For years it’s been generally accepted that roles dry up for actresses over 40, and while that might still be true in movies, it appears to be less the case on the small screen. Sharon Stone, Susan Sarandon and Diane Keaton are all getting their own TV shows for the first time, and other middle-age and older actresses have lately scored big roles.
And these shows aren’t just on the old broadcast networks, but on basic cable channels, pay-TV networks and even online streaming services such as Netflix.
It’s a sign that, despite big investments in BuzzFeed and other millennial-focused content creators, Hollywood is still interested in reaching older viewers, said Vivian Mayer, principal of Century City entertainment marketing and public relations firm Mayer & Associates.
“The landscape is changing as baby boomers acclimate to the digital environment by switching to streaming and on-demand services,” she said. “Making programming that satisfies that high-earning demographic makes complete economic sense.”
Of course, a handful of shows with older actresses are already on the air or online. There’s Netflix comedy “Grace and Frankie,” which stars Jane Fonda, 77, and Lily Tomlin, 76. And Robin Wright, 49, stars alongside Kevin Spacey, 56, in acclaimed Netflix political drama “House of Cards.”
Joining those shows this week will be CBS sitcom “Life in Pieces.” The show, which was scheduled to debut Sept. 21 features two-time Oscar winner Dianne Wiest, 67, as the matriarch of a dysfunctional family. It will air in a coveted time slot: directly after TV’s most watched sitcom, “The Big Bang Theory.”
Next up is TNT’s “Agent X,” which will debut in November and stars Stone, 57. She’ll play the newly elected vice president of the United States who has a security crisis to deal with.
Sarandon, 68, will play a former first lady with her own political ambitions in “Graves,” a comedy set to debut next year on Epix, a premium cable network and streaming service backed by Viacom, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and MGM. And Keaton, 69, will star as an American nun at the Vatican who guides a fictional, conservative American pope, played by Jude Law, in HBO’s “The Young Pope,” which does not yet have an air date.
One big reason that networks and major cable channels have started putting out casting calls for established older actresses is the success of actor-driven shows on Netflix and other streaming services.
“The likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime have developed real quality TV and the networks and their other rivals have had to step up and enhance the caliber and depth of their storytelling,” said Renee Fraser, chief executive of West L.A. ad firm Fraser Communications. “One way to do that is to hire great actresses and the ones landing these shows have all had successful movie careers and their switch to television brings an audience interest.”
And as the number of TV shows grows, new programs continue to have their pick of older actresses. Despite a handful of notable exceptions – Meryl Streep, 66, and Helen Mirren, 70, have kept making big pictures lately – most older actresses see relatively few opportunities in film.
“It’s because of the basic fact that there are a limited amount of theatrical releases annually as compared to the multitude of TV options,” Mayer said.
Take Oscar winner Wiest: Before it was announced that she’d joined the cast of CBS’ “Life in Pieces,” she told the New York Times that she was having a hard time finding enough work to pay the rent.
For her and other actresses who might have a difficult time nailing down movie parts, the regular paychecks a television series offers are most welcome, said Michael Karlin, partner of Westwood business management firm Nigro Karlin Segal Feldstein & Bolno, which handles accounting duties for actors.
“It’s rewarding for clients creatively and financially to be working regularly again and be in demand after so many years,” he said. “Having additional income at this stage of their careers can not only better their lifestyle but also help solidify retirement plans, add to their savings and be used as gifts for the next generation of their families.”
All this new work for older actresses has a knock-on effect in other businesses, too. Beauticians, trainers and stylists, for example, have been working hard to get their older clients looking good for prime time.
“High-definition television sets magnify every flaw, so an intense skin care regimen and flawless injectables are needed to keep faces looking fresh and supple,” said independent stylist Christine Harte of Beverly Hills. “You can no longer stick on lipstick and makeup and get away with it, so clients are booking more treatments to keep lines and wrinkles at bay and take advantage of the extra work opportunities.”
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