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'24'? More Like 48.

By Lisa de Moraes
Monday, July 2, 2007

Are you one of those cougars NBC keeps telling us about, struggling to stay competitive with those hot kittens lurking about, but saddled with one of those my-body-is-my-temple upbringings that stops you from getting botulism toxin injected into your face or a little nip/tuck body work?

Did you know you could get nearly the same results if you just stop admitting your passion for Fox's counterterrorism drama "24," and discover the miracle of NBC's hospital comedy "Scrubs"?

The "24" audience is aging faster than interest in Paris Hilton. The "24" audience has, in fact, aged nine years in just four seasons, and has hit a median age of 48.

"Scrubs," on the other hand, over the past three years has seen its median age drop four years, to 36. It is now the "youngest" of any scripted live-action prime-time series on the Big Four networks -- a full 12 years younger than "24," according to the annual median-age study from ad-buying agency Magna Global. Median age, by the way, is the point at which half the audience is younger and half is older.

Comedies in general have a younger median age than drama series, because as we get older, we become more grumpy and tend to lose our sense of humor from watching Fox News Channel all the time. The sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," for instance, has the youngest median age on CBS (47).

It's the only CBS series we can recommend discussing in public when trying to look your youngest. Under no circumstances breathe a word of CBS newsmag "60 Minutes," which finally hit a median age of 60 this past TV season -- the oldest of any prime-time show on broadcast TV, despite the addition of such on-air contributors as America's Sweetheart Anderson Cooper and hottie Katie Couric -- or is it the other way around?

Reality-series fans take note: Raving about ABC's reality series "Dancing With the Stars" is like flashing an AARP membership card -- median age 54. A simple switch to CW's "Search for the Next Top Model" -- median age 28 -- is so much more becoming.

And stay away from "Saturday Night Live" -- its median age has increased six years in the past four seasons, to 45 years.

CW, in fact, seems to have found the elixir of youth, finishing the past TV season with a median age of 32 -- two years younger than the two defunct networks, UPN and WB, from which it sprang last season. This season's only two CW series saddled with median ages over 35 -- "Reba" and "7th Heaven" -- have been canceled, which means CW could find itself even younger next season. When it comes to appearing younger, you absolutely can't do better than to become fluent in CW.

On the other hand, there is such a thing as shooting for too young -- like Joan Rivers's face, or Melanie Griffith in a miniskirt. So if CW looks ridiculous on you, you might consider Fox, which has been growing older gracefully and now has a median age of 42, passing the 40-year milestone this past season for the very first time. That's after aging up three years in just one season, thanks to series starring grumpy middle-aged men: "24," "House" and "American Idol."

ABC's median age hit 48 -- two years older than the previous season. That's partly because its oldest-skewing show, the aforementioned "Dancing With the Stars," airs two nights a week. Oddly, its new series this past season mostly had median ages over 47, including "Ugly Betty," which is really old -- not "Boston Legal" median age 54 old, but at 50 very old for a freshman series not on CBS. But "Betty" airs on Thursdays at 8, where NBC's sitcoms and CBS's "Survivor" siphon off the younger viewers. Still, a cougar cannot be too careful, so, no matter how much you love the show, ixnay on the Etty-bay.

NBC, which used to refuse to discuss any ratings except among 18-to-49-year-olds, this past season hit a median age of 49. Which, yes, means half its average audience is now older than what NBC still claims is its core audience. Don'tcha love irony?

Still, you can take years off your life by letting it be known "Scrubs" is your must-see TV -- or NBC's "The Office," with its median age of just 38.

Good luck!

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