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Dead Tree Alert: Last Golden Girl Standing

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Illustration by Francisco Caceres for TIME

The debut of Hot in Cleveland, starring Betty White with a trio of sitcom-nostalgia iconettes, attracted nearly 5 million viewers Wednesday night, making it the most-watched show on cable. Those numbers would be fairly decent for a broadcast network show (it’s not far from what, say, 30 Rock or Parks and Recreation draw), they’re outstanding for a cable sitcom, and for TV Land, they’re pretty much like the Super Bowl wrapped in the Oscars wrapped in bacon. With White capping off a spectacular year this way, does it mean TV is discovering a new respect and desire for senior citizens?

Don’t count on it, I say in my column in the print TIME this week.

White’s renaissance has been great for that particular octogenarian. It may even help a few other senior actors or actresses get roles. But there’s no sign that TV is any more interested in older TV viewers than it was before—White, after all, gained Hollywood’s attention when she was rediscovered and championed by the younger viewers that TV craves. (Even TV Land, which has a slightly older target demo than most other channels—25 to 54—was focusing on the show’s performance among the vaunted 18 to 49 demo, where it attracted 1.6 million viewers.)

My column looks at some of the reasons, specious and otherwise, that advertisers and therefore TV networks focus on “younger” (and I use the term in quotes because it includes me) viewers, and how TV’s casting and demographic focus has changed since the days of The Golden Girls (especially regarding women). Good for Betty White that she’s on a roll, but like Susan Boyle’s story last year, this is a feel-good story because it’s an exception, not an indication that the rule is changing.

Here’s TV Land’s ratings release, if you’re interested:

New York, New York, June 17, 2010 – The premiere of TV Land’s first original sitcom “Hot in Cleveland” was the highest rated and most watched show on cable yesterday among Adults 18-49, Adults 25-54, Women 18-49, Women 25-54 and Total Viewers according to Nielsen Media Research. The Wednesday, June 16th telecast at 10 p.m. garnered a 1.9 rating and 2.0 million viewers among the network’s target Adults 25-54 audience. It attracted nearly 5 million total viewers for this telecast. Among Adults 18-49, TV Land posted 1.5/1.6 million.

Immediately following the premiere, the 10:30 p.m. ET/PT encore presentation of “Hot in Cleveland” garnered a 1.1 rating and 1.2 million viewers among A25-54 and 2.4 million total viewers. Among Women 25-54, “Hot in Cleveland” posted a 1.4/727,000.

Filmed in front of a live studio audience, “Hot in Cleveland” is executive produced by Emmy® Award-winner Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner of Hazy Mills Productions and is helmed by Emmy® Award-winning Suzanne Martin (“Frasier,” “Ellen”) serving as executive producer, show runner and writer.

“Hot in Cleveland” revolves around three fabulous best friends from LA – novelist Melanie Moretti (Bertinelli), eye-brow archer to the stars Joy Scroggs (Leeves) and former soap star Victoria Chase (Malick) – who find their lives changed forever when their plane, headed for Paris, makes an unexpected landing. When the friends discover that they are hot in Cleveland, they decide to stay. Starting over, they rent a house that happens to come with a very feisty caretaker (White).