Is TV Kinder Than the Movies to Actors as They Age?

Is there an unspoken rule that the movie industry prefers its stars young while the TV industry is more baby boomer-friendly?

Everybody knows that, as a rule, pop culture skews young. Lady Gaga, 24, and Justin Bieber, 16, are currently making millions off of their teenage fans. And if you've been to the movies lately, you know that that industry generally prefers its stars on the young side. This unspoken rule is most pronounced for female celebrities, whose ideal age range starts with Miley Cyrus, 18, and is at its sweet spot around Natalie Portman, 29 -- though actresses like Julia Roberts, 43, and Jennifer Aniston, 42, aren't exactly over the hill. The threshold's a little higher for guys, like Owen Wilson, 42, or Brad Pitt, 47.

This inherent ageism is a drag, to say the least, for talented entertainers who happen to be rounding out their 40s. But recently the television industry, at least, appears to be bucking the trend. On many shows right now, the lead actors could be (and probably are) receiving a free subscription to AARP magazine.

On TV, characters in the baby boomer generation (who are now between 47 and 65) are leading investigations, litigating cases, seeking romance and handling annoying family dynamics. And it doesn't seem to matter if they're male or female. On CBS' Blue Bloods, Tom Selleck, 66, is playing the patriarch of a family of cops. On NBC's Harry's Law and DirecTV's Damages, Kathy Bates, 62, and Glenn Close, 63, are, respectively, formidable lawyers steamrolling over their opponents. On CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Laurence Fishburne, 49, and Marg Helgenberger, 52, lead a team of agents. And Dana Delany, 54, is a former neurosurgeon who works as a medical examiner on Body of Proof.

On TV, anyway, talent and experience appears to help actors, especially because the television audience is getting older as well, according to the Wall Street Journal. On ABC's Modern Family, Ed O'Neill, 64, fits right in with the young cast, and ABC's The Middle revolves entirely around Patricia Heaton, 53. And all the stars of TV Land's surprise hit, Hot in Cleveland, are boomers: Valerie Bertinelli, 50, Wendie Malick, 60, and Jane Leeves, 49. Of course, there's Betty White, too, who's a mere 89.

Where is this trend most obvious? To see just how accepting TV viewers are of older stars, look no further than American Idol, where the most popular judge on the panel is none other than Steven Tyler. Kudos to the Idol producers for seeing Tyler for who he is -- an unpredictable, nutty, irrepressible goofball -- and not how old he is. His actual age is 62 -- the year you can begin receiving social security retirement benefits. But how old does he act? Let's be honest: In those terms, the guy's barely out of his teens.

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