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Sorry, Kids: Grownup Movie Stars Are Literally Ruling TV Right Now

Take that, Gen Z!

spinner image Harrison Ford with glasses lying on his forehead in the Apple TV Plus series Shrinking, Kevin Costner in a cowboy hat and suit in the Paramount Network series Yellowstone and Sylvester Stallone holding a tea cup in the Paramount Plus series Tulsa King
(Left to right) Harrison Ford in "Shrinking," Kevin Costner in "Yellowstone" and Sylvester Stallone in "Tulsa King."
Beth Dubber/Apple TV+; Paramount Network; Brian Douglas/Paramount+

Everyone knows that viewers over 50 are flexing new muscle at the movie house: They made huge hits of 80 for BradyTop Gun: Maverick, Elvis, Sandra Bullock’s The Lost City, and Julia Roberts’ and George Clooney’s Ticket to Paradise, and they’ll stampede to see the May 2023 sequel to the $104 million hit Book Club, with Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Don Johnson. The numbers don’t lie: Top blockbusters Jurassic World: Dominion and Avatar: The Way of Water both had stars whose average age was 52.5.

But in an even more unexpected development, grownup actors are invading TV, too — and you could probably improve your odds of watching a good episode by confining your viewing to shows boasting A-list actors over 50.

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spinner image Kevin Costner in a scene from the Paramount Network series "Yellowstone," Sam Elliott in a scene from the Paramount Plus series "1883" and Harrison Ford and Helen standing next to each other in a promotional art for the Paramount Plus series "1923"
(Left to right) Kevin Costner as John Dutton in "Yellowstone"; Sam Elliott as Shea Brennan in "1883"; Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren as Jacob and Cara Dutton in "1923."
Paramount Network; Emerson Miller/Paramount+; James Minchin III/Paramount+

The rocket fuel behind TV’s grownup renaissance? Yellowstone!

Much of the credit for the upsurge in famous aging faces on the small screen goes to the best friend Kevin Costner ever had, Taylor Sheridan (52), the cowboy and screenwriter from Cranfills Gap, Texas, whose own 260,000-acre ranch supplies the horses for Yellowstone, the hit show he created in 2018 starring Costner (68).

Its spinoffs, featuring forebears of Yellowstone’s Dutton clan, showcase more great grownup actors. Sam Elliott (78), Tim McGraw and Faith Hill (both 55) star in 1883. Harrison Ford (80) and Helen Mirren (77) are lighting up the small screen in 1923Next, Dennis Quaid (68) will play a U.S. marshal in 1883: The Bass Reeves Story, a limited series slated to arrive in late 2023. Also in the works: a possible new Yellowstone show starring Matthew McConaughey (53), because Costner may be leaving the series, and two other possible spinoffs about the Yellowstone ranch in the 1940s and the 1960s.

spinner image Dana Delany and Sylvester Stallone talking to each other outside in a scene from the Paramount Plus series Tulsa King
(Left to right) Dana Delany as Margaret Devereaux and Sylvester Stallone as Dwight 'The General' Manfredi in "Tulsa King."
Brian Douglas/Paramount+

Sylvester Stallone and Dana Delany beat out the GOT sequel

Sheridan, along with 62-year-old writer Terence Winter (Boardwalk EmpireThe Sopranos), also created Tulsa King, the perfect vehicle for the TV lead debut of Sylvester Stallone (76), as a genial, bookish New York mafioso released from prison after 25 years and making a new life for himself in Oklahoma. It’s an appealing Rip Van Winkle-ish comic drama, as the character copes with newfangled Ubers and life in a time when “GM’s gone electric, Dylan’s gone public, a phone is a camera and coffee — five bucks a cup! And the Stones, bless their hearts, are still on tour.” China Beach’s Dana Delany (66), who plays a rich Tulsa horse-farm owner, tells AARP, “Sly is in almost every scene and he’s having a ball. I’ve been telling people for years that TV is the place to be.” No kidding: Tulsa King beat the Game of Thrones sequel House of the Dragon as the highest rated series debut of 2022, breaking the one-day record for new signups to Paramount+.

spinner image Jeff Bridges in a scene from the FX series "The Old Man," Harrison Ford sitting on a bench in the Apple TV Plus series "Shrinking" and Gary Oldman in the Apple TV Plus series "Slow Horses"
(Left to right) Jeff Bridges as Dan Chase in "The Old Man," Harrison Ford as Dr. Paul Rhodes in "Shrinking" and Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb in "Slow Horses."
Prashant Gupta/FX; Beth Dubber/Apple TV+; Apple TV+

More 50+ stars heading from the big screen to the small one

​Harrison Ford (80) didn’t stop his TV takeover with 1923; he’s reveling in comedy, starring as a gruff therapist in the brand-new Shrinking on Apple TV+. Oscar winner Gary Oldman (64) and nominees Kristin Scott Thomas (62) and Jonathan Pryce (75) also have good infectious fun in the sardonic Apple TV+ spy comedy-drama Slow Horses. Oscar winner Jeff Bridges (73) and double Oscar nominee John Lithgow (77) give their more somber CIA spy thriller, FX’s The Old Man, a profound sense of looking back on life from the hard-earned perspective of age, which appeals particularly to the 50+ audience. It won AARP’s Movies for Grownups award for best TV series. And it’s coming back for another season. 

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spinner image John Larroquette in a suit in a courtroom in a scene from the NBC series Night Court
John Larroquette reprises his role as Dan Fielding in "Night Court."
Jordin Althaus/NBC/Warner Bros. Television

Grownup-approved TV classics are coming back big

​Old shows beloved by the AARP demo are returning at an ever-greater pace, too. (They don’t all hit big — Murphy Brown relaunched in 2018, however its topical comedy didn’t translate to modern times and it only lasted a year.) But we have far higher hopes for the upcoming Frasier reboot with Kelsey Grammer (67) on Paramount+ and Rob Reiner’s upcoming revival of Fawlty Towers starring John Cleese (83).

A show that wasn’t that big a hit in the first place may be the best example of how age-proof TV stars are these days. Night Court was fairly popular from 1984-’92, but its new incarnation scored the highest ratings of any new network comedy in four years. Take that, Gen Z!

​Returning Night Court star John Larroquette (75) was pretty much ready to retire (or only take roles on Broadway) when he got the call to revisit his lawyer character Dan Fielding in 2023.

He couldn’t resist the offer. “It was both interesting and frightening to do a character one did a lifetime ago,” he told AARP. “The physical comedy I easily was able to accomplish in the ’80s I can’t approach now without an ambulance standing by. I can’t jump over railings or tie myself in a pretzel. But the idea was intriguing — how this person has changed.”

Jump-free and non-pretzeled, John Larroquette is hotter than he ever was, and he’s got plenty of gray-haired company among the talents who are leading a renaissance in TV worth watching. And that’s some must-see TV.

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