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Youth powers TV, but is that smart business?

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Networks still offer family shows like "Seventh Heaven," "The Gilmore Girls," and this season's "Everwood" (all on The WB) and "American Dreams" (NBC). Fine dramatic series, such as "The West Wing" and "The District," still manage to straddle the line between artistry and commercial appeal.

But much content continues to be driven by conventional wisdom. "There is a young male focus on the part of programming executives," says Ted Nelson, a managing partner and director of brand planning at Mullen. "Most modern advertising executives and clients would say that it's decreasingly true, but habits die hard."

Mr. Nelson, for one, is not optimistic that much will change anytime soon. "It's a perverse element of human behavior that, the more we move into unpredictable territory, the more we cling to that which we know and we resist that which we don't. That applies to an ... executive allocating his precious media dollars," he says. "We have more data than we've ever had before; we don't have a lot more wisdom. They call it 'analysis paralysis.' "

The US obsession with youth, too, plays into advertisers' desire to associate their products with all things young. "The public in general and advertising people in particular are programmed to think that aging is a bad thing; that once you're past 40, you're over the hill and out of the game," says Robert Snyder, senior partner at advertising firm J. Walter Thompson Worldwide.

Some network executives are beginning to realize they can reach out to a broader demographic without damaging their reputation or their bottom line.

Take CBS, which has struggled in recent years to shed the label of "your grandma's network." Executives there found a better solution than simply dumping their faithful fold in favor of young Turks.

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