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What Happened in 1986 That May Have Ruined TV? LA Times

The ripple effect from something that took place in the late 1980s is still being felt by the television industry, writes Scott Collins in the Los Angeles Times’ Show Tracker.

Collins says a question TV viewers frequently ask is, “Why does the TV business hate people over 50?" It’s a good question, he adds.

“The TV industry, like much of corporate America, chases youth. That pursuit has a major impact on programming. It helps explain why a low-rated show such as NBC's ‘Community’ can keep going (and going, and going ...) while older-skewing shows are usually toast,” Collins writes.

That explains why “Harry’s Law,” which starred 60-something Kathy Bates, isn’t on the air any longer.

The shift happened in the late 1980s, when Nielsen started using “people meters,” which allowed for demographic information such as age and gender.

“The effect on TV programming was dramatic," Collins writes. "In 1986, right before people meters were introduced, the No. 1 series on TV was ‘The Cosby Show’ -- the very definition of a family-friendly, mass-appeal sitcom. Ten years later, though, families had been virtually banished from TV. The top comedies were all about single young adults seeking sex and romance: ‘Seinfeld,’ ‘Friends,’ ‘Suddenly Susan.’”

But change may be afoot, Collins notes. While the total audience for broadcasters is up, those viewers are older and grayer.

“Young people have already checked out, cut the cord, retreated to Netflix, logged on to Instagram. That's left their parents and grandparents watching the flat screen in the living room,” Collins writes.