They have long been ignored and despised as a “dying demographic” by television executives in the headlong stampede for younger viewers.
But with millennials spending less time in front of the small screen than their mobiles and computers, TV is at last waking up to the needs of its vast grey audience.
A whole swathe of new shows at MIP, the world’s largest TV market in Cannes, France, either feature or are aimed directly at old people.
From new dramas like “The Viagra Diaries” to hit reality shows like “Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds” in which small children and retirement home residents are brought together, producers are challenging the taboo that seniors don’t make good TV.
“The Voice Senior”, an old folks version of the blockbuster singing show, will hit screens across Europe and Asia in 2018. It follows hot on the heels of the success of an originally Korean talent show “Better Late Than Never” – which has been sold to 16 countries – where older hopefuls share the bill with veteran entertainers.
Ageing baby boomers
The Dutch producers of “The Voice Senior”, Talpa, are also launching “Around the World With 80-year-olds”, where eight octogenarians who have never left their homeland jet off together.
With ageing baby boomers TV’s most loyal viewers, watching up to five hours a day, producers say it is high time this relatively rich demographic was taken seriously.
“Why not show older people on screen too?” asks Talpa’s Annelie Noest. “They watch a lot of TV but we never see them.”
She says when “The Voice Senior” was shown in the Netherlands it attracted a surprising high younger audience.
“You see yourself or your parents in these stories,” Noest says.
“Old people on screen historically has been a bit tricky if we are honest,” said Harry Gamsu, of Red Arrow International, the company behind “Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds”.
“But the success of shows like ours – and it had massive ratings – is changing that, particularly combined with kids, which broadens it out.
“There is a real appreciation that this growing slice of the population want to see content that is relevant and reflects them,” Gamsu adds. “Just because a show is starring older people doesn’t mean it can’t be innovative, or a bold and loud social experiment.”
Nor are broadcasters in search of the holy grail of shows that transcend the generations afraid to resurrect old formats if it can put bums on the sofa.
In Britain, the BBC is reviving “The Generation Game”, which first screened in 1971, which often brought three generations of families together on set.
Youngsters wipe off years
Professor Carolyn Yoon, author of the “Ageing Consumer”, says that trend is “hugely positive” particularly since new research being carried out at the University of Michigan where she works shows exposure to young people can wipe years off older people.
“People generally think of themselves as about 12 years younger than their chronological age. But it turns out that in positive situations with younger people, or just being surrounded by images of young people, can make people feel even younger.”
She says two decades can be wiped off a felt age – but the effect only works in positive situations.
Contrary to the stereotype, Professor Yoon says “older people are much more focused on positive experiences” than young people and anything that generates positivity.
“I can see how these shows can create a very positive feelgood cross-generational effect” for programme-makers, she adds.
“It is really quite an exciting development particularly as the picture of ageing has been relatively dismal even up to now even with the ageing of the baby boomers.”
But taboos may be slowly tumbling. Having not made it to the screen in 2012, an adaptation of the best-selling novel “The Viagra Diaries”, about “Generation Viagra” third-agers rediscovering dating in their 60s and 70s, is finally being made into a TV series in the US.