my demographic. But my daughter is a contemporary 24-year-old Brooklyn resident and she too has no idea who those people are. None of that should matter as long as the material is clever and original and has relatable -- if not likable -- characters. Let me say here that I loved creator Lena Dunham's movie Tiny Furniture and was hoping for the same full-bodied sensibility on the small screen. I am convinced critics over-raved just to prove they were hip enough to see past the awfulness to the -- well, awfulness.

I find it ironic that Kathy Bates is punished for being fat and old, while Dunham is excused, even heralded, for being fat and young. Age aside, I too cheer screen women who ooze authenticity. But do I need to see them naked and degraded every week? The show is being compared to Sex And The City but -- while that one often felt as if it were written by gay men who thought they knew how women talked -- it was at least funny and sharp and had clearly defined characters.

The females on Girls may be unappealing, but at least they are far superior to the males. Actor Adam Driver should be given an Emmy for pure bravery and for possibly giving us the least-endearing character in the history of television. The actresses too, if nothing else, should be applauded for their courage in embodying low self-esteem and portraying a variety of ugly sexual positions.The show has been dubbed Nepotism because the stars have famous parents, but in fairness, it is difficult to tell if there is talent or charisma behind the humiliation.

I am trying so hard here not to fall into prudish inclinations or our parents' "they don't make 'em like they used to" laments. But I ask you, is it funny, impactful and even realistic to use the F word in every sentence? Were Seinfeld or Friends not far smarter series without ever using one? Or even Curb Your Enthusiasm, which, like Girls, is on the edgy HBO but manages to save the profanity for when it means something? Cable is a godsend, but it shouldn't be an excuse for lazy writing and sexual one-upmanship. (I'll challenge your Entourage with my Californication. Okay and I'll raise you one Magic City).

Hey, no one is being forced to watch anything and I appreciate the choices, the freedom and I am happy to have the extra 30 minutes free on Sunday nights. But I wish I had the 60 that Harry's Law used to give me on the same night. But as the networks and advertisers remind us, what I think doesn't really matter.

 
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