Friday, June 22, 2012

MISSING HARRY. . .and who we write for

by Earl Staggs

For the last several years, I’ve tried hard not to get hooked on new TV shows.  I find TV a good way to wind down for the last hour or two at the end of a day, but more than that is adulterating precious writing time.  

For the most part, I’ve successfully ignored new shows.  It hasn’t been too hard.  Many of the new offerings are clones of ones I didn’t like as originals.  Many are so-called “reality” shows, feature vampires, zombies and werewolves, or offer loud, gross, offensive slapstick behavior as comedy. Not interested in any of those.

Occasionally, an exception comes along.  “Harry’s Law” was one I latched onto when it debuted two seasons ago.   Kathy Bates has a charisma that pulls me in no matter what role she plays.  Even though the themes of the episodes were often didactic and preachy and the cast was somewhat top heavy, Kathy is always a treat to watch.

I wasn’t alone in adding Kathy to my weekly watch list.  More than seven million others joined me, and that’s a respectable number of faithful viewers. 

Unfortunately, we were the wrong people. 

That’s right. Most of us are over fifty, and the networks and sponsors are only interested in the 18 to 49 demographic. Those are the people, according to their ratings geniuses, who pay attention to the commercials and actually buy the products.  The ratings for Harry among people under 50 were very low.  

As a result, “Harry’s Law” was canceled.

That got me thinking about the demographic of Mystery novel buyers.  Should we aim for the under fifty audience so important to TV networks and sponsors? 

Sisters in Crime wondered the same thing and collaborated with R. P. Bowker’s PubTrack division to produce a report called “The Mystery Book Consumer in the Digital Age.”  The report came out in January 2011 and I looked it over then.  While ruing the loss of Harry, I decided to give it another look.

The report included interesting and useful information about who is buying our books and more.  There are sales percentages of print versus ebooks, for instance, and where those purchases are made.  While the numbers may have adjusted since the report was published, the philosophies behind them haven’t.

You’ll find the complete report here:

The statistics most interesting to me were:

 . . .Baby boomers and matures (people over 45) purchase more than half of all books bought.

 . . .In the Mystery category, more than half are sold to people over the age of 55.

(Also interesting: nearly 7 out of 10 Mystery buyers are female.)

I wasn’t terribly surprised by this information.  Most Mystery writers I know as well as most people I know who read Mysteries are women in the mature age category.  Also, many of the main characters in those books being written and read are older than fifty. 

So even though these study results were not terribly surprising, they were reassuring.  We who write Mysteries do not have to follow the lead of TV networks and gear our product for the 18 to 49 age group. 

As a matter of fact, we most definitely should NOT do that. Those people don’t buy many books.

And that's my rant.  Those of you who have read all the way to here are invited to visit my home site at: where you can:

. . .Read "My Kindergarten Challenge," a report on a presentation on writing I gave to a room full of five-year-olds.

. . .Read Chapter One of MEMORY OF A MURDER.

. . .Read "The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer," a short story some say is the funniest one I've ever written.

. . .Read "White Hats and Happy Trails," a short story about the day I spent with a boyhood idol, Roy Rogers. 


Alice Duncan said...

I'm with you, Earl. Loved "Harry's Law". In fact, it was the only TV show I watched regularly. Sniffle. Too bad we're so old, huh?

Marilyn Levinson said...

I had no idea "Harry's Law" was canceled. I enjoyed that show, too, with its cast of zany characters and interesting law cases. Too bad it's gone.

Kaye Barley said...

I watch TV twice a year. When the two Country Music Award shows are on. That's as close to "reality TV" as I ever want to get, and if I do happen to find a show I like I know it'll never make it past one season. Oh, how I mourn the shows I used to faithfully watch! Designing Women, Evening Shade, Taxi, Barnie Miller and oh, okay yes, Knot's Landing.

Kaye George said...

We cancelled cable a year or so ago, so I haven't watched it lately, but still, I'm sad to know that Harry's Law is gone. It was a most excellent show!

I wonder what the correlation is of spendable money to age. Does anyone even think about that? Or maybe we don't fall for TV ads because we're older and wiser. Who knows? I'm glad I don't make my living in TV!

Barry Ergang said...

Count me among those who miss "Harry's Law"--though, when I first saw Earl's announcement of the article's title on DorothyL, I thought he might be missing another Harry: Harry Orwell, as portrayed by the late David Janssen on "Harry O," for my money the best private eye series on TV ("The Rockford Files" runs a close second).

"Harry O" was a series I watched religiously and sorely missed when it was canceled. I managed to tape all but the pilot episode when it went into reruns, and still have the tapes. They're in Beta format!

jrlindermuth said...

I only saw a couple episodes of "Harry's Law"--came on it too late to become a fan. But Kathy Bates is worth watching anytime.

Chester Campbell said...

I agree with the Sisters in Crime statistics. I sign mostly at book fairs and outdoor festivals, and it's women over 45 who buy most of my books. Bless 'em. May their tribe increase.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Doesn't our money count for anything? I buy stuff even if I am ancient. Yes, I loved Harry's Law too, but the heroine was chubby, normal looking, wore sensible shoes and was a better actor than most.

Jenny Milchman said...

I hope they bring it back--Kathy Bates is brilliant in anything--and I also hope that the media moguls get wise to how varied is the demographic of consumers. Young, old, and in the middle, rich, poor, and in the middle--the list goes on and on. Rant away, Earl...maybe you'll be heard.

Warren Bull said...

I think movies are even worse than television shows. Why does every movie try to be a blockbuster? Could someone make money by pitching to a family audience parents could safely bring their children and grandparents to?

Coco Ihle said...

Earl,I totally agree. I loved Harry's Law, too! A while back, I ranted on Facebook about its cancellation and got lots and lots of likes and favorable comments. I think there must be a whole lot of us "old timers" out there, but, apparently we don't count anymore. Boo hoo!!!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Harry's Law was a good show. I watched it too. And yes I also fit the demographic!

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks to everyone who commented --and agreed with me! Networks are not interested in quality entertainment, only in ratings numbers. Obviously, their numbers tell them their target audience wants more reality shows with tattooed trailer park people pushing and yelling at each other. It may reach a point where we'll have to turn off the tube and write. Maybe that's not a bad thing.

Kaye George said...

Let's not forget Storage Wars. There's something about that show. My kids watch it (I don't know where I went wrong.)

marja said...

I second that rant, and I second your comments about Kathy Bates, too. It's truly a shame that sponsors and whoever don't realize what a huge audience we "older viewers" are, and just how much moola we spend. They should be catering to us! :) (she said with a smile)

Jean Henry Mead said...

I agree, Earl. I watch very little TV anymore. Every time a good show happens to make it to the small screen, it's cancelled after a season or two. I'd rather be writing than watching most of what's out there now.

About Bobbi C. said...

We missed Harry's Law because we didn't have cable then. Now that I know how good it was, I wish we could have seen it. Hopefully it will show up as re-runs somewhere. Perhaps another network will pick it up? We're also Kathy Bates fans.

Interesting report about book buyers. Which makes me wonder, why are there so many of the "chic lit" books selling? Who's buying them?
Happy trails! bobbi c.

Earl Staggs said...

Good question about "chic lit" books, Bobbi. The answer must be that buyers are those in the 18 to 49 group who are still single.

Okay, now that I've given a stupid answer, try this: the stats said "people over 45 purchase more than half of all books bought." Chic lit buyers must be in there.

People under 45 are too busy trying to live a chic lit life to spend time reading about it.

Jaden Terrell said...

Interesting statistics, Earl.

Somehow I missed Harry's Law. We don't watch much TV, though we've discovered (and love) The Big Bang Theory. I'm not as smart as those guys, but I'm exactly that kind of geek. And, even though the characters can be self-absorbed, there's an undercurrent of sweetness and caring that comes across.

If I'd known about Harry's Law, I'd have watched it, because, as John said, Kathy Bates is always worth watching.