February 23, 2013

Hollywood Finally Shows Some Wrinkles

With the Academy Awards this weekend, once again, much of Americans' attention will be focused on watching the Hollywood entertainment business (few industries celebrate themselves as much as the movie biz, with countless awards shows including the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Screen Actor's Gild, People's Choice ... and that's just for movies.  There are also awards for music and television [since I'm more likely to have seen some television, I do watch the Emmy's in September]) celebrate itself.  I will go on record as saying not everyone loves the non-stop parade of indulgent narcissism and red carpet B.S., but given that TV is struggling to find programming that draws large audiences that were once commonplace among the major TV networks, this type of event programming is unlikely to disappear anytime soon).

Evidently, Kraft Foods will be shelling out a few million dollars to reboot a condiment classic: Grey Poupon mustard.  Apparently, mustard sales aren't what they used to be.  Consumers today are seeking bolder flavors like poblano hot pepper sauce.  Of course, the fact that many people try to avoid carbs has also meant that many also avoid traditional sandwiches where mustard was a common flavor enhancer.  American Public Media's Marketplace covered that story, which can be listened to below, or by visiting  http://bit.ly/ZxnyOZ:

Obviously, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who remember the original limo riding snobs in the commercial from the 1980s are the main target audience, but the reboot adds a James Bond-esque twist in hopes of encouraging a younger audience to taste the finer things in life, such as Grey Poupon Dijon mustard.  Catch the following video preview (it appears after some commentary) below which is slated to air during the Oscars on Sunday, or by visiting https://youtu.be/ovTtE46pc28:

Anyway, that's really just a retro diversion.  Now, down to business.

Traditionally, Hollywood has thrown its older actors/actresses aside as if they were trash, except with the rare exception of a small handful of roles that came up every so often (one film that comes to mind is 1981's "On Golden Pond" which co-starred screen legends Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, both of whom walked away with Academy Awards that year, as did Ernest Thompson for his screen play) plus Jane Fonda, Dabney Coleman, and Doug McKeon.

Although youth is undoubtedly a huge factor behind the film industry's bottom line, many movies aimed at the youth audience have become formulaic and predictable.  How many sequels to the same vampire story are really necessary?  We can't blame the audience for that, its the film industry which has become less tolerant of taking risks by pursuing what are viewed as guaranteed payouts rather than by taking creative risks.  As for the film stars, there will always be a crowd of good-looking young actors and actresses waiting in the wings to become the next big thing.  That's been true as long as mass entertainment has existed.

However, one thing that has changed is that the older audience today is simply much too big to ignore completely.  That wasn't always the case, but with 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day for the next 18 years, today, this group can generate some serious money for movie studios that target them with the right content.

On Thursday, February 21, 2013, NPR's "All Things Considered" program featured an interesting story entitled "Baby Boomers Return To The Multiplex, And Hollywood Notices" which documents just how the big entertainment industry is evolving with an evolving American demographic profile.  It discusses one of the more low-key events of the season: the AARP's "Movies for Grownups".  That program can be listened to below, or by visting http://n.pr/YehCaI:

To be sure, it's possible that at least one of the "Movies for Grownups" could walk away with an Oscar this year, but the same genre has become far more relevant for millions of consumers than it was when the organization first began it back in 2001. What's more, there's more content to fill the article in 2013 than there was when the feature began, and it seems there will be for the foreseeable future.

European filmmakers have always tacked difficult content pretty bravely, and so too is the case with one nominee aimed at the gray-haired set: "Amour" which looks at a devoted, long-married couple - both music teachers - and what they go through together when the wife has a stroke and begins a painful, irreversible decline.  It's an Austrian film set in France, and has already won awards at the Cannes Film Festival, the British Academy of Film and Television Awards and various critics organizations.  While the subject matter is tough, it deserves to be told.  This film has Oscar nominations for best picture, best director, best screenplay and best foreign film. And, the media reports that film is also now playing on 600 screens across the U.S., which is pretty good for a non-English language film, where Americans don't deal with subtitles and/or dubbing especially well given how uncommon that is.

However, now that Hollywood has noticed the geriatric set, we're likely to see  more movies targeting this large and growing demographic universe.

Although today's post is more about movies, television still has a way to go, but it's gotten better in recent years.  When Susan Harris created "The Golden Girls" back in the 1980's (catch a related post at http://goo.gl/aZkMS), almost no one had really tackled the subject of senior citizens in a sitcom.  These days, the main surviving cast member of that particular show, Betty White, who has been on television longer than almost anyone, stars in TV Land's original sitcom "Hot in Cleveland" and the show has done very well for the cable network. Last January, TV Land renewed "Hot In Cleveland" for a fourth season.

However, as we saw when Larry Hagman passed away late last year, the screen writers worked to incorporate his real-life death into the TBS reboot of "Dallas" this season (catch my post on the "Dallas" reboot at http://goo.gl/JSzlD).  No doubt, the same thought has crossed the minds for "Hot In Cleveland's" writers as to what they would do should something happen to Betty White, who just celebrated her 91st birthday with a show on NBC television.

In the end, although award shows are basically about an industry celebrating itself and force-feeding it on everyone else, the new demographic reality of an aging population may finally be changing the entertainment business in a way that better reflects the profile of American audiences.  That's something which deserves an Academy award!

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