Getting Old in the Age of “Survivor”

TV sends mixed signals on whether it's a drag getting old. Is 50 the new 40 or is 40 the new 60?

On a recent episode of "Louie," the often hilarious new FX show staring Louis CK, the comic hooks up with a sexy 26-year-old who is attracted to him – solely because he's (barely) over 40.

“Older guys are just relaxed,” she tells him. “I mean, you’ve given up, which makes you grounded. Your skin is all loose and a little dry. And you smell weird.”

The whimsical, wishful-thinking scene (check it out here – warning: NSFW) is typical of this offbeat show in which the unapologetically shlumpy cynic frequently moans about getting older.

CK’s pessimistic outlook is refreshingly honest at a time when pop culture is a Botox-infused, mathematical mess where we're fed lines like 50 is the new 30, 80 is the new 60, and 60 is the new 40. Another one of our favorite comics, Lewis Black, who turns 62 this month, tries to scream us back into reality in his new DVD, “Stark Raving Black,” declaring, “Sixty is not 40! Sixty is 60! Forty is 40!”

The mixed signals sent on aging struck us in couple of seemingly unrelated recent news items. A new study found that we're at our most mentally fit during so-called middle age – between 40 and 60. Meanwhile, the latest stunt on CBS's "Survivor" involves pitting a team of contestants 30 and under against a group over 40.

We’re amused that CBS, which has battled perceptions that its audience is marking time in God’s waiting room, is using age as a marketing gimmick – ostensibly to draw younger viewers. Or maybe additional older ones…

TV executives are demographically obsessed because advertisers are obsessed with reaching the 18-to-49 crowd. That’s a big part of the reason why we get too many shows that seem to be guesses at what young people want to see (presuming they’re ever offline) rather than stabs at quality.

Now we're told in a new study by an ad agency research firm that audience age differences – at least among the networks – are virtually nonexistent. The median age of viewers of all networks, except the CW, is over 45, the New York Post reports, citing the report by Magna Global.

Viewer ages range, according to the report, from Fox’s “Family Guy,” with a median age of 30, to CBS' “The Good Wife,” with a median age of 58. They’re very different programs with one thing in common: both are among TV’s best shows.

We’re just happy to repeatedly tell ourselves that age is a state of mind as we root from the couch for the over-40s to kick butt on the new season of “Survivor”  – if only because they're the perceived underdogs (and, if the Seattle Longitudinal Study is to be believed, they have the brains to beat the brawn).

We're also ready to move into Louie CK's world – a place where the babes fall for lines like “I remember going to movies when it cost $3” and “I had a vein removed from my leg last year.”

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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