When Grace and Frankie drops for its seventh and final season April 29, fans will have to bid farewell to more than just good laughs about yam lubricant and hydraulic-assisted toilet seats. The comedy from Marta Kauffman and Howard J. Morris is one of the last remaining series that features golden agers who actually address golden age topics. For all the talk in Hollywood about inclusion, there remains an astonishing lack of shows that both cast — and provide authentic depictions of — older Americans.
Just one year ago, there were actually two such shows and they both streamed on Netflix — Grace and Frankie, which follows two 80-something roomies whose husbands left them to marry each other, and The Kominsky Method, about a 70-something actor (Michael Douglas) whose close connection with his agent-pal Norman (Alan Arkin) was more relatable than most TV marriages. Kominsky, from the mind of the prolific Chuck Lorre, lasted three seasons and garnered 14 Emmy nominations. G&F, which launched in 2015, has so far earned 13 Emmy noms and stars four actors — Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston — who are all over 80.
“I think it would be hard to sell Grace and Frankie right now,” Kauffman tells Deadline. “It’s a little scary that there may not be more shows with women at a certain age.”
It’s not like Tomlin and Fonda wanted to walk away from their fictitious lives on the beach. Netflix was the one to ultimately pull the plug, but Kauffman says there were no hard feelings. “Shows have a life span,” she says. “We felt like we told stories we wanted to tell. I mean, if there were a circumstance where we wanted to end it before Netflix did, then we would’ve had a very large conversation with Jane and Lily. But that’s not how it happened. And it’s okay. There’s nothing I regret missing. It’s been everything from talking about dry vaginas to vibrators to how hard it is to get off a toilet. We had an episode with penis balloons. These are things I’m not sure I would’ve been able to do on a broadcast network.”
What made it particularly satisfying was working with actors who “have the professional experience and the maturity,” Kauffman added. “They grew up during old-timey Hollywood and are just incredible pros.”
Now, the co-creator of Friends thinks the industry just isn’t as interested in telling stories about, say, enterprising older women who are on the third chapter of their lives. “Everybody is looking for, what are they calling it? Comedy forward, no sad-coms,” she said. “When we started Grace and Frankie, we were really trying to walk a line between drama and comedy. They don’t want that right now.”
Or if they do, it won’t be about the everyday lives of characters outside the 18-49 demo. In 2020, Mike Royce (One Day at Time, Men of a Certain Age) and Vincent Brown (One Day At a Time) co-created a sitcom about people in their ‘50s that was literally called Old Friends. “The concept was Friends at 50, and it would have been pretty great!” said Royce. “We unfortunately didn’t sell it, and the thing that stuck in my craw was that some of the rejections came in the form of ‘we already have one of these in development.’ In other words, an entire age group was being considered basically a gimmick. And then none of ‘those’ shows made it on TV that year. Obviously the landscape is less than flooded with shows about people in their 50s and 60s.”
Some of the most-watched series on broadcast TV feature actors 60 and over — NCIS and Blue Bloods, among them — but the just-the-facts nature of these procedurals don’t leave a lot of room to tell authentic stories about aging. And the pilots for the 2022-23 season doesn’t show a lot of promise either, at least when it comes to finding the next Golden Girls. Maybe the reboot of Frasier at Paramount+ could assume the mantle, assuming Kelsey Grammer wants to tell stories about growing old in a world that treats older Americans like outcasts. Until then, at least we have Jean Smart and Hacks.
“Up until a few years ago, I at least understood the party line about advertising and demographics. I didn’t like it but networks could point to statistics about buying habits not changing after a certain age blah blah blah,” said Royce. “But it bothered me especially because I heard from so many fans of Men of a Certain Age who were in their 20s! But now with streaming, there’s so much programming not reliant on advertising to make money. Combine that with the fact that the largest group of viewers in this country are Boomers/Gen X and it seems completely crackers not to have more shows about their, our, lives.”