Read an interesting article in MediaLife. It noted that ABC's Nightline has younger demos that either David Letterman or Jay Leno in that 11:35PM time slot. Nightline is running around age 50 while Letterman attracts a slightly older audience, with Leno pulling a median of 51.
It's interesting because usually it's these entertainment programs that attract the younger audience while news shows attract the old geezers. But these three shows are basically skewing the exact same age group. I'm sure the Nightline numbers reflect the fact that they have some younger, hipper anchors now, plus younger people tend to get their news later in the day than older folks. And besides, lots of old folks can't hack it and go to bed early, so they don't watch Nightline, period.
But why are Leno and Letterman skewing fiftysomethings, too? The reason is obvious: MediaLife says Leno and Letterman are simply getting old, and so is the audience for both of them. Their lead-ins tend to skew older as well- for Letterman, his problem is that he is on CBS which has a history of skewing older audiences for its entire lineup, period. Meanwhile, there's the flight of the younger viewers to cable, and to the fare on Comedy Central (ie. The Daily Show), HBO, and the Cartoon Network. I've read all these stories about how well the Cartoon Network is doing with their Adult Swim lineup. The MediaLife people now say Letterman's audience for The Late Show is aging rapidly and will be skewing the oldest demos in late night by this time next year.
I'm not surprised. Leno and Letterman are getting to be as old as the hills. Leno always seemed to play to an older crowd, so I'm less surprised with his demos. As for Letterman, he has rapidly shown his age in recent years. It seemed like yesterday that he was this young, hip, cynical comedian. Then all of a sudden he turned into an old grouch, this curmudgeon. That's bound to turn these young people off! How are they able to relate to this?!
A lot of people say they liked the younger, more cynical Letterman a lot more than this latest, blander version. Letterman's act certainly changed because of his own life experiences; he's had the heart surgery and all that, and recently became a father for the first time, so we're getting all the comments about being a parent and that sort of thing. Certainly people say that he's mellowed, and that Letterman is more of an establishment figure. But I notice the old rebel tendencies are coming back. He is getting noticeably more grouchy and short-tempered on the air. It's probably all because his lousy IRL race team has had a lousy losing season and lost star driver Danica Patrick to their arch-rivals, Andretti-Green Racing. Or maybe it's also because he still loses in the ratings to that lame-o Jay Leno, plus he's now losing Emmys to The Daily Show all the time, too. Letterman's obviously completely ticked.
Anyway, no wonder the age medians are what they are if this is what they get from him: the old curmudgeon routine. Who wants to see that? It would be like tuning into Archie Bunker or something. The rest of the cast is also up there in age- Paul Shaffer, Alan Kalter, Biff Henderson- all of them. Even regular guests like Howard Stern are getting old. I don't think any of us ought to be surprised with what is going on with Letterman's show. When you have a show full of cast regulars who are approaching 60, and a comedian whose act is as old as he is, then your audience is going to reflect it.
What I find most interesting is that the average age for guys like Conan O'Brien is getting up there, too--- Conan has a median age of 42 and Carson Daly has the youngest demo of them all, at age 40. You would think that the audience for these guys would be much younger. I always thought late night TV was the domain of the younger viewers, because these are the people who worship these comedians on the college campuses and whose schedules force them to stay up late at night. They're the ones who drink all these energy drinks like JOLT Cola in order to cram for exams, so obviously they are used to watching tons of late-night television.
I remember when I was in university. The only TV entertainment for me during that whole miserable time consisted of late night shows hosted by Johnny Carson and David Letterman. My prime times were wasted doing boring readings or finishing off these lousy freaking essays for these miserable professors. Of course, there were lots of people who probably completely goofed off, but they, too, usually had the energy to stay up late at night to watch these shows.
Maybe these latest demos reflect the fact that network TV has lost plenty of ground with the younger crowd to all the competition- cable, the Internet, DVDs, video games, the works. The young folks are more hip to that stuff, not this Dave Letterman guy grouching and complaining all the time. Anyway, I'm sure the folks at the networks will be thinking long and hard about what is happening to their aging late-night audience. They want the younger audiences, these TV executives, and they ain't getting them these days.
Maybe this will speed up some retirement plans. Who knows.