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Elder Media

With the oldest baby boomers turning 60 this year and the rest of those 78 million coming right up behind them, elder media is taking off. Some new television shows this year are featuring such 50-something actors as James Woods, John Lithgow and Ted Danson, and Judd Hirsch continues on Numbers. This is a good start, but I’ll be impressed when 55- and 60-year old women star in programs.

There are a few new elder media projects that are trying to reach beyond – or say they are trying to reach beyond – the limited themes of money and appearance.

Founded by the former CEO of monster.com, Jeff Taylor, Eons aims to be “50 plus everything,” as its tagline says, “inspiring people" says Mr. Taylor, "to live the biggest life possible.”

To help elders do that, Eons give them space to list their top ten Life Dreams, create a LifeMap, play a whole lot of games (most of which are downloads for a price), join a discussion group (which aren’t very active yet) and create a blog. But I’ll be damned if I can find anyone’s blog on the site. And that’s a big drawback; the site is incredibly difficult to navigate.

The stories are disappointing too. In the career section, there is just a simplified job search form from (where else?) monster.com, along with a story about enrolling in benefit plans. The sections on love, money and body feel empty – just recitations of information that can be found on dozens, even hundreds, of other websites with more informative detail. There is nothing here that inspires a “big life” - whatever that means.

I began to feel dubious about the site reading a story from a contributor about buying a second-home with an accompanying photo of his “cottage” which looks like a castle. And I became downright alarmed reading a story about a chemist who is serving three months in jail for supplying a performance-enhancing drug who intends to target older people with his products when he’s free again so “athletes will turn to the antiaging world because it will be easier to get the drugs they want there than from the bodybuilding world.”

Eons is only two or three months old and perhaps, with time, it will find its footing. But it certainly has a way to go.

Another new elder media venture is Retirement Living TV – a television project which is the brainchild of John Erickson, the founder, chairman and CEO of Erickson Retirement Communities which are described as full-service, continuing care retirement communities.

The goal, according to their website, is this:

“We believe television is a promising source for generating positive images of older individuals. Our programming will provide positive models for older viewers enhancing individuals' sense of control over their lives and their ability to overcome challenges. By achieving this, we will begin to reverse the stigma associated with aging.”

I’ll buy that for a good start. The network was launched just a few weeks ago with, so far, four hours of programming a day titled:

The Art of Living
The Voice
The Informed Citizen
The Prudent Advisor
The Daily Apple

The shows cover health, everyday wellness, interviews with elders, politics, social issues and getting the most from your money – a good lineup. They’ve even covered age discrimination already, and their hosts are actually older people.

So far, RLTV is available only to Comcast subscribers in Mid-Atlantic and New England states, but you can view recent episodes of each program on their website. They are well-done, compelling and useful while treating the audience like the grownups we are.

I have just one quibble: I hope they will mix up the extraordinary elders they feature, like the 70- and 80-year-old hockey players on a recent show, with ordinary people too. Everyone is interesting if you pay attention.

Boomers TV, which has trademarked its tagline, “redefining life after 50,” has been around for about a year and is broadcast on some PBS stations in about 22 states. It is slickly produced by a husband-and-wife team who are boomers themselves, and the program is relentlessly boomer-oriented - how to be an older boomer with every latest trend including Oprah guru, Dr. Michael Roizen.

There’s nothing wrong with the program except that there is nothing new, compelling or “redefining” about it either. You know, eat your veggies, exercise, take a road trip, spice up your sex life. You can find out more about redefining old age by reading any one of the Elderbloggers on the list in the left column.

There are short clips from the show on their website or you can buy the first 13 episodes on four DVDs for about $50.

New ventures often stumble in their early days and all of these should be given a chance to improve. But of the three, only Retirement Living TV is, so far, intriguing. They’re taking a chance that elders are interested in serious social issues, in politics and want useful information on money, health and living that informs, educates and isn’t recycled from other media.

By not pandering to the pretense of youth that many elder-targeted media projects do, Retirement Living TV is reaching for something original in elder media and I’m hoping they succeed. They have made a good beginning.


I think the most influential possibility is the increase of positive images in popular television shows because that will reach the widest, most diverse audience. Although the programs directed at retirees will appeal to those of us who fall in the Boomer category, they will have less interest for others. As much as possible, I want to be assimilated and valued into a wider range of human activity.

I joined Eons, but finally gave up on it. It has to be one of the worst sites I've run across. As you said, navigation is poor, there's no way for members to contact each other, no central area for them to meet. It's not a community. As far as I'm concerned, it's just another site trying to make money off this age group, although it's not quite as in-your-face about it as Third Age.

If there's a good site for us somewhere on the web, I haven't managed to find it, and I've put a lot of time into searching.

I looked at EONS, but since it insists on US zip codes only there isn't a lot of point. That alone makes me very unlikely to look at the site again.

I am not 50, but I sneaked into the Eons site by lying about my age (48). I share all of your reservations about the site. It is dull and not that user-friendly.

One of the best new shows for me is on Sunday night right after Desperate Housewives...it's called Brothers and Sisters. I'm not even sure, but what I absolutely love is that Sally Field (Born in 1946) stars as Nora Holden the newly-widowed matriarch of the family.

Last week's episode featured the family trying to protect Nora from the news that her now-deceased husband had a mistress for 15 years. However in a great twist, Nora informs the family at a huge dinner (with mistress attending) that she was in fact aware of the transgression.

Sally Field is an absolute delight and I agree that more women of her caliber show up on our evening television line up.

SageCoach Verna Fisher,

Thanks for the review of our shows, Ronni. I'm glad you are enjoying them. Thanks for the feedback about featuring "ordinary people" -- we hope to reach out to our viewers as potential guests right away. Interested parties can email us via our Web site or post their interest or ideas on our message boards.

And of course, if CN8 isn't available, our shows are streaming via our Web site noon-4 PM (EST).

Heather Molnar
Internet Producer
Retirement Living

Once again, thank you for your relevant and insights comments.

Right On Ronni. What I would add is that most of this explosion in 'elder media' is also explotive in the sense that it looks to me like more of the same tilted toward gray hair and 'aging jokes'. EONS is a polished magazine for showcasing advertising (and brilliantly designed for that purpose) and most of the programming on TV is either making growing older "cute" or as I said in my blog about the Sally Field AARP article, showcasing celebs as models for how to stay young.

Age is now a marketing distinction and not much we do about it, but we don't have to be used by the media or the culture of aging.

"Editor of Daily Planet to Jimmy Olsen"...Jimmy, Superman is turning 65 this year, go do a boomer story on how he is getting along, the secret to his success and what he is going to do after he retires", and since our sponsor is Ovaltine and Studabaker, be sure to get a pic of him in front of a new car showing that he can still lift a tall building while he's slurping a cuppa".

Appreciate your recap of what's happening in the elder media world.

Am not surprised to hear about the EONS approach, as I checked them out very early on, quickly determining they were a bit over the top in their overt obvious over-commercialization and never cared to return.

A year ago, or longer, I suddenly began receiving newsletters on a regular basis from Erickson. At first I thought it was just another retirement community pitch, but have been pleased with the approach they have taken, the information they provide.

Nice Ronni "By not pandering to the pretense of youth that many elder-targeted media projects do..."

I feel like I'm reading lots of potential viewers who are frustrated by formulaic approaches to storytelling -- elders, gays, teens. Exhibit A: Check out PopPolitics.com on "Young, Hip and Deadly: The Changing Face of Teen Drama".

I'm increasingly of the opinion that if you want to read good stories and valuable advice you have to write it (or link it) yourself.

Of course, that's why I come here. ;)

Focusing on finding POSITIVE role models and POSITIVE images of older individuals just underlines the fact that we don't see older people as they are... We assess them based on their appearance and behaviour and then judge them either positively or negatively.

Promoting the shining lights who stand out as positive is promoting the ones we have judged as being NOT NEGATIVE. This only reinforces the view that the majority of society (without even thinking) sees most older people negatively in some way.

Essentially, holding up the exceptions to the rule as examples only reinforces the existence of the rule.

What about seeing and hearing people as neither good nor bad, positive nor negative, young nor old...simply as the human beings they are?

I'd be very afraid if 55 to 60 year old women were given roles in programs anything near as lousy as those starring the poor men you mention. I'm happy to wait until people responsible for what we get to watch give us something worth watching.

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