Older women on TV are having a moment

AUSTRALIAN TV has copped well-deserved whacks for the mercenary way it has treated women, and in some cases still does.

But credit where it's due: the blokes in charge have finally caught up with the fact that older women are assets.

This is a week to celebrate our commercial TV stations celebrating women and not just any women but those they would have shunted off in the past once they reached "a certain age".

You will have seen Channel 9 pushing its longtime presenter and journalist, Tracy Grimshaw, in the race for the Gold Logie. At 58, Grimshaw said she never expected to find herself on the nomination list and given the industry's habit of decades of replacing older women with younger women (or men), you can understand her surprise.

Channel 10 is busily promoting its own contender for the prize gong, popular The Living Room presenter, Amanda Keller, 56. She described being nominated as "so left field".

But perhaps because this is looking a lot like a trend - women no longer being dispatched because they get a wrinkle - it's not just a left-field fluke. Just maybe there has been a belated realisation that older women are just as trusted and appealing to viewers as older men.

Jo Hall said the first sign of a wrinkle on a woman on TV used to mean the end of her career. (Pic: Jason Edwards)
Jo Hall said the first sign of a wrinkle on a woman on TV used to mean the end of her career. (Pic: Jason Edwards)

This month Channel 9 made a lovely big deal about the 60th birthday of popular Melbourne newsreader Jo Hall, who is a single mother of four. At a posh morning tea it threw for her, attended by most of its Melbourne stars, Hall remarked how there had ben a time when professionals such as she would have been moved on at the "first sign of a wrinkle".

She mentioned how in the past, TV women felt they had to hide their age, noting how one well-known star quips she made it such a rule to lie about how old she was that "she has forgotten her real age".

Tracy Grimshaw and Amanda Keller were recognised with a Gold Logie nomination alongside Grant Denyer, Rodger Corser and Jessica Marais. (Pic: Jerad Williams)
Tracy Grimshaw and Amanda Keller were recognised with a Gold Logie nomination alongside Grant Denyer, Rodger Corser and Jessica Marais. (Pic: Jerad Williams)

Hall also pointed out how a spread on her in a Melbourne newspaper when she turned 40 was titled "The art of survival". As if surviving on air past 40 was worth a headline. One woman at the event noted how it was not only ageing that ushered in the chop - even returning to the career they loved after having a baby was out of the question.

Perhaps it is no surprise that many of the longest-serving women still on Australian TV did not dare to hit pause.

Over at Channel 10 Melbourne, Jennifer Keyte has pulled off perhaps the biggest upheaval of all; becoming the first stand-alone female anchor of a commercial prime time Monday to Friday news bulletin, unseating a well-known male presenter in the process. On top of that, her predecessor, Stephen Quartermain, was two years younger than Keyte, who is 58.

Ten also made the risky move of putting baby boomer Lisa Wilkinson in among the cheeky young faces of the The Project, the show loved by the valuable 18 to 35-year-old demographic. That a 58-year-old mother of three has been blended into that mix is also a sign that old barriers are starting to come down.

You wonder what is driving this growing understanding that women age but that doesn't dim their appeal as professionals, or their all-important "likability" as commercial TV talent.

That not every woman on TV now has to be expected to trigger vague thoughts about sex in the back of the mind of male viewers is real liberation - for working women but also for an audience used to seeing women remain relevant, vibrant and on-point in other areas of life.

Wendy Tuohy is a Herald Sun columnist.

@wtuohy