It’s easy to feel old in America. You can feel old even if you’re young.
Take the case of a TV writer named Riley Weston. She was hired for creating a new show called “Felicity,” which deals with the life and loves of a college freshman. Weston was celebrated because she was only 19 years old. She was quickly profiled by Entertainment Weekly. She scored a two-year, $300,000 deal with Disney, which figured it was snapping up The Next Big Thing.
Problem was, while Riley Weston certainly looked like she was 19, she was, in fact, 32. And her name wasn’t Riley Weston. Her real name was Kimberlee Kramer, a barely working actress who was tired of being shut out and worried about getting too old. So she reinvented herself, started from scratch, came in with an empty resume instead of an unimpressive one, and hit it big.
Until a jealous friend snitched, and now Riley — or Kimberlee — is off the show.
Now, that story makes me feel old two different ways. First, because they are even making TV shows about college freshmen. Second, because Weston’s real age was considered “too old” for the gig.
Too old? Thirty-two? Where does that leave the rest of us?
Increasingly out in the cold, that’s where. What happened with this TV show is nothing that isn’t happening in the movie business, the finance business, the computer business or the sales world. Everyone wants the next young genius. Everyone suspects that kids somehow sense trends that older adults are missing. And these trends mean money. Young is good. New is good, period.
So, in America today, experience is less valued than promise. And, to quote Hollywood, there is nothing more promising than someone who has done nothing.
TV for teenagers
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Riley’s — or Kimberlee’s — world, TV. You can argue whether television reflects our culture or defines it. In either case, it’s chilling to learn that, according to a recent study by the Writers Guild of America, employment for TV writers begins to decrease after the age of 30.
In fact, several top-rated shows, including “Friends,” “Men Behaving Badly” and “Veronica’s Closet,” don’t have any writers over the age of 40.
Of course, this may be obvious if you ever watch these shows. They are frequently inane, predictable, and when in doubt, gravitate toward a sex joke
— which sort of describes teenagers.
The problem is, these are not shows for teenagers. They are popular with adults. And when I ask myself why — since they are not particularly enlightening — I increasingly come to this conclusion: envy.
We envy youth. We envy the fun we think they’re having. We envy the bodies, faces and haircuts of the characters on “Friends.” We envy their life, sitting around drinking coffee, looking beautiful, talking about sex.
We envy them, because we are brainwashed into thinking that our best days are always behind us, that with age only comes decay and death. This is good for business. Envy of youth fuels everything from face lifts to fast cars, liposuction to lipstick, Minoxidil to Microsoft.
And it’s all backwards.
A mixed society
Did you know that several TV writers who worked on “MASH” — one of the most celebrated, intelligent hit shows ever — now take that credit off their resumes so as not to appear too old, according to the show’s creator, Larry Gelbart?
What a terrible shame. What kind of country are we creating when all you learn as you grow old is seen as useless once you get there? Why shouldn’t a 32-year-old be able to write about the life of college freshmen better than an actual college freshman? There’s a huge difference between going through something and actually understanding it.
What all these 30-year-old studio heads and 30-year-old CEOs don’t appreciate is a simple word: perspective. You can’t have it without age. You can’t have it without experience. Perspective is the ingredient that allows you to analyze what you’re dealing with — be it a stock market, an industry or a TV show — and break it down into important and unimportant.
I worry about a country without perspective. I worry about a nation that watches seven hours of television a day, when that television is created by 30-year-olds. I worry when I see the new head of NBC is 39. I worry when we are so eager to push aside our old people, despite their wisdom and experience. And I worry even more when those old people buy into it.
Riley Weston — or whatever her name is — shouldn’t have lied. But she shouldn’t have had to. I doubt most teenage viewers of “Felicity” even know what that word means. It means “being happy.” Here’s another word.
“Venerable.” It means “commanding respect because of age.”
In our mixed-up country, the words are in conflict. They ought to go hand-in-hand.
To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.